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Starbucks in Seattle: A Sidewalk Inscription that Should Stop Any Business Owner in Her Tracks

September 12, 2015

Sidewalk Starbucks Reserve





These were the words I noticed in front of the Starbucks Reserve: Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle, WA.   The sidewalk lettering stopped me in my tracks.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, these words are Starbuck’s Mission Statement: “To inspire and nurture the human spirit- one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time.”

I traveled to Seattle over the Labor Day weekend for a law school friend’s wedding.  I happened to be staying around the corner from the Reserve.  During the trip, I also accidentally visited the original Starbucks Coffee Tea and Spices store #2 at 1912 Pike Place Public Market.   There was a long waiting line that extended outside the coffee shop.

signs focused (2)

1912 Pike Place. Second Starbucks.

After I returned to Pittsburgh, I pulled out a book I had bought 8 years ago.  The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary by Joseph Michelli.

As a business owner and lawyer and consultant, I have always marveled at Starbucks personally and professionally.  The continuous winding waiting lines regardless of location, the Starbucks on every corner in London inside buildings that are over 300 years old, the Starbucks locator app on your phone.

Like millions of others, I pay the $3-4 a cup several times a week just to have The Starbucks Experience.   I bought into this Experience in the early 2000’s and continue to seek it out.  My son’s first wave was to Kelly the “barista” at the Southside Starbucks on 1400 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA which was only a block from my first house.

For me, Starbucks has always been a “third place”, as Dr. Michelli describes it, away from home and work, where I can find both solitude and social interaction.  I studied for bars there and my turnaround certification.   I felt my baby’s first kick in a coffee shop and I have spent 100’s of office hours working from inside a Starbucks (thanks for the free Wi-fi).  I like the ambience and the connection and sense of opportunity.  Some of my best work was completed at a Starbucks.

Dr. Michelli says Starbucks has “revolutionized the coffee industry” and “rewritten the conventional rules of management”.  What is Starbucks doing right?

DSC_00731.Unique Corporate Culture.  Michelli says first,  it has a unique corporate culture valuing empowerment, entrepreneurship, quality and service that defines firm values.  Starbucks “aspires to enrich the human spirit” , embracing diversity and creating a great work environment for Starbucks partners (employees).  Employees want to “make a huge difference in people’s lives in a million small ways– just little moments like smiling as we hand you a drink, hand-crafting your beverage, providing a comfy chair to get away from it all without going very far.”

Michelli says that Starbucks is doing “something extremely simple and awe-inspiringly powerful- people want to do the right thing, create and offer quality things, they want to do good in the world, and if you give them the opportunity and resources to do so, they will shine.”

Passion. Product.  People. Experience. Community.  These are the drivers of Starbucks, Michelli says.

Michelli also talks about cultural alignment.  “The mission statement, principles, and behaviors laid out as ways of being are not programmatic. They are just the way you live your life.  That is difficult to fake.  Ultimately, the organization will self-select, in a way, toward a group of partners who are like-minded.” I have often thought about like-mindedness in the law firm culture and friendship circles.Street Performers outside 1912 Pike Place Starbucks

2. Employee Empowerment.  Second, Michelli says, Starbucks has been able to pass down these values to partners/employees, who in turn create a unique and personal experience for customers.  Employees build an “emotional connection” with its customers.  “Our  people have done a wonderful job of knowing your drink, your name and your kids’ names.”

Michelli reports that “it is by design, not default, that leadership creates powerful experiences for its partners.  It is expected that partners will pass on the dignity and respect that they are afforded into interactions with their customers.”

pubmarklong I will never forget the days after my dad had a stroke.  The baristas at “my local Starbucks” knew what had happened.  One day, I was crying inconsolably and they just comp’d my drink.   I will never forget the barista’s face.  Compassion.


  • What are the core values for your business?  What is your “way of being”?
  • How can you make your experience for your customers unique and personal? Is there an emotional connection?
  • Are you selling a product or service or an “experience”?
  • Do you know your customers’ names?
  • Do your employees/partners have skin in the game? Do you view your employees as partners?
  • Are your employees like-minded?  Are your customers like-minded?

The values of my business are similar to the Starbucks value set.  Passion.  Product.  People. Experience. Community.  See story behind our logo here.  We aim to create a community of support for the businesses whom we represent.  We want our clients to feel like valued clients.  We hire like-minded lawyers and staff.  Many clients and referral sources seem to mirror us.cupsfav

3.  Timing.  Sometimes in business, timing is everything.  In college, one of my favorite courses was called Creating Community.  We talked then about the then crisis in “rugged individualism” and too many people “bowling alone”.  With social media, text messaging and virtual working, I think there is an absolute scarcity of in-person, face-to-face or voice-to-voice connection.   Starbucks helps to ameliorate what I view as a serious social crisis.


I am grateful to Starbucks.  Because of my time there, I have been able to accomplish things I never dreamed I would.   Starbucks-may you have another 40 years of  revolutionary business practices!

Here is a link to my entire Seattle photo project.

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