CHICAGO — The world’s largest Starbucks opened to the public on Nov. 15. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery, located on North Michigan Avenue and Erie Street on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, spans five floors and 35,000 square feet of retail space. It employs nearly 200 people, including roasters, baristas, bakers and mixologists. It also has three coffee bars, an alcohol beverage bar, local art, murals and the first curved escalator in the Midwest. The location is Starbucks’ sixth Reserve Roastery after others in Seattle, Shanghai, Milan, Tokyo and New York.
CSP visited the Roastery on its Nov. 12 media day. Here’s a look inside …
A storytelling experience
Standing before an industrial-sized coffee bean roaster, Shauna McKenzie-Lee, managing director of the Chicago Starbucks Reserve Roastery, said the location features visual “storytelling” in the form of artisan-crafted brews, Italian pastries and murals from local artists. She also said the goal of the Roastery is to spark inspiration and connection among its customers.
“We want you to experience connection to coffee, connection to artisanal food, connection to craft cocktails and connection to our employees and partners,” McKenzie-Lee said in her opening remarks.
Connection to Chicago
Receiving the microphone from McKenzie-Lee, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson spoke of the significance this Roastery has to Chicago and what Starbucks aims to create through it: an immersive customer experience around roasting, brewing and small-batch coffee—the pinnacle of customer experience around all things coffee, he said.
“This Roastery is a representation of the relationship Starbucks has had with Chicago,” he said. “Chicago was the first market Starbucks expanded to in 1987 outside of Seattle. Chicago has been a market where we innovated and tried new things: We built the first Starbucks in an airport, which was in O’Hare in 1993.”
The roasting process
Marc Wanless, director of global operations for Starbucks' Roasteries, is responsible for coffee roasting across all six Starbucks Reserve Roasteries. More than 200,000 pounds of reserve coffee will be roasted per year at the Roastery, and in Chicago, coffee is roasted in 25-pound cycles at a time. About 20 to 35 batches will be roasted per day, depending on demand, Wanless said.
The card wall
The card wall, with its composition spelling out "Chicago" as a nod to the location of the sixth Roastery, is made up of cards explaining the flavor notes of each reserve coffee. Nearly every variety is single origin and highlights a single blend—a process that has remained at every Starbucks for nearly 50 years, Wanless said.
The Roastery features sandwiches, baked goods and other hearty foods from Princi, an Italian bakery that is in various U.S. Starbucks locations. Items include Steel-Cut Oats, Princi Granola, Chocolate Croissants, custard-filled brioches and Roman-style pizza squares. Founded by Rocco Princi in 1986, the bakery has six shops in Milan and one in London. Princi, who attended the Roastery opening in Chicago, said his relationship with former Starbucks chairman and CEO Howard Schultz has allowed him to maintain his traditional dishes without sacrificing quality.
“We’re not going to change the quality [of the food],” Princi said. “We don’t compromise ingredients or originality. We only serve traditional Italian food.”
The Roastery also features a cocktail bar called the Arriviamo Bar. Located on the fourth floor, the bar offers an assortment of traditional and unique cocktails, as well as local Chicago beer and wine. Offerings include the Starbucks Reserve Boulevardier, a combination of coffee, bourbon, Campari, vermouth, syrup and bitters; and the Cold Brew Spiced Rum, which features chai tea, Starbucks cold brew, white rum, lime juice, syrup, bitters and cinnamon.
Local art scene
Starbucks worked with local artisans to develop products and artwork unique to the Chicago Roastery. Mac Blackout, a multimedia artist, designed graphics with a stylized Starbucks siren to adorn everything from an espresso machine to coffee mugs to a jean jacket, all sold on site. Chicago muralist Eulojio Ortega painted a mural of workers picking coffee cherries in the field for one interior stairway that stretches over five floors, while artist David Anthony Geary partnered with Starbucks for his third time to paint the siren above one seating area, meant to watch over the customers below.
Another local artist, Molly Zakrajsek, painted a mural titled Radiant Reverence that features elements of Chicago’s environment, buildings and people, with a gold heart in the middle to symbolize the building’s Michigan Avenue location in the heart of the city. Starbucks also tapped local chocolatier Uzma Sharif, owner of boutique Chocolat Uzma, to create pairings of its Reserve coffees with her fine chocolates, which feature Southeast Asian flavor notes.