Wednesday, January 23, 2008

First Starbucks in Prague opens...

I know that I have been spending a lot of time on the first Starbucks to open in Prague, and I'm not really sure why. I have been to Starbucks, but prefer Caribou, and in any event don't spend a lot of time in coffee shops. I usually have a single cup of coffee at home each day and that is pretty much it. The arrival of Starbucks in Prague - the first store opened yesterday - is more of a cultural than culinary event. It reflects the complete dominance of American popular culture through the world. (Now if we could only get Taco Bell to open in Prague I would be the first in line on opening day).

Czechs by nature do not consume mass quantities of coffee from half-litre sized cups. To the typical Czech, coffee is something that is served after a meal and comes in a very small cup (think espresso) with perhaps a little cookie. That's it. For Starbucks to be successful beyond the tourists and foreign workers the culture of why and when Czechs drink coffee will have to change.

Obviously, Starbucks has moved into other countries with the same local perception of coffee, and has succeeded. So I have little doubt that 5 years from now Czechs will view coffee as Americans do.

Starbucks was quite clever, in my opinion, to take a location that long ago served as a cafe/coffeehouse for young writers and wresting it from a popular restaurant (Square, on Malostranka namesti as I have previously posted). I am sure it was expensive to do, but it is a way to get Czechs to mentally associate Starbucks with their own heritage

Here is a report from yesterday's Financial News:

“Starbucks takes great pride in announcing it has carefully and thoughtfully rehabilitated the Palác Grömlingovský retail location and returned it to its historic use as a coffeehouse and gathering place for the local community,” said Cliff Burrows, president of Starbucks Europe, Middle East, and Africa. “We are thrilled to welcome the people of Prague back to the Palác Grömlingovský to enjoy Starbucks finest coffees in the location they have known and loved for years.”

“Many steps have been taken to ensure that the physical space was restored respecting its original architectural features,” said Jakub Strestik, operations director for Starbucks Czech Republic. The 270 square meter location was originally established as a coffeehouse in 1874 and it remained a destination for local literati, scholars and neighbors for decades. The renovation includes restoration of the original flooring, use of recommended paint color palettes, maintenance of all existing windows, and design and installation of subdued exterior signage in keeping with the ambience of the town square. Starbucks will also introduce programming at this store that will allow customers to enjoy include book readings, book releases, and other arts and literature related events.

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