Every two years, I write a letter to Mr. Howard Schultz, the founder and Chairman of Starbucks. I do this because he has a home here in the Hamptons. And I do this every two years because I want to give him a little breathing room between my letters.
Two years ago, I told him he was losing his grip on his company. He had settled into the Chairman role. He had perhaps bought his house out here as a place to relax and put his feet up while enjoying the final fruits of his endeavors.
But I told him at that time there was deep trouble in his company. The original idea, that Starbucks be an old European coffee house was being badly tinkered with by his newly appointed CEO. They had added food and it was badly prepared food at that. They were hiring baristas who didn’t know a steam knob from a coffee cup. And they were putting things up for sale in the coffee houses that they had no business putting up for sale. Crappy coffee mugs. Aprons. Plates that said Starbucks on them. I didn’t like the long waits to get service, and the cookie cutter quality of the Starbucks stores from one to the other. They were beginning to look like Dunkin’ Donuts. Mostly, also, I didn’t like that they were all over the place and the sitting down places were fewer and fewer. They had them out East here in Bridgehampton, which was doing very well, but then they added shops that were little more than stands, notably in East Hampton and Southampton. Starbucks was headed downhill in my view and I told him that in these pages. [expand]
Schultz, who I have never met, did take all of what I wrote to heart, however. He gave up his happy retirement, shoved out the CEO he’d hired, took over that job too and boy has he turned everything around. He should even write a book about it. As a matter of fact, by golly, he DID write a book about the turnaround. And you can buy it at Starbucks among other places. I give Mr. Schultz with this letter an A. Or maybe an A- for something I will get to in a moment.
But first, let me tell you Mr. Schultz, I am proud of you. You shut down the entire chain for a day to give everybody barista lessons. You lowered the espresso machines so customers could talk face-to- face over them with the barista. You instituted nifty Starbucks cards. You made Wi-Fi free. You even made a deal to give customers The New York Times online while at Starbucks. Also, you shut down the Southampton catastrophe and you shut down lots of other catastrophes that went in in the wrong places around the country and throughout the world. One thing I did suggest for these awful places two years ago, where you couldn’t sit down much, was not to call them Starbucks, but call them Starbucks Minis. You didn’t do that. I was wrong to suggest that. You were right.
As for the thing you did wrong, about a year and a half ago, you changed the spacious Bridgehampton store around to take out the big easy chairs and replace them with these stupid plush chairs that looked like they came from a hotel in Las Vegas. It was terrible. And they were very uncomfortable. The two years weren’t up yet, so there was no letter writing to you, but I did organize a letter-writing campaign from some of my friends—you are right here in the Hamptons, just GO there, sir—and by golly you got the message. The new stuff you put in was taken out. Now the whole place has been transformed into what looks like a spacious lumberjack espresso coffee house in a small town in Vermont, complete with a common table and three seating areas with comfy old-fashioned club chairs. If more good things happen, I intend to remove your minus and give you an A.
And now they have come. The food has been transformed. The old dumb food is gone. In its place, at the same price, are healthy and very imaginative taste combinations that are just knockouts. Pacific rim noodles, tofu and sesame nuts with a little wrapped dark chocolate for dessert. South-of-the- border wraps with avocado, spiced sauce, chicken and cheese, with a little coleslaw and a wrapped dark chocolate for dessert.
I salute you, sir. In addition to this now, there is a blackboard with local history in chalk on it, gold Starbucks credit cards which give you things free without your having to ask for them, wonderful wood paneling from some barn somewhere. And there is a greater selection of newspapers to read. To get rid of that minus, sir, I require just one more thing. Tell your local manager to add Dan’s Papers to the newsstand. Do that, and the minus is gone for good. After that, I will get together with you – my treat somewhere – and we can plot how to get Standard & Poor’s to get that financial rating for America back up to Triple A.
Oh, and find a location again in Southampton – bigger. And also get a bigger location in East Hampton.