MILAN – How can an American giant operating in the coffee industry win over the motherland of espresso culture? With a declaration of love, of course.
Amid controversies, speculation and curiosity that populated Italian media over the past year, Starbucks makes its official debut in the Italian market on Thursday with its first European Reserve Roastery here. This is the third roastery concept globally, after launches in Seattle in 2014 and Shanghai last year.
Occupying a 25,000-square-foot space inside a historic building that formerly housed Milan’s central post office and that overlooks Piazza Cordusio, the company’s first outpost here is a celebration of Italian crafts and the coffee ritual that 35 years ago inspired the American chain’s founder, Howard Schultz.
“During my first trip to Milan in 1983, I was captivated by the sense of community I found in the city’s espresso bars — the moments of human connection that passed so freely and genuinely between baristas and their customers,” said Schultz. “The opening of the Milan Roastery is the story of Starbucks coming full circle. Everything we have experienced, since that first moment of inspiration 35 years ago to now being a daily part of millions of people’s lives around the world, we bring with great respect to Italy…I am so proud and humbled to bring our Italian customers an experience that is the very best of Starbucks.”
Conceived by the company’s chief design officer Liz Muller and her team, the interior concept features multiple elements developed with local craftsmen and referencing Italian trades.
“It had to have Italy in it. It’s in Italy, it’s our first time in Milan and local connection is critical for us,” said Muller. “All the furniture you see here was in-house designed and actually manufactured in Italy.
“We have spent the past year living and breathing the city of Milan, working closely with dozens of local artisans to bring to life our most beautiful retail experience that engages each one of our customers’ senses,” said Muller. “Everything you see in the Roastery is intentional, offering moments of discovery and transparency.”
The space stands out from other Starbucks units for its brightness and color. The mosaic flooring handlaid by local artisans in the Palladiana style features warm-hued marbles, which are complemented by the cooler tones of the modern, geometrical ceiling.
“The beauty of this space is that these craftsmen, especially in Italy, they don’t always get this kind of work. Many other brands come to Italy and don’t celebrate the craftsmen and that’s not what I’m here to do. We believe the partnership is to give them the work… This gives the community pride in this incredible project,” Muller said, adding that engaging local artisans has “extended our family, these people have become so close to us and we’re going to do more work together. That’s what this is all about, it’s about the relationships and the celebration of the incredible crafts. The world is so full of mediocrity and sameness, we wanted to bring a unique stage.
“What we’re bringing is not what was already existing in Milan… We want consumers to come and stay… it’s a different experience and people need to come in, spend time and explore,” continued Muller, underscoring the difference with the traditionally Italian quick-coffee ritual.
In location, the discovery aspect is primarily represented by a fully functioning green-hued Scolari coffee roaster, manufactured just miles outside of the center of Milan, which dominates the space. This provides customers visibility to all aspects of the roasting process, with a 360-degree, walk-around view of the manufacturing site. The peak of the experience is a 22-foot-high unfolding bronze cask, which allows a glimpse inside the degassing chamber. From there, coffee moves overhead through copper pipes directly to silos at the coffee bars or to the in-house pack line that supplies Starbucks stores across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
The in-store plant is flanked by two counters. The main bar stands on the right side and features a wood-fronted structure with illuminated fluting — a nod to the architecture of the Milanese Castello Sforzesco building — topped with marble sourced from Tuscan quarries.
On the left side of the roaster, artisanal, freshly baked food is prepared in the Princi Bakery corner. This is part of a collaboration Starbucks launched in 2016, making Italian baker Rocco Princi an exclusive partner for the brand’s premium Roasteries globally.
The counter culminates in the Scooping Bar, where customers can purchase specially packaged, freshly roasted coffee beans from Starbucks Reserve coffees, including some that are exclusive to the Milan Roastery.
Inspired by the Italian aperitivo, the Milan Roastery will also be the first Starbucks to feature an Arriviamo Bar. Located on a mezzanine, this is the area where mixologists create specialty cocktails behind a 30-foot-long bar carved from a single block of Italian marble.
An interactive, augmented-reality experience enabling customers to discover more about the company completes the venue inside. The centerpiece of the AR experience is a floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall visual representation of Starbucks’ history and its timeline, also engraved in brass by local craftsmen.
Outside, a terrace overlooking Piazza Cordusio welcomes customers with a statue of the company’s signature mermaid, hand-carved in Carrara marble by Tuscan sculptor Giovanni Balderi.
To mark the special opening, Starbucks partnered with Milan’s municipality and La Scala Academy to stage an inaugural event on Thursday evening, during which a theatrical production will bring the stories of Schultz and Starbucks to life through a combination of film, live opera and orchestral performances. A range of Italian institutions, including Milan’s Giuseppe Sala, are expected to attend the event.
So far, the opening of the Roastery has created nearly 300 jobs in Italy, with the company further investing in creating career opportunities through its Apprenticeship Program and by collaborating with the La Scala Academy and the local Fondazione Don Gino Rigoldi foundation.
Following the opening of the Milan Reserve Roastery, Starbucks will bring additional cafés to the city with its licensed partner Percassi by the end of 2018, as well as units in other important Italian locations.