Starbucks, Portland, Ore.

The coffee purveyor courts the after-dinner crowd with one of its first beer-and-wine bars in Oregon.
Posted July 3, 2012

The coffee purveyor courts the after-dinner crowd with one of its first beer-and-wine bars in Oregon.
Starbucks’ third places – now counting nearly 13,000 in the U.S. – continue to pack them in, from morning commuters seeking their first cup of coffee through the afternoon laptop sitters and Wi-Fi browsers. But the retailer felt it was missing a strong daypart: the after-work, after-dinner crowd, whose tastes veer from latte to something a little stronger.

So Starbucks has opened its new beer-and-wine concept, the first in the U.S. outside of Seattle, on an urban streetcorner in a gentrified neighborhood of Portland, Ore., called Brewery Blocks.

“We’ve learned that a big part of our customer base like the inviting comfort of our stores but would like to be able to sit with friends and a glass of wine at night,” says Lionel Sussman, Starbucks’ director, global concept design. “The target customer is a woman in her 20s or 30s who wants a drink but doesn’t want the sports bar scene.”

The seating is the usual comfortable Starbucks assortment, made for lounging, but the lighting is dimmed in the evening for a cozier, more relaxed, feel. “Our lighting controls have two settings,” Sussman says. “Morning scene and evening scene.”

The beer is a mix of national, international and local bottled brews. The wine has been carefully selected to uphold Starbucks’ reputation as a specialist in quality beverages, whether picked from a vine or a tree. The food, at the moment mostly versions of their daytime offering, includes warm, plated paninis, chicken and hummus and salami platters – variations on familiar bar food.

But, says Sussman, the intent is not to open a bar. The branding of the cocktail offerings is subtle because Starbucks never wants to detract from its primary message. “Coffee always comes first,” Sussman says. “The beer and wine is just a compliment to our coffee story.”

The design of the space, a former Adidas store on the ground floor of a luxury residential building, is based on Starbucks’ Artisan Concept, one of the models the company developed a couple of years ago to personalize and localize its various locations.

“It borrows from architect Pierre Chareau’s Maison de Verre [House of Glass], built in Paris in 1932,” Sussman says, “which is all gleaming steel and glass on the outside, but a mix of hard metals and soft textures inside. It’s warm and inviting, just what we want for our stores.”

The Portland store houses exposed steel beams, masonry walls and factory casement glass with hand-polished woodwork and some leather chairs. Tall windows are shaded with double drapes – a sheer lining and heavier velvet curtains – to further soften the space.

Because the neighborhood was restrictive on exteriors, the company developed a period art deco neon sign for the outside. The familiar Starbucks logo – a sculptural treatment carved into wood and dangling from heavy duty chains – hangs just inside the entrance from a 25-foot ceiling.

At this point, Starbucks says this is not an attempt to broaden store traffic. “The target customer is essentially the same person who comes in the morning for coffee,” says Sussman. “So we have small handwritten chalkboard signs, and a little sign on the menu saying, ‘We serve beer and wine in the evening.’ There are wine bottles at one end of the ordering counter. And the baristas are trained to talk about beer and wine if anyone asks.”

But as for aggressive marketing, “This is a store with a lot of repeat customers,” Sussman says, “so word of mouth spread the story very quickly.”

Project Suppliers
Retailer and Designer: Starbucks Coffee Co., Seattle – Arthur Rubinfeld, president Global Store Development, Starbucks; Lionel Sussman, director Global Concept Design, Starbucks; Erin Krohn, senior architectural designer Global Concept Design, Starbucks; Ashley Blanton, interior designer Global Concept Design, Starbucks

Architect: Holst Architecture, Portland, Ore.

General Contractor: Western Construction, Vancouver, Wash.

Casework: Synsor Retail Innovation, Everett, Wash. – Triad Manufacturing Inc., St. Louis; Windfall Lumber, Tumwater, Wash.; GOBY Walnut, Portland, Ore.

Furniture: Mitchell Gold, West Hollywood, Calif.; West Coast Industries, San Francisco; Mercury Fab+Cast, Seattle; Aurora Mills Architectural Salvage, Aurora, Ore.; Amsterdam Modern, Van Nuys, Calif.; Kaas Tailored, Mukilteo, Wash.

Lighting: Gexpro, Renton, Wash.; Rejuvenation, Portland, Ore.

Drapery: Seattle Curtain, Seattle

Signage/Graphics: Rainier Industires, Tukwila, Wash.; Image Mill, Monroe, Wash.
TubeArt, Seattle

Miscellaneous: Custom Metal Fab, Scappoose, Ore.

Photographer: Monica Perry, Portland, Ore.