Chains like Starbucks and Gloria Jeans are to coffee what the Eurovision Song Contest is to rock and roll. Their menus contain strange, sweet concoctions like GJ’s Arnott’s Tim Tam Chocolate Chiller or Starbuck’s White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccino. When Starbucks launched in Australia the chain enjoyed a brief flurry of popularity, especially with the teen set who wanted a clubby atmosphere.
The first Starbucks opened in Seattle, USA, in 1971. The name comes from Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. In the novel, the first mate on the whaling ship Pequod is called Starbuck. Initially, the business sold coffee beans and coffee roasting equipment but did not operate as a café. In the mid-1980s Starbucks began to offer espresso coffee and by 1986 had six stores in Seattle.
A former Starbucks employee, Howard Schultz, bought the business in 1987 and began a rapid expansion, initially into Vancouver and Chicago. The first store outside North America opened in Tokyo, Japan, in 1996. Starbucks launched its first Australian store at Hyde Park in Sydney in July 2000. As of 2018, the company operated 28,218 locations worldwide. The stores are all company-owned, not franchised.
Foreshadowing the chain’s arrival in Australia, The Age wrote:
Coffee in America isn’t just coffee anymore. It’s a double-shot grande latte with 2 per cent. Or a tall half-caf skinny cappuccino, no foam. Sometimes it’s even a venti vanilla decaf frappaccino, whatever that may be. Ask for a flat white and all you get is a blank stare.
Despite this, when Starbucks opened here they understood that failing to provide a flat white would be a major mistake.
The first Starbucks store in Australia opened in Sydney in July 2000. But it seems that they misread the coffee culture in Australia. Initially, the product offering featured sweeter coffees than Australians were used to, and at higher prices than most cafés. The chain opened too many outlets too quickly, operating more than 80 stores by 2008. However, in that year 70 per cent of them closed, leaving just 23 outlets throughout Australia.
By 2022, the chain had recovered considerable ground, with more than 50 outlets across Australia. Although claiming Australian ownership, it continues to offer non-traditional (weird?) drinks in addition to the coffee menu. These include Pumpkin Spice Latte, Pumpkin Spice Frappuccino, Strawberry Acai Refresher, Salted Caramel Mocha and Cinnamon Dolce. While the blitzkrieg failed, it seems persistence will win out.