Coffee shops seek to craft unique customer experience

Talia Rudee

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Starbucks has hundreds of stores worldwide, which aim to sell great coffee and food to complete the experience. However, many people still stray away from this largely praised corporation as their coffee leads them toward local, one-of-a-kind coffee shops.

Walla Walla  is a great town for local coffee shops to thrive, even when they are on the same street or the next block over from Starbucks.

“What we have to offer is a little different from Starbucks,” said Tiffany Cain, co-owner of the local coffee and pastry shop, Colville Street Patisserie. “It is amazing here [in Walla Walla] because we stick out; there is not another French pastry shop in town.”

The Patisserie prides itself on its unique coffee shop experience, from the coffee they roast to the pastries they make.  Both of these aspects of the Patisserie prove different than Starbucks’ way of doing business.

The shop gets all of its coffee beans from the local Walla Walla Roastery and brews the coffee within 12 hours of ordering the beans.  All of the pastries are made on site, as well as all of the syrups and whipped cream.

The Patisserie gets all local products to make their espresso drinks and pastries.  They buy local eggs, honey and organic milk.  In addition, whenever the Patisserie delivers a latte to a customer, there is a pleasant artsy surprise on top: a leaf or heart made from the milk on top of the coffee.

“We take more care,” said Cain.  “We are always trying to perfect the latte art, it makes [the experience] a little more special.”

Sophomore Paul Lemieux, a Whitman student  as well as Patisserie employee and avid coffee drinker, has learned a lot about the coffee making process through his work at the Patisserie.

“Working there I’ve gotten an appreciation for how much leeway there is in making coffee,” said Lemieux.  “There is a recognized way to do it, [but] everyone has techniques that vary slightly.”

Lemieux advocates for local coffee shops not for ethical reasons, but for the experience of trying new places.

Coffee Perk, another local coffee shop, has stood strong even with Starbucks right next door.  The shop even makes a lemon bread entitled “Better than Starbucks” bread.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say Starbucks has burned coffee, so they come over here,” said Jennifer Goodwin, an employee at Coffee Perk.

“People come in because they think it looks really cool and Starbucks is all corporation,” she said. “We are more willing to work with what people want to order, but at Starbucks, they just stick strictly to the menu.”

Coffee Perk promotes its better coffee, more appealing look and fresh baked goods made every other day with local ingredients to draw in customers. Still, Goodwin alludes to the competition right next door.

“Definitely more people go to Starbucks, but I think we are doing pretty well for a local coffee shop . . . I heard Starbucks likes to move next to a coffee shop and run them out of business, but so far they haven’t done that to us,” said Goodwin.

Coffee Perk moved into town around 16 years ago and Starbucks followed around five years later. Both shops are still going strong with their own unique draws.

Whitman sophomore Angela Loftus also found herself working with coffee, although her experience was with Starbucks.

“I mostly enjoyed working at Starbucks for the people I was working with,” said Loftus.

It is the connection with the workers that prompted her love of working at Starbucks.

Unlike a one of kind shop like the Patisserie or Coffee Perk, Starbucks has a universal set of rules for all employees.

“It was helpful for me, because the way that it was set up to make drinks was just hitting a button,” said Loftus.

Starbucks has new machines that make it extremely easy for employees to make a drink.  This means that the coffee is always exactly the same and does not have the individualized flare of Patisserie coffee.  This is good for the employees who may find the “science” difficult; but for some customers, the experience of specialized coffee may draw them to the local coffee shops as opposed to Starbucks.

Heather Smith, a senior sociology major, wrote her thesis entitled, “Deconstructing the Starbucks experience,” which is a comparative study between people who go to local coffee shops, and people who go to Starbucks. She looked at what besides coffee is drawing people to these local shops.

“People who are loyal to Starbucks go there because they know what they are going to get,” said Smith. “The convenience and reliability people have with Starbucks really outweighs any negatives they may have.”

Smith emphasizes the importance of consistency to Starbucks customers.

“The Starbucks experience is just reproduced all over the world,” said Smith. “Yeah it’s providing you with coffee and a place to sit, but it also does that all over the United States and all over the world, and so it’s not a real personal experience.”

“You go to local coffee shops to establish relationships with people,” she said. “[People] don’t necessarily have anything against Starbucks, they just want to buy local and support local people, and a lot of people think the coffee’s better than other places.”

Smith found that Starbucks is still loved by many, but the reasons for preferring Starbucks versus the local coffee shop  experience vary immensely.  The local coffee shops provide a more “homey” experience than Starbucks does.  It is easier to sit down, relax and conduct a conversation at a place such as the Patisserie.

“When you go to a local shop you know they are connected in the community and they have a bigger investment with their customers because they can’t shut down their store and rely on all the other thousands of stores across the world,” said Smith.

This resonates with Loftus’ experience at Starbucks; she said she never truly felt a connection to the customers.

In addition to differences between specific coffee shops, Smith’s work examined the way people identified themselves through coffee shops.

“[Coffee shops] provide a consistency and a sense of belonging to somewhere. This is often overlooked, but it really means a lot to people,” said Smith.

“I like Starbucks. I’m always thrilled to see them when I’m traveling, but I try to go to local coffee shops,” said Cain.

It may be a regional identity, but coffee shops are truly more than just the coffee or the food they sell.  They are part of people’s culture, regardless of whether the coffee shop is local or a larger corporation like Starbucks.

“I enjoy drinking Starbucks’ coffee, it tastes good, but it takes something away from the local feel,” said Loftus.

 

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