As reported today by The Chicago Tribune and others, Starbucks is opening its first-ever coffee bar in Colombia this week. Located at Calle 93 con Carrera 13, on a leafy corner of Bogota’s iconic Parque de la 93, this is the Seattle-based retailer’s opening salvo in a planned expansion into the Colombian market, long dominated by the Colombian Coffee Federation’s proprietary Juan Valdez cafe chain.
For Parque de la 93, Starbucks has built a soaring three-story space, complete with living walls, murals by noted local Colombian artists Luis Carlos Cifuentes and Natalia Perez, and a plethora of brewing equipment, from the humble Chemex to the brand’s own Clover Brewing System.
In accordance with what is either Colombian law or local custom (sources vary), Starbucks will be serving only Colombian coffees at their new cafe in Bogota. This includes a 100% Colombian espresso blend as well as single origin coffees from the Colombian department of Nariño, and a new entry from the Starbucks Reserve program, dubbed Colombia El Peñol and sourced from a cooperative in the Colombian department of Antioquia. In addition to being their first store in Colombia, Parque de la 93 is also the first Starbucks outlet in Latin America to serve coffees from the Reserve line, and the first shop in the region to offer Clover service.
Parque de la 93 is similar in scope to some of the international retailer’s other “flagship” stores, including their award-winning cafe at Oak and Rush in Chicago, as profiled in this 2014 SCAA Symposium talk from Bill Sleeth, Starbucks’ VP of design for the Americas. Mr. Sleeth’s SCAA Symposium talk featured interior photos from the brand’s flagship cafes in locales like Beijing, Mexico City, Amsterdam, and New Delhi, all part of an initiative that Sleeth calls “locally relevant design.” This new cafe in Colombia is the first such store from Starbucks to open since Symposium.
Parque de la 93 was designed by Bret Lewis, Starbucks’ senior design manager for Latin America. The project was overseen by Scott Mitchem, the brand’s director of design for Latin America based in São Paolo, who, in addition to design work for Starbucks, is a contributor at Wallpaper Magazine. Sprudge spoke with Mr. Mitchem via phone from Bogota.
Talk us through the space. There’s elements here that feel like Starbucks, and other elements that feel really different from your average Starbucks.
It’s quite tall, quite a voluminous space. On the first floor we have a standard approach to queueing, in which you come through a beautiful terrace, with a focus on the landscaping. On the ground floor you’ll see espresso machines, our Clover station, and a Reserve station; what’s unique about this Reserve station is that we’re doing our Colombian reserve only there.
There’s not a lot of seats on the first floor, other than the exterior area—just a few seats on the bar on the window—but on the second floor it’s a really special area there. There’s a tasting table, a community table really, and this is where where we took a chance to reinforce for the Colombian customer that we’ve involved there by featuring a mural painted by a Colombian artist.
And the living walls?
Living walls are a nod to Bogota; everywhere you go there are living walls. Colombians really love their landscaping and so do we. It’s a little local nod to trend and tradition.
What’s the design palette like for the space?
We’re using Colombian teak in several spaces, but we’re also bringing in a ‘live edge’ table from North America. These tables have become a signature element in Starbucks’ design over the last 5-10 years or so. We’ve really committed to live edge; It helps reduce waste, it’s really natural and feels warm and rich, and it speaks to that Pacific NW tradition. We feel it’s strong to do what we can to tread lightly, to be as sustainable as possible.
We’re working in the brass, leather, and teak materials family, as well as reclaimed cork that’s been gilded to create a wall covering. This is a very masculine palate—the inspiration has been ‘elevated industrial’ with a lot of metal—this comes from the Starbucks design DNA. We’re very much industrial at our heart, but we’re trying to layer in Colombian cultural influences.
You’re based in São Paolo; Starbucks is based in Seattle. What’s the design process like, then, for a cafe in Bogota?
One of the big goals we have at Starbucks and on my team is to be as locally relevant as possible. You can’t achieve local relevance if you’re not local.
We’ve got 4 design teams in 3 countries; we’re on the road a lot. This store was designed by Bret Lewis, who is in Seattle, and he developed this project. I was very heavily involved from São Paolo, and we have teams in Miami, Colombia, and Mexico City. Based on the skill sets that are needed in a project, everyone can jump in. A lot of road time, a lot of Skyping, that’s how we pulled this together.
We think Oak & Rush comes to mind when looking at this new cafe in Bogota. What other stores does it remind you of?
A lot of stores around the world you can draw a line between—the brand has DNA–but to be honest with you, I would say we really strive that every store is a snowflake.
Design is a differentiator for us. If we started cookie-cutting our stores like we did 30 years ago, that really wouldn’t be who we are today. We learned from doing that; we’ve really evolved into a brand that values design. That’s why I work here. There’s an opportunity to do design here at scale.
What’s does your opening week calendar look like for a store of this scale?
There’s a couple of events that we attach to every store opening, including a friends and family event; they’re a favorite of mine. I’ve been to several of those in Mexico and Chile, and that’s where you really understand the effect we have on communities. Meet families, parents, and also managers and team leaders…you get that sense of pride. People get a respect for what we’re trying to do as company, as a corporate citizen or global citizen at these events. So for that event in Colombia, all the big names are going to be there—Howard [Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO] is going to be there.
We’re also doing a Barista Olympics, which is part of our ritual in most stores as well—think of it as a practice session for leadership. We’ve also got some special interviews set up with local officials here in Bogota.
This is your first Colombian store. As a designer, what challenges does that present?
There’s a challenge we have as a team to articulate and demonstrate our coffee authority. To demonstrate the quality we’re committed to, and to help customers experience the nuances between our coffees.
It’s a challenge because as designers, we never know what’s around the corner eight months from now. We could have never predicted the Clover, for example. Especially in this area where we’re trying to build in versatility to demonstrate how deep we go in coffee.
I think it would have be easy for Colombians to think, you know, ‘Big American Brand comes in here, serves a lot of coffee, yeah yeah yeah.’ We’re trying to come in and show, look–we care about coffee as much as you. We’ve been working with you for 42 years, and this is our first chance to serve your coffee to you, to show you how we’re enjoying your coffee. Let’s do it together.
Photos by Andrés Calderón for Starbucks.