Starbucks to Experiment with Wine and 'Coffee Theater'


Starbucks (SBUX), whose massive growth and expansion has halted in recent years, has started experimenting with ways to bring coffee lovers back. It's been trying to attract customers by selling everything from CDs to breakfast sandwiches, and will soon offer free Wi-Fi. And now, in what may be its most daring attempt yet , it's getting into wine and coffee theater.

Starbucks will reopen a testing ground store dubbed "Olive Way" in Seattle's trendy Capital Hill neighborhood, with a menu that offers wine from the Pacific Northwest's vineyards and beer from local craft brewers. In addition, this 2,500-square-foot shop which reopen in the fall, will have espresso machines in the middle and a different decor.

The coffee theater's counters will be narrower to bring customers closer to baristas; the machines will brew one cup at a time to extract deeper flavor from beans; and the menu will be bigger, full of savory foods that pair with coffee, wine and beer, the Associated Press reports.

Starbucks doesn't expect all the ideas to work at Olive Way, and may choose what to implement across its chain.

The company has been encountering problems as competition increased, and as its premium prices were a challenge during the recession. The coffee chain closed hundreds of stores and cut scores of jobs, and it brought back founder Howard Schultz to help the company re-emerge.

Many critics complain that Starbucks has lost its unique environment and image and should go back to its roots. This new attempt may help with ambiance, as it offers a warmer environment where customers feel comfortable staying for hours -- as they once did. And it would definitely differentiate Starbucks from other chains. Whether it will jump-start growth is a different matter.