Why Australia didn’t swallow Starbucks

Posted on May 10, 2018 by Ash Bennett

It was the year 2000 and the world was falling hard for Starbucks. Canada, Saudi Arabia, England, Hong Kong, Lebanon, South Korea and China; a new store was opening daily. Weak coffee and frappuccinos, were taking over the world and Australia would be next.  There was one problem; we were already in love… We already had the best coffee, award-winning baristas and first class cafes. We’d been perfecting it since the Italians and the Greeks brought their stovetop espresso makers with them from the old country. Starbucks just could not take hold and eight years later, the green mermaid made a quick get out, closing 61 of its 84 stores within one month. It was a true David and Goliath moment.

What do we do so well that meant a corporate megalith with obscene marketing grunt was rejected out of hand for the sake of the independent cafe owner?

For one thing our Cafe’s aren’t always called Starbucks. Starbucks has a nice ring, but imagine if that was the only choice you ever had. Don’t laugh, that’s the truth of the matter in so many places. We’ve got Grind, The Incinerator,  Orto Trading Co. Indigo or, plain old, Frank’s bar, and you know I haven’t even touched the iceberg.

It’s been eight years since Starbucks scampered, and in that time our cafes have grown up in layers of inspiration and quality. Australian’s are dizzy for good food and fanatical about their brew being on point. We are a ruthless clientele, discerning, with appetites fine tuned by our baristas, wait staff and chefs. It is a devoted partnership. We love our food and expect the best coffee because the that’s what we have come to know. The quality of the menu, the coffee and the venues, seem to get more distinct and confident with each passing year. How could we ever settle for sugar-coated monochrome when there is a boathouse serving fresh plate of fruit on driftwood bars next to a sparkling view. Or some dark inner city cafe, so black with attitude you could almost forget it’s blasting hot summer out there. And if you’re on a  health kick you can mix with the yoga tribe in pure macrobiotic zen.  Even the music. Pick your mood; pick your place. What do they play at Starbucks? Only the other day I ducked out of cold and was welcomed by Tom Waits beefing it out, high-fidelity on vinyl, and I just knew by the smell, the coffee was going to be good. Surely you don’t get that in Starbucks.

The Australian cafe is only as rich as it is, because of the heart and the diversity of the people behind the scenes. The owner, is more than often behind the kitchen benches. His or her blood, sweat and tears have goes into the place. It’s their brainchild, often their mortgage. And they don’t do it to be rich. They do it for the love; for some mad hospitality gene that pushes them to it.

But watch out Australia. Starbucks is having another crack. Since year 2000, another generation is growing up. Stay true.

Don’t forget your first love.

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