For many, purchasing food at a Starbucks has been an afterthought—a convenience associated with dropping in to order a latte or a cold brew to pick you up and send you on your way. That’s about to change at the chain’s Reserve Roastery location in downtown Seattle, its cathedral to all things coffee. Mirroring the Reserve store’s focus on carefully crafted drinks and no-rush bean appreciation, an entire space dedicated to equally well-crafted food offerings has arrived—by way of Italy—where customers will get the first opportunity to rethink what it means to grab a bite at Starbucks. Food & Wine was on-hand at a first tasting to experience just what this collaboration has to offer.
Famed Italian baker Rocco Princi, known for his half-dozen Princi bread and pastry shops in Milan and London, partnered with Starbucks over a year ago when his friendship with CEO Howard Schultz paved the way for the coffee giant to invest in his business. Princi’s meticulously-sourced Italian fare and baked goods will populate Princi Bakery which takes up about a quarter of the floor space at the Roastery and features glass cases packed with flaky cornetti, sheets of vibrantl-topped focaccia pizza and, of course, the irresistible lure of freshly baked bread.
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The Seattle location is Starbucks’ first attempt at baking on-premises in its 45-year history and is Princi’s first venture outside of Europe, but it certainly won’t be his only foray into the rest of the world. Princi bakeries are slated to pop up in all of Starbucks’ planned roasteries, including Shanghai opening on December 6 of this year, Chicago in 2018, New York in 2019, with Tokyo on the map as well, bringing the baker’s platonic ideal of bread to each locale.
But lest you assume Princi is simply purveying Starbucks’ upgraded food options, the company is, in fact, setting its sights on aiding with the opening of standalone Princi locations which will pop up in the cities around the planned roasteries, where central kitchens will be able to supply the ingredients and raw products to the satellite bakeries. To that end, a Princi bakery could very well be coming to a city near you. Here’s what that experience will entail.
At the Seattle location, the back wall of Princi is dominated by shelves of enticingly crusty bread and three huge ovens, securely affirming that, yes, the food is baked on site. (By comparison, the Milan and London stores only have one oven each.) Customers are met with a wide, glass counter housing—throughout the day—over 100 menu items, which change from breakfast to lunch to aperitivo to dinner. Bread and pastries are available throughout the day. But customers won’t have to squint at a collection of menu boards or flat screen monitors to keep track of what’s on offer, as they’ll also be met by a Commessa, essentially a tour guide to answer your questions and direct you to the food items you may not know you’re craving yet. The thrust of Princi is to eat with your eyes, and the visual buffet is certainly tantalizing. Last week, Princi and his son were on hand to walk us through a preview of the menu, which he calls the "greatest hits of Milan."
In the morning, guests can expect a wide array of breakfast options from simple pastries and bread, including the signature Princi loaf, to dishes like eggs in purgatory.
By lunch, the display shifts to fresh-baked focaccia sandwiches, soups, and salads.
Later in the afternoon, customers will find small places like sticks of olive-filled sfilatini sliced and stuffed with pistachio mortadella, perfect for snacking alongside a spritz. And, of course, there are the desserts, from crostata fragola to tiramisu to a rich chocolate tart so dark and dense you could get lost in it.
Sourcing over 50 ingredients from Italy, half of which are proprietary, and another 50 or so from local produce farmers, Princi’s menu hinges on freshness and quality. Twenty-month-aged prosciutto tops ciabatta and pizzas. Even fresh oregano, purchased in bunches still on the stem, is imported as Princi insists on a “no compromise” approach to finding the perfect ingredients.
Additionally, some of the staff were trained in Milan, putting them in the middle of Princi stores during tourist season. In short, Princi says he refuses to let quality slip and plans to stay on a steady rotation between Italy, Seattle, Shanghai, and other locations as they open, overseeing the operations and tweaking where he sees fit.
To the side of the bakery counter is a bar which will serve wine, beer and cocktails including, yes, Aperol spritzes throughout the day and into the evening hours. Tables and chairs are open seating, and a long communal table is centrally located to encourage interaction. Those moments of relaxation, Princi tells Food & Wine, are central to his “spirit of Milan” concept. “I want people to spend five minutes away from their phone, to take a break and enjoy food, enjoy coffee, have a conversation,” Princi says.
With the array of tasty and fresh Italian fare to sample and a wide-ranging menu that begs for return visits to try it all out, Princi and Starbucks may just have what it takes to get customers to stop in for a few more than five minutes.