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Starbucks to Kill Off Its Fake-Independent Coffee Shop on Capitol Hill

The “stealth Starbucks” experiment ends


Starbucks is reportedly closing down its “independent” Capitol Hill coffee shop, Roy Street Coffee and Tea this spring.

According to Capitol Hill Seattle, the coffee shop’s customers have been informed that it will close at the end of April after a decade in business. It’s unclear if it will be converted into a regular Starbucks, or whether the coffee giant will depart the space altogether; Capitol Hill suggests that the latter might be more likely due to a possible ten-year lease on the location.

Starbucks confirmed to Eater that Roy Street will close April 28, with employees being offered the chance to transfer to Starbucks locations in Seattle.

As part of Starbucks standard course of business, we continually evaluate our business to ensure a healthy store portfolio. After careful consideration, we’ve made the difficult decision to close the store on Roy Street.

Roy Street Coffee is one of a few so-called “stealth Starbucks” to have been opened by the chain — it and its siblings are effectively faux-independent cafes, owned and operated by the corporate mothership, but styled to look like your average trendy neighborhood coffee shop. They do not feature the usual Starbucks trappings, such as uniformed staff, branded sizes like tall, grande, and venti, and gimmicky drinks (well, the gimmicks were more subtle: for example, a lavender cream cortado instead of a unicorn frappuccino).

Starbucks was fairly coy about the exact reason for stores like Roy Street: ex-CEO Howard Schultz said in 2015 that it was just a place where Starbucks could do things that wouldn’t fit in at its regular stores. However, it’s likely they were used for market research or testing (or “idea incubators” in grandiose marketing-speak).

While Capitol Hill was home to two such coffee shops (the other, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, only lasted a couple of years), the company opened relatively few stealth stores. The New York version, Herald Square Cafe, seems to have been converted to a regular Starbucks; an Austin location was also attempted in 2014.

Such locations were criticized as somewhat disingenuous attempts to use the ambiance and offerings of a neighborhood coffee shop to further corporate interests. The average passerby would be unlikely to detect that Roy Street was actually a disguised Starbucks, although stealth Starbucks usually had small markers denoting that the store was “inspired by Starbucks”. That said, an online search “Roy Street Coffee” leads straight to Starbucks’ website, and the company never tried to deny that it was behind this and other locations it hid in plain sight.

In any case, it seems that a handful of Seattleites are bothered by the impending closure: a (perhaps misguided) online petition decries “changing visions from Starbucks leadership”, and asks the company to keep the “community hub” open. It currently has a grand total of 39 signatures.