Bryant Simon’s Book “Everything But Coffee” Explores Starbucks’ Role in American Culture
Starbucks (NASDAQ: SBUX) had 14,805 retail stores in the United States as of June 13, 2021, and reported sales of $ 19.1 billion in 2020. Due to the pandemic, its sales fell by 27 % compared to the previous year.
But according to Everything But Coffee: Learn About America From Starbucks, written by Bryant Simon, professor of history and director of American studies at Temple University in Philadelphia, Starbucks has had a dramatic effect on American culture.
He quotes musician Alice Cooper who said General Motors symbolized the United States “Now, as Starbucks goes, so is America,” Cooper said.
Simon said that Starbucks “identified, packaged and made readily available, if only through smoke and mirrors, the things that America’s broad middle class wanted and thought they needed to improve their public and private lives. “.
He is also critical of Starbucks. Despite providing health care benefits to staff who work at least 20 hours a week, Simon says, “It never was for the greater good; it worked for Wall Street and the shareholders.
Its premium coffee, Simon suggests, served as an American status symbol, “like a BMW coupe or a Kate Space handbag.” Their large slats made their customers “feel like they were better than the rest, cooler, richer and more sophisticated”.
Here’s what Bryant Simon said about Starbucks’ effect on American culture:
You have shown that Starbucks has a huge effect on American culture. Overall, what was the effect?
Simon: I think there are two things to keep in mind when thinking of Starbucks: its impact on society and its reflection of American society. Starbucks has set up a mirror to see what we care about and what we want. He helped transform American taste. He took an everyday product like coffee, made it better, and changed it. The simplest thing is that it taught us, as a culture, to pay more than a dollar for a cup of coffee. Second, it has helped transform the way we navigate cities.
How? ‘Or’ What?
Simon: It gave us a place away from home to meet, work, hide, meet people, and it helped start other cafes. It really, in a way, transformed the way people used space away from home.
In the book, you cited that America used to hang out at the corner bar, front porch, or church, and now they gravitate to Starbucks. Why?
Simon: What happened is that Starbucks started when the government’s commitment to public spaces waned, like libraries and common spaces in train stations. New York has set up unstable benches to ward off the homeless. Starbucks wants to be seen as a third place, a gathering place for friends or business meetings. The first place is the house; the second is work. Howard Schultz had a strange sense of what people were missing in their lives. What made the business so explosive was that it offered a chance to get things that people in their lives lacked, such as a place to gather.
But you also notice that there are over 200 Starbucks stores in prosperous Manhattan, there are only a handful in the Bronx, mostly working-class. Why?
Simon: What Starbucks sells is some kind of affordable luxury and it’s something the working class and predominantly black and brown neighborhoods of the city cannot afford. Starbucks doesn’t necessarily want to attract these people. This price is a door holding mechanism. It is an economic and class question.
Starbucks premium coffee was once a status symbol. Has he lost his cachet?
Simon: It has lost its high-end cachet. And in the process, it turned into an intermediate product and that allowed itself to develop. You can’t be a premium product and be everywhere. And they decided at some point that they would be all over the place and sacrifice some of the cachet they had.
At first, under the leadership of Howard Schultz, he offered top quality coffee and made no compromises. Then he started offering Frapuccino, lunchtime drink deals, and frequent customer discounts. What’s the problem with doing that?
Simon: He claims the authenticity of coffee, while he makes all these movements, which are inauthentic.
You say most of its employees are joyless. Doesn’t it offer a plethora of entry-level jobs for lots of people and the opportunity to become managers?
Simon: They offer college courses as an option that barely pays for college. They allow their employees to purchase health care benefits because we live in a country with a totally broken health system. It is a measure of their triumph in shaping their news.
Starbucks has opened a new Manhattan roast and reserve. What is their effect?
Simon: I think these places are just places for shows or advertisements. And whether they are making money or not, they have to be there as a symbol of the authenticity and knowledge of Starbucks coffee.
Lately, Starbucks has taken to promoting mobile app orders and drive-thru services. What is the effect?
Simon: It has put Starbucks in a good position to respond to the pandemic. Drive-thru talk to Starbucks to recognize that we are not a premium brand. We’re going to be people’s default decent cup of coffee.
You visited an amazing 425 Starbucks while searching for your book. Overall, what impact has this coffee chain had on American culture?
Simon: Starbucks has changed what we drink and the way we interact outside the home. We have come to expect that the place where we go for a cup of coffee is a place of work or meeting. My son got a job in a small town in Hastings, Michigan, where there is a cafe that probably wouldn’t exist without Starbucks.
Where do you see Starbucks going in the future?
Simon: If I were Starbucks, it would be more or less the same. I would put a Starbucks at every rest stop on the freeway, airport, and train station. It would be the place people recognize for a great cup of coffee.