The Whiskey Congress podcast did not discuss the incident in the Philadelphia Starbucks in our last episode. Why not? Because it happened the day after we recorded the show. Full disclosure, Steve called me the next day and asked me to meet him for a drink, which I did. He told me about the incident in Philadelphia and suggested that we should record another episode immediately. Which would have been a great idea if not for the fact that I had already visited three other bars that evening. Steve and I will definitely discuss the event in our next show, but we will now be able to discuss the corporate response. I give Starbucks a good deal of credit. They could have fired the manager and released a statement condemning the event. Instead, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson took burden on himself…sort of. To Mr. Johnson’s credit, he accepted responsibility at the senior corporate level and published a video explaining his corporate vision of the bigger picture. Today, Starbucks announced that they will be closing 8,000 stores for a day in May to improve training and prevent anything like this from happening again. I don’t know how much this decision will cost Starbucks in lost sales. I don’t know if this decision was a calculated move to increase profits by avoiding boycotts, protests and bad publicity. I do know that Starbucks made an effort to bring racial tension to the forefront of the national discourse a few years ago with their “Race Together” campaign and it didn’t go well. Now Starbucks finds itself in the racial spotlight again. This time for reactive rather than proactive reasons. Oddly, this time they may have a greater impact…Sort of.
Starbucks Corp will close 8,000 company-owned U.S. cafes for the afternoon on May 29 to train nearly 175,000 on how to prevent racial discrimination in its stores.
Starbucks’ roughly 6,000 licensed cafes will remain open. Starbucks said it would make training materials available to the employees of those stores, who are employed by the grocery stores or airports where they are located.
The announcement from world’s biggest coffee company comes as it tries to cool tensions after the arrest of two black men at one of its Philadelphia cafes last week sparked accusations of racial profiling at the chain.
Protesters have called for a boycott of the company, in what has become the biggest public relations test yet for Chief Executive Kevin Johnson.
Johnson, a former technology executive, took the helm about a year ago and was already fighting to boost traffic to Starbucks amid intense competition from coffee sellers ranging from hipster cafes to fast-food chains and convenience stores.
The afternoon hours are the slowest time for Starbucks’ business. Nevertheless, the closure of 8,000 stores and its corporate offices for an afternoon will almost certainly have an impact on sales. Starbucks did not say how many hours the stores would be shuttered on May 29.
“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution,” said Johnson, who has apologized for the “reprehensible” arrests of the two men and taken responsibility for the incident.
Attorneys for the company said Johnson and the two men involved have “engaged in constructive discussions about this issue as well as what is happening in communities across the country.”