There are two ways to think about Starbucks’ first juice bar, which opens Monday. Either this juice heralds the end of times, or it is a boon to vegans and vegetarians everywhere.
The basic background: Back in November, Starbucks bought Evolution Fresh, a company started by the guy behind Naked Juice. The coffee company is using that business to launch an entirely new chain. It will service fresh fruit and vegetable juices, smoothies, wraps, salads, and soups. The first store opens Monday in Bellevue, Wash., which Reuters describes as “an upscale city just east of Seattle.”
Now, for those who believe — no, are certain — that Starbucks ruined coffee forever, this is terrible news. People swear by their juice bars: in the East Village, where I live, you’re either a Liquiteria fan or a Juicy Lucy fan. We have regular jazz-ballet dance rumbles. For those whose No. 1 priority is having fresh juices and vegan wraps available two to a corner … well, it’s probably still terrible news. Can a giant corporation really get a wheatgrass-spiked kale-apple-carrot-banana smoothie right? It is not unreasonable to fear that the result will be gross and probably full of sugar.
Nor is it unreasonable to fear that Starbucks will try to drive your favorite juice bar out of business. Last fall, the company actually poached a Liquiteria manager, Yohana Bencosme, who had 11 years of experience. The New York Post has the best gossip about this, of course:
Liquiteria owner Doug Green confirmed Schultz had hired Bencosme, saying, “She was like my daughter. He befriended us, asked about our concept, then took her. It is a huge slap in the face.”
That’s Starbucks for you: They want to get the juice bar thing right, but they’re not above using their major dollars to undermine a trusting relationship built over a decade.
So, those who are little snobby about their juice bar, go ahead and hate on this concept. But what if Starbucks does manage to make juice bars as ubiquitous and successful as overpriced coffee joints? If the concept is successful, Evolution Fresh could be serving vegan and vegetarian food all over the country. And while it probably won’t be the best vegetarian and vegan food, any spicy carrot sandwich is better than a drive-thru burger.
UPDATE: We are not off to a promising start. Apparently the Starbucks juice bar can’t even SPELL “vegetables.”