In 2016, Starbucks became an investor and global licensee of Rocco Princi’s eponymous boutique bakery and café business, which debuted 1986 in Milan at the Pizzale Istria. Princi expanded to five additional stores across Milan and London over the next decade. Starbucks opened its first Princi store in the U.S. the same year it invested—inside a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle, placing the artisanal baked goods alongside its small-lot Reserve coffees. This became an exclusive purveyor deal for Roasteries and Reserve stores, as well as Starbucks’ Reserve store at the company’s SODO headquarters.
The standalone chapter of Starbucks’ gourmet food concept has now arrived.
The chain opened the first Princi unit in the north end of downtown Seattle on Westlake at 9th Avenue. “When you first walk into a Princi bakery, you’re suddenly hit by the energy, the theater, the smell,” said Christian Davies, Starbucks vice president, Creative Global Design & Innovation, in a statement. “Your first impression is the abundance and seduction of food. That’s what we’re trying to create with a distinctly Italian look and feel to bring that passion to life.”
The standalone Princi location is the first for Starbucks, which plans additional openings for Chicago and New York this fall. It also makes Seattle the first city to offer the company’s full suite of experiences from its Starbucks Siren Retail business. These premium concepts, meant to highlight its Reserve brand, includes the Reserve Roastery, Reserve store, Starbucks stores with a Reserve coffee bar, and, now, Princi standalone units. It’s no small initiative, either. Starbucks debuted its first Reserve store February 27 in Seattle, and said earlier in the year it planned to open 1,000 of these.
“What we believe is, if you look at—look in the retail world out there and certainly if you look in the restaurant retail world, there’s not another brand out there with this many stores at scale that can win on both sides of this spectrum,” CFO Scott Maw, who is set to retire in November, said in March.
Starbucks has tried to make food a bigger focus in the past. Five years ago, Starbucks’ food was 15–16 percent of total sales. Now, it’s over 20 percent. In some units it’s even gone from 15 to 30 percent over that five-year period.
For Princi’s design, Starbucks gleaned inspiration from the original Milan Bakery and the nearby Reserve Roastery, showcasing natural materials and earth-colored stone. There’s hand-blown glass fixtures and hand-rubbed plaster to echo Princi’s style and commitment to craftsmanship.
Starbucks said the centerpiece is the oven, which bakes fresh products throughout the day onsite. “A brightly lit food case stretches along the width of the space, enough for a visual landscape of freshly baked cornetti, brioche and focaccia, pizzas and desserts. Commessas, Italian for ‘shop assistant,’ act as a guide through the journey of food,” Starbucks said.’
“We kept the palate neutral. The food becomes a ribbon of color and light that ties the whole space together,” Davies added. “…We wanted to make sure every one of these elements is created with the same level of detail that Rocco puts into his food.”
Food wise, the restaurant features the full Princi menu of artisanal baked goods, made with ingredients sourced from Italy. Breakfast features steel-cut oats with Italian jam, baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce, and cornetti sandwiches made with prosciutto cotto and Fontina. Lunch spotlights soups, salads, focaccia sandwiches, pizza, and hot entrees. Italian cakes, tarts, and other desserts are added for afternoon guests. There’s also a Starbucks Reserve Princi blend to join the espresso beverages made on a manual espresso machine.
Another unique feature: Later in the day Bar Mixato offers traditional Italian apertivo, including cocktails, beer, wine, and spirits accompanied by complimentary small plates. A patio that will open to a planned new city park later in the year is open as well.
“When you go to Italy, you’ll always find people on the patio,” Davies said. “I hope customers will come here and find the spirit of Milan.”
In the third quarter, global same-store sales were up 1 percent for Starbucks, its lowest comps since the company began sharing financials on its investor site in 2011. Looking to the end of the fiscal year, Starbucks expects similarly muted results with comps clocking in below the usual 3–5 percent range for both the fourth quarter and full year.