Industry News | August 17, 2017 | By Danny Klein | QSR Exclusive Brief

Starbucks, Panera Leaders React to Charlottesville

“I know we are better than this,” Starbucks' executive chairman Howard Schultz told a crowd of 1,000 at a recent forum. Starbucks
Bookmark/Search this post
Email this story Email this story
Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz said “the moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss.” Panera Bread CEO and founder Ron Shaich turned to a song often reserved for Christmas albums to express his reaction to the Charlottesville, Virginia, rally, which has ignited a firestorm of opinions from business leaders across the country.

Schultz hosted a standing-room only forum entitled “Hate has no home here” at the Starbucks Support Center in Seattle Tuesday. Schultz brought a rock he took home from the Auschwitz concentration camp 17 years ago.

“I come to you as an American, as a Jew, as a parent, as a grandparent, as an almost 40-year partner of this company,” Schultz told the crowd of more than 1,000. “I come to you with profound, profound concern about the lack of character, morality, humanity, and what this might mean for young children and young generations that are growing up at a time in which we are imprinting them with levels of behaviors and conduct that are beneath the United States of America. I know we are better than this.”

Schultz and Starbucks partners spoke for an hour and half, passing the rock around the room.

“What we witnessed this past weekend … is against every sense of what is right. My fear is not only that this behavior is being given permission and license, but its conduct is being normalized to the point where people are no longer hiding their face,” Schultz said. “We’ve all seen pictures of the KKK in the South … they were hiding because they were afraid to be outed. People are no longer afraid.”

“The moral fiber, the values, and what we as a country have stood for is literally hanging in the abyss. We are at a critical juncture in American history. That is not an exaggeration. We are at and facing a crucible in which our daily life is being challenged and being questioned about what is right and what is wrong.”

Starbucks’ employee Carl Edwards, who works in research and development, called for action as well.

“As an African American, it creates this feeling of going backwards, of literally blood, sweat and tears going down the drain,” he said. “But If we look around, we have the brain power to solve anything. There’s nothing we cannot do if we put our minds to it. We can solve this. Let’s figure this out. Because we can do it.”

Shaich shared a note with his Panera team and then pasted it on Twitter Wednesday.

It began, “It’s been a distressing few days for anyone who values inclusion, tolerance, and American values. On Saturday, we saw in the streets of Charlottesville, Va., ‘alt-right’ groups giving neo-Nazi salutes, yelling anti-Semitic chants, and running down law-abiding citizens. Clearly, these are not nice people who anyone should defend,” he added, perhaps in reference to recent comments from President Donald Trump, who said “both sides” are to blame for the escalation of events, which left 32-year-old counterprotestor Heather Heyer dead and 19 others injured when a car plowed into a crowd of people.

Shaich continued: “Some of you may be familiar with the song lyrics, ‘Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me,’" which references the popular holiday single “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”

“I know many of you share this sentiment,” Shaich added. “I don’t think there’s ever been a more important time for us to stand up as citizens for our American values and voice our disgust for hate based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. You can count me personally as one American who will do all in my power to fight hate.”

The full note can be seen below: