The sun is not yet up but the baristas are, a blur of busy hands wiping down counters and smoothing black aprons. Chipper and precise, they work at Starbucks, but it is probably not like the one near where you live. Among the 17,000 Starbucks that caffeinate the planet, this one is special.
This one, in Seattle’s lovely Madison Park neighborhood, is where Howard Schultz, the company’s passionate chief executive, likes to pop in on his way to another day of brand building.
This one serves beer and wine. Prosecco? Of course. French presses are for sale next to the gas fireplace and across from the bins of coffee beans. By all means, sift those beans through your fingers. The jazz is textured but digestible. Shel Silverstein is on the shelf in a section for kids. Mr. Schultz’s recent book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul,” is also on display. (Buy it and you receive a $5 gift certificate.) A painting stretched across a long wall says, “We live in a beautiful world.”
A customer opens the door. It is still dark outside. Eyes turn discreetly.
Things pick up.
Not him. Not him. Not him.
Were the baristas looking for their boss, who lives in a ton of house nearby? Were they anxious? Were they freaking out? Is it true that they undergo special scrutiny before they can work there? Do they sometimes wish they worked in one of those apathy-oozing independent coffee shops in an edgier part of town? Surely they have a tattoo or two beneath those buttoned black sleeves, right?
Good luck finding out.
“It’s an honor to work here,” said one, noting his necktie.
No further comment. Call media relations, they say. Call corporate.
Corporate calls first.
They say “security concerns” make them wary of discussing the fact that “Howard is there a good bit.” After all, he is a “high-profile person.”
Mr. Schultz has certainly been a man in the news lately and coffee is not why. In recent weeks he has called for a moratorium on political donations until a long-term debt deal is reached in Congress. He has also prodded other business leaders to take more risks, to do more hiring, to be more assertive in getting the economy going.
No wonder he needs a doppio espresso macchiato each morning.
“He waits in line,” said Patricia Smith, a regular at the store. “He wears really good shirts, and usually jeans.”
“He’s usually alone,” said Wayne Smith, her husband. “You can tell he’s looking around.”
Perhaps he will notice the man reading “Design as Art,” by Bruno Munari. Hopefully he will not witness the kind of mix-up that caused the Smiths to wait extra long for their “double tall soy half-caff lattes with no lids.”
“Really, this has happened once in five years,” Mr. Smith said.
They received coupons for free drinks. “The baristas here are so friendly,” Ms. Smith said.
Corporate calls back, warmer this time. They say the employees at the Madison Park Starbucks are hired through normal channels. They note that the store, recently remodeled, is based on “a palette” that the company has experimented with in a couple of other locations, and that will be applied at 1,700 stores next year.
Only a handful of Starbucks stores will sell alcohol, said a spokesman for the company, Corey duBrowa. But their baristas had better perfect those doppio espresso macchiatos. Mr. Schultz visits up to 20 Starbucks stores a week in Seattle.
“And he always orders the same thing,” Mr. duBrowa said.
This article, "There’s One on Every Corner, but None Like This," orginally appeared in The New York times.