When is a cafe not a cafe? When it’s a hybrid

What’s interesting about the announcement that the planet’s largest Starbucks will be opening on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in November isn’t its size –  43,000 square feet over several floors. It’s the plan to introduce cocktails, pizzas and salads – essentially a pub menu – as well as roastery tours and hard-to-find coffee beans.  

The scale and location may be noteworthy, but Starbucks certainly isn’t the first to go down the hybrid food and beverage road. The 6200 craft breweries in the US – of which around 2200 are brewpubs, 3800 are microbreweries and 200 are larger regional craft breweries – provide an interesting parallel to what Starbucks plans to do with its Michigan Avenue site. 

Many US craft breweries that brew beer on site feature substantial pub-style food offerings, cellar-door-only brews (new releases of which often cause queues), merchandise located in a gift shop near the entrance and brewery tours. The difference is, they’re predominantly independently owned and not usually centrally located – you have to go find them. 

Beer, wine and lots of food

The now Darden-owned Yard House craft brewpub/restaurant/sports bars typically feature 140 to 210 beers on tap, a substantial food menu, branded merchandise and floorplans seating on average 250 people at a throw. The chain has about 80 outlets across the western US.

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Likewise, the concept of a coffeehouse-wine bar has been around for at least 10 years, including in Australia. Candlelight Coffeehouse in San Antonio, Texas, is a classic example, combining cocktail bar, live music, different daytime and nighttime food menus and 21 different types of coffee beans to choose from, most of which are for sale by the pound. Third Perk Coffeehouse & Wine Bar in Dayton, Ohio, also sells coffee for US$10 a bag, and you can become a monthly subscriber for orders or order online. Zizzo’s Coffeehouse & Wine Bar in the small town of Capitola, California, sells itself as “Coffee to the left, wine & beer to the right”.

Brew/Ultimo Coffee in Philadelphia has more of a retail focus, being a coffee and beer shop. Brew/Ultimo sells small-batch local beers to take away as baristas prepare Guatemalan espresso and iced Ethiopian Haru coffee while shoppers wait.

Bike repair and surf gear

Over the past decade, the consumer drive towards experiences has seen a rise in hybrid stores combining coffee and eat-in facilities with other service or retail environments. Originating with the now-commonplace bakery cafes and cafe-delicatessens, and moving to bookstore cafes, the concept has spread to sports and leisure concepts, such as bicycle cafes, motorcycle cafes and surf store cafes.

Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse, with its Ikonik Downtown Coffee Bar, in New Mexico’s Santa Fe, has been running for more than 40 years. Beans & Books Coffeehouse in the small town of Shawano, Wisconsin, was established in 2004 and recently renovated to double in size. It sells new and used books, coffee- and tea-related gifts, and also features a meeting/function room. The indoor/outdoor cafe in Old Fox Books & Coffeehouse in Annapolis, Maryland, opens earlier than the bookstore (which seems like a lost sales opportunity). 

The US features a plethora of bicycle and motorcycle cafes. See See Motor Coffee Co in Portland, Oregon, serves espresso drinks, wine, beer and snacks as a backdrop to its customised motorcycle apparel, spare parts and tyres. It hosts a variety of events, including art shows, mini-bike races and a custom bike helmet show.

Ride Studio Cafe has become a local landmark in toney Lexington, Massachusetts, where customers can design their one-off, custom-made bicycle while sipping locally roasted George Howell coffee or choose from a rotating list of espresso drinks brewed through a Chemex or AeroPress. Other bicycle cafes feature organic locally sourced beverage and food, such as South Mountain Cycle & Cafe in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, or Red Lantern Bicycles in New York’s Brooklyn. 

Yoga and doughnuts

There are some interesting hybrids. Showcasing the contradictory consumer trends of wellbeing and indulgence, Brooklyn’s Cobra Club is a yoga studio featuring Counter Culture coffee, Brooklyn’s Dough doughnuts in multiple flavours – and a happy hour. The bar serves wine and cider on tap as well as signature cocktails which yoga aficionados and other locals can enjoy while viewing comedy shows, punk rock bands and karaoke. Cafe Tango in Somerville, Massachusetts, blends an upstairs dance studio with a downstairs cafe and doughnut shop. 

At the other end of the experiential and size scale, Tchibo, founded in 1949, is one of Germany’s biggest retail chains with over 1000 coffee shops and cafes selling everything from clothing and household items to electrical appliances and insurance.

Closer to home, the Armchair Collective in Mona Vale, on Sydney’s north shore, combines a cafe, custom furniture and homewares and is soon to launch an online store. Deus Ex Machina, a combination cafe and custom motorcycle workshop, has become something of a landmark in Sydney’s inner west. 

All of which makes Starbucks, the originator or at least coiner of the “third place” concept, seem a little lacking in imagination. If the intention is to make the new Starbucks on Michigan Avenue the flagship – the Apple store of coffee – then it feels like there could be more scope applied than to simply be the coffee version of a brewpub on steroids. Perhaps a visit to Chicago to pressure test the concept is in order.

Norrelle has 20 years’ experience in retail, category, channel and customer, working in and with global retailers, manufacturers and consulting houses. Contact Norrelle on 0411735190 or email norrellegoldring@hotmail.com

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