Dear Howard Schultz Former CEO of Starbucks,
Howard, is it okay that I call you Howard? I feel like after a twenty-five-year relationship I should be allowed to call you Howard. Starbucks and I first met in Seattle during the summer of ’92. I was working as an intern in a law office downtown and would frequent different coffee spots in the city. It was the infancy of the coffee revolution that would sweep the northwest like grunge swept rock and roll. There were coffee stands on every corner even coffee carts pulled by bicycles. For two dollars one could purchase a 16 ounce steaming hot mocha and feel buzzed all day. Over time the coffee carts disappeared and Starbucks began to pop up on every corner. I missed the carts, but there was something unique about Starbucks and the coffee was smooth with no funny aftertaste. I fell in love with your coffee and had to have it every day. Over time my daily habit became an addiction.
When you introduced pumpkin spice and gingerbread lattes, your marketing was similar to a drug dealer. You began by selling cheap, hooking us on the sweet pumpkin and gingerbread flavors and then slowly increased the price each fall. No one really cared about the price increase because our drug of choice was back and that’s all that really mattered. The arrival of your holiday beverages each fall became a cultural phenomenon that goes viral through social media. You receive free advertising via your customers and as a thank you we may get a free coffee on our birthday. Now, a Grande Pumpkin Spice latte costs close to five dollars, which is the going price for a vile of crack. Granted, this is good business practices and I really don’t begrudge you your profits. However, Howard, I am breaking up with you and your company. It has taken me almost a year to make the split and I think I owe you an explanation as to why.
First, I am a pastor of a Lutheran church and we host a free community dinner every Wednesday in our fellowship hall. This dinner is provided by my congregation with no strings attached. We simply open our door and provide meals for the community. We do not force people to pray before the meal or attend a worship service. Like Jesus feeding the five thousand we just say welcome and feed people. Howard, for years you allowed us to post fliers for our community dinner on your community bulletin boards in your stores. My goodness your staff even provided a few meals for our dinner; however, last fall I was told we could no longer post our fliers because we were a religious organization. When I explained that we were allowed to post fliers in the past I was told that the community board was for community events only and not to promote religious organizations. The new policy kind of stung because I was under the impression that our church was part of the community. At that point I wondered why am I frequenting Starbucks if all they want out of me is my five dollars a day. I tried to break-up with you then, but addiction is cunning, baffling and powerful and I just couldn’t break my habit.
Howard, the last straw came this spring when I learned that Starbucks actually pays no federal tax and then received over a million-dollar tax return. After doing some research and discovering that 60 corporations paid zero in federal income tax and received 4.3 billion dollars in rebates I realized that I was paying $1.75 a day for corporate welfare. Once I added $1.75 to the four to six dollars I was spending a day in your stores I kind of got sick to my stomach. My taxes increased by five thousand dollars in 2018 in order to cover your tax breaks and keep our country barely afloat. So between not being recognized as a part of the community because I am a pastor and being done over on taxes our relationship is over. Our relationship is completely dysfunctional and in order to continue with my coffee addiction I need to look at other worthier suitors.
Throughout this process I have had to wrestle with some tough questions. The first has to do with why I kept going to Starbucks even after I knew the relationship was broken. Convenience was my only answer. I drive by Starbucks on my way to work and it is the first coffee shop I pass. It was just too easy to pull in and buy my drug of choice. Convenience no longer has the pull it once had. Since you are not paying federal taxes you are not helping the community. Our nation’s infrastructure is falling down around us and you are not only not contributing to solve the problem you are actually taking funds away and tucking them in an offshore account. Our schools and roads are woefully underfunded and you’re okay with the status quo. So, where should I purchase my caffeine for the day? Well, I went in search of local coffee places who actually do give back and support the communities in which they live.
I began to ask myself not only “What Would Jesus Do?” but “Where Would Jesus Buy Coffee?” Jesus was all about the little guy, who was over taxed and underrepresented. Jesus would have looked around and found the coffee shop that needs the most support and he would have hung out at that shop. It could be a stand on the corner or a local coffee shop the thing is Jesus would have gone local and kept it simple. Jesus was pretty big on exposing the hypocrisy of the rich and powerful and reaching out to the poor and vulnerable. So for now Spirit Espresso on the corner of Geary and Queen Street you have my business. You are a locally owned establishment, your staff are always kind and wonderful and you live in the community you serve.
So Howard this is goodbye. I wish you luck on your future political endeavors, but like my patronage to your business so goes my vote.
Pastor Laura O’Brien
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church