By: Kristin Hunt
Credit: Flickr/James Warwick
Nowadays you can find four on every corner, but back in 1971, Starbucks was just another coffee place bringing caffeine to the sleepy masses. Frappuccinos were still 24 years away, the stock market wasn’t even a consideration, and no one knew what the hell a Pumpkin Spice Latte was. Obviously a lot happened in the ensuing four decades, so we thought we’d bring you up to speed on the highlights from Starbucks’ nautical-themed history. Somehow, there are still no Orange Mocha Frappuccinos on the books, but we trust Howard Schultz is just saving those for the 50th anniversary.
Credit: Flickr/Richard Eriksson
1. It was founded by two teachers and a writer
Though the man most associated with Starbucks is chairman and CEO Howard Schultz – who’s been with the company on and off since the ‘80s – it was actually started by three dudes without an MBA between them. That’d be Gordon Bowker (a writer), Zev Siegl (a history teacher), and Jerry Baldwin (an English teacher). Wanting to bring the best coffee to Seattle, they opened the first Starbucks in 1971 in Pike Place Market. It only sold beans at first, but that would change once Schultz stepped in.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
2. The name was inspired by Moby-Dick
“Starbucks” refers to the first mate in that Herman Melville book you never quite finished in high school. Looking back, it might seem like an unusual namesake, but the original idea was much stranger. Bowker first suggested they name the place after the Moby-Dick whaling ship, the Pequod. Thankfully, clearer (or more caffeinated?) minds prevailed.
3. The original mermaid was way racier
Seeing as the Starbucks logo is a siren, she’s supposed to lure you into buying coffee/dying at sea. But the first version wasn’t exactly a subtle seductress. They at least covered up her chest with flowing hair in 1987, but she didn’t morph into the PG version we’re familiar with until 1992.
Credit: Flickr/Antonio Silveira
4. The size names are truly meaningless
Much angst and stand-up comedy has been spilled over Starbucks’ unique lingo. But it turns out there’s no real reason why a small is tall or a large is venti. The cup sizes first debuted at Howard Schultz’s 1986 solo venture, Il Giornale, before crossing into Starbucks-speak when he returned to the company. His Il Giornale partner, Dawn Pinaud, fully admits they just made them up in a conference room.
5. NPR prank-reported a Starbucks pipeline
In 1996, NPR’s All Things Considered told listeners that Starbucks was developing a transcontinental coffee pipeline that would carry freshly roasted coffee beans across thousands of miles. Except this information came on a pretty critical date: April 1st. Most people seemed to get the joke, but there are a few accounts of people asking bemused Starbucks employees about the pipeline project after the broadcast.
6. The Pumpkin Spice Latte was invented by a Stanford basketball player
You can thank Peter Dukes for this seasonal sensation. The man first arrived at Starbucks in 2001 after studying economics at Stanford – where he was also on the basketball team – and earning his MBA. Two years into the job, he was tasked with coming up with a new branded espresso drink for the fall. Despite some early push-back, Dukes was convinced a pumpkin pie-inspired latte was the way to go, and history proved him right. For his troubles, he even got space on a mural near Starbucks HQ, right next to a haloed PSL cup and terrifyingly large pumpkin.
7. Paul McCartney ditched his long-time label to make music for Starbucks
When Starbucks formed its record label, Hear Music, with Concord Music Group, it scored a major coup early on by signing Sir Paul. Apart from a brief stint with Columbia Records in the '80s, McCartney had been with EMI for 40+ years at the time. But just weeks after Hear Music was even formed in 2007, it was able to lure him over. James Taylor and Joni Mitchell followed, along with several other people your parents have proudly seen live in concert several times.
Credit: Flickr/Michael Allen Smith
8. There are “Stealth Starbucks” shops in disguise
After Starbucks experienced a pair of especially brutal years, two Seattle shops went into the coffee shop equivalent of the Witness Protection Program. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea and Roy Street Coffee wiped any obvious logos, lingo, and barista uniforms and distracted suspicious customers with off-menu items like meat trays – while still accepting Starbucks rewards cards and tacking “inspired by Starbucks” onto the new aliases. These so-called “Stealth Starbucks” locations were intended to be experimental grounds where corporate could test out new ideas without any branding bias to cloud customer judgment. 15th Avenue went back to being a regular Starbucks in 2011, but it looks like Roy Street is still as sneaky as ever.
9. Even the CIA goes there
Roy Street Coffee’s little act is cute, but only one Starbucks can call itself a spy coffeehouse. The CIA’s Langley campus has its own location, and over there, your name will never be misspelled. Or even called! Because all the patrons are extra paranoid about their identities, no names are used at the Langley store, and the baristas are subjected to slightly more exhaustive background checks. Hey, even top intelligence officials like their Mocha Frappuccinos.
Credit: Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
10. A stock share used to be $17
When Starbucks became a publicly traded company in 1992, you could buy in for $17. Today, that share is worth closer to $80, so if you did get in early, you can definitely afford to spring for the venti.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
11. Booze is coming
This spring, Starbucks announced it would be rolling out its “Evenings Menu” nationwide over the next couple of years. That menu includes stuff like truffle mac 'n cheese, bacon-wrapped dates… and, oh right, beer and wine. The program has already been thriving in Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Chicago locations, and since the announcement, the liquored-up menu has hit Washington Dulles International Airport and Downtown Disney. Happiest place on Earth, indeed.
Credit: Lee Breslouer/Thrillist
12. There’s a secret menu, and a secret size
Just last year, Starbucks not-so-sneakily dropped a “secret” Halloween drink called the Franken Frappuccino. But anyone who’s spent a minute Googling knows the actual secret menu is chock-full of treasures like the Cap'n Crunch Berry Frappuccino, Caramel Snickerdoodle Macchiato, and Butterbeer Latte. There’s also an off-books cup size, the 8oz “short,” available for anyone who wants a quick shot of caffeine… or those weirdos who just want steamed milk.
13. It was the site of the ultimate nerd pun
When this photo hit the web in 2011, it caused many geeky hearts to burst. That’s because it features Dirk Benedict (who played Lieutenant Starbuck in the 1978 Battlestar Galactica) and Katee Sackhoff (who played Lieutenant Starbuck in the 2004 Battlestar Galactica) drinking coffee inside a Starbucks. Pick up the shattered pieces of your mind whenever you’re ready
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