Sunday evening found me in the parking garage at Bellevue Square, loitering outside the service entrance for the Starbucks tucked inside The Lodge. When the back door finally opened, I was escorted from one politely wary employee to another person reluctant to bring me inside unbidden, to another one who froze midstride when I told her I was with a magazine.
“Can you please stay right here?” she asked, leaving me standing in the Starbucks back hallway, next to an employee billboard and a stack of boxes as she scampered off to find out if I had any business coming inside the space next door.
A story I’m writing for an upcoming issue landed me inside the highly secretive project Starbucks has been working on since the Mermaid bought California-based juice manufacturer Evolution Fresh back in November. At 7am today, the coffee juggernaut opened the doors on its first-ever noncoffee store in Bellevue, offering ultra high-end juices in the highly customizable Starbucks model, and a morning-till-night menu of carefully conceived healthy food.
Behind the thick paper and plastic sheeting covering windows and entrances, the store was ready: Screens were flashing affirmations like “Dig deep, take risks,” and “Appreciate all kinds of stuff.” Employees were arranging wraps of tuna encased in collard greens on refrigerated shelves, but the exterior signage didn’t go up until the last possible minute Sunday evening for maximum secrecy.
More stores will follow (Seattle seems the logical next step), but this debut location, next to P.F. Chang’s in Bellevue Square, is the first public glimpse into the company’s new health and wellness direction hinted at one year ago when CEO Howard Schultz ruminated on the company turning 40. Newspapers today are busy pondering the business implications of this move.
Evolution Fresh is completely its own brand, with its own gleaming industrial-spare appearance, intended to look like a chef’s kitchen. There’s nary a mermaid in sight, though the single coffee offering is a pour-over cup of Starbucks Pike Place Roast. The focal point of the 20-seat space is the juice wall, where a row of eight taps spread out beneath a giant display of plasma screens, each one dispensing a pure blast of, say, cucumber, carrot, beet, blueberry, or a specially crafted blend of green juice. Press a button built into the juice counter and the swirling colors on the screen above scuttle into formation to display the entire juice menu. After you place an order, stylish graphics of apples and carrots float on the screens, illustrating the benefits of your order for all to see.
The drink menu is split into juice and smoothie offerings. Smoothies are made entirely of juice and ice. An 8-ounce juice drink costs $5, a 16-ounce cup runs you $8 (or $7 for smoothies). Evolution Fresh has a menu of signature blends of juice, so customers can order up a Spiced Carrot, with carrot, blueberries, and cinnamon, or tinker with the tap juices and add-ins like mint, ginger, cayenne, and wheatgrass, to create a custom order. Staffers, known as juice partners, are trained in both the flavors and the nutritional aspects.
“We expect a lot of education will take place,” says Arthur Rubinfeld, the president of global store development, a home juicer, and the mastermind of this space and its design. “It’s not unlike specialty coffee drinks were 20 years ago.”
The appeal of Evolution Fresh, according to Rubinfeld, is that the juice is cold-crafted, using a process called high-pressure pasteurization that requires no heat. This method keep nutrients intact and makes the end result taste more like a pure blast of fruit rather than an engineered juice product. You won’t hear the whir of juicers here; the produce is “cracked, peeled, squeezed, and cold bottled” in San Bernadino, California. The store also sells its juices in bottles for customers who might be overwhelmed by the high-tech wall with its taps and screens.
Oh, but juice isn’t the half of it.
Evolution Fresh stores also offer a full menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods at a separate counter space. These aren’t pre-packaged sandwich types of meals; these are cannellini and kale soup, custom salads, and “signature bowls” of ingredients like quinoa, kale, and butternut squash served as a room temperature dish or simmered with vegetable stock so it resembles a hearty stew.
Dietician Becki Holmes, who helped advise Starbucks’ research and development team on the food, says the menu is about promoting overall health rather than counting calories; each item displays the calories, fat, protein, fiber, and sodium. The offerings are also designed to be convenient and like the juice, highlighting fresh ingredients. These items also have to be tasty enough to appeal to people who, in Evolution Fresh parlance, are in “different stages of their wellness journey.”
The new Evolution Fresh store will be open 7am till 10pm. And here’s where things get interesting, Bellevue: The store offers free bike delivery from 11am to 2:30pm with a minimum order of $15. The bottled juices will also be available in traditional Starbucks stores later this year, according to the Seattle Times.