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Starbucks causes grande upheaval

February 27, 2008|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Jose Parilli and Candice Culp walked to a Starbucks coffee shop in Hollywood late Tuesday afternoon only to find the doors locked and a sign proclaiming: "We're taking time to perfect our art of espresso. . . . We will be closed Tuesday, February 26 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m."

"That's not cool, dude," Parilli said.

"It's messed up," echoed Culp. "I'm not going to survive."

In what has been described variously as an attention-seeking ploy, an outright inconvenience and an effort to impose corporate consistency in the coffee realm, Starbucks coffee shops across the nation closed for 3 1/2 hours Tuesday to drill thousands of barristas on the proper method of pulling shots of espresso, as well as other beverage tasks.

"They want to make sure we're all on the same page, make sure we're all doing it the corporate way," said barrista Richard Kenney, a part-time employee at the Starbucks on St. Andrews Place and Sunset Boulevard. Outside the coffee shop, Ronnie Mervis, 67, of Silver Lake sat with his son Mark, 38, a self-described Starbucks-aholic.

The younger Mervis nursed a venti half-cup of iced Americano with one pump of mocha. The father and son had made it to the shop before the closure, yet they left slightly unsatisfied.

In all, nearly 7,100 company-operated Starbucks stores across the U.S. closed at 5:30 p.m. local time so about 135,000 employees could receive training.

Many wondered why the stores had to close during the afternoon coffee rush and not after hours or any other time.

"That's crazy," Ronnie Mervis said. "To close a business to train people. That's going to cost a lot of money in customers."

A Starbucks spokesperson declined to say just how much the chain stood to lose in the training shutdown. However, business analysts said it wasn't likely to amount to much in the overall scheme of things. Because Starbucks has seen its stock slide about 50% since late 2006, E.K. Riley investments analyst Robert Toomey said it made sense to address training issues in one mass session.

"They know they've fallen short," Toomey said. "The quality of the product has deteriorated a bit over the last few years, and they know they've got to improve it."

As for Parilli and Culp, the loyal Starbucks fans who were left to consider other options, Culp drew out a green pack of Kool cigarettes and began puffing on one. "So, that means no Starbucks until 9 p.m. tonight?" she asked Parilli with a hint of anxiety.

"Ahem," said Parilli, looking about furtively. "Coffee Bean."

tami.abdollah@latimes.com

Times staff writers Amanda Covarrubias and Deborah Schoch and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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