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Starbucks' artsy new mini-modular pops up in metro Denver

The recycled wood facade of the new Starbucks.
The recycled wood facade of the new Starbucks.
J. Wohletz

The seasonal, pumpkin-flavored coffees and baked goods at Starbucks are my favorite part of fall, and so I head over to my neighborhood Starbucks early -- and often -- to get pumpkin spice lattes, slabs of fragrant pumpkin bread dotted with roasted pumpkin seeds, and iced pumpkin scones.

But this past weekend, I decided to take a quick drive to look at the leaves and see the new, artsy, mini-model Starbucks that just debuted at 200 West 104th Avenue in Northglenn, just off I-25. It's only the second in this country and the fourth in the world.

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I initially had some trouble locating this Starbucks because the address wasn't listed on the website -- but when I finally got close to the reported location, it was easy to recognize from the photos. This diminutive, decorative store is a mere 500 square feet in size, with old snow-fencing wood panels from Wyoming on the exterior façade, along with striking black metal accents.

This is the Mazda Miata of Starbucks.

The prefabricated Starbucks store was loaded onto a truck for transport, then stuck on a modest patch of lawn late last month. It has a walk-up window and a drive-thru, but no internal seating. The menu boards are placed outside, and list a limited menu of Starbucks coffee drinks, teas, juice drinks, bistro boxes and pastries.

But I didn't need the menu, having spent more time at Starbucks than I did at home during college, and just trotted up to the window and ordered a pumpkin spice latte and a slice of pumpkin bread -- which was sold out. I opted instead for the banana bread. I felt kinda weird waiting for my order, and even weirder after I got it, because there is no outdoor seating at this location, either, so after using the walk-up window you either have to walk off to your car or the lawn, where you can stand awkwardly and sip.   I did just that while I admired the building for a minute or two, thinking about how market-savvy the folks at Starbucks really, really are. Starbucks was started in Seattle in 1971 -- before grunge rock became popular -- by two teachers and a writer, who sold whole beans and ran a modestly successful regional coffee shop. Pitch-man Howard Schultz came on the scene in 1982, as the company's head of marketing. While in Italy, he soaked up some coffee culture and apparently had his lightbulb moment: Good coffee and a classy, chill atmosphere could lead to people hanging out, talking, ordering bougie espresso drinks and scones...and filling the cash register.

Starbucks' owners (one had bailed at this point) didn't initially warm to Schultz's ideas, and they were leery about letting a high-powered New York suit take their simple, homegrown coffee stores in a new direction, but they let him open an Italian-style espresso bar concept store in downtown Seattle in 1984 -- and sales took off. Starbucks' owners still weren't convinced that single-cup espresso shops were the future they wanted to see for Buckies, so Schultz left the company in 1985 and opened his own coffee shop, Il Giornale. By mid-1987 sales at his three stores were equal to $1.5 million annually.

In August 1987 Schultz bought Starbucks from the original owners for $3.8 million smackers, and at age 34 he became Buckies' president and CEO. Now that, my friends, is a helluva hustle.

The new "modern modular" Starbucks introduced in Colorado is yet another smooth move for Schultz and Starbucks. Although Starbucks stores seem to be ubiquitous, there are markets too small to support full-sized stores but with a demand for gourmet coffee. Planting a smaller, prefab model in these markets is more cost-effective than building a brick-and-mortar, like the new stand-alone shop on Speer Boulevard at 13th, and the LEED-certified (materials are sourced within a 500-mile radius), artsy facade keeps the place from looking like a cheap, crappy trailer home. Everybody wins.

As a scary-loyal Starbucks customer, I have times when I want to go to a bigger store to pound the laptop and/or have some good conversations. But there are other times when I just wanna grab my pumpkin spice latte and go -- and the one that I got at this new spot tasted just like the one I'd gotten from a big store two days before: all cinnamon, pumpkin-y, whipped creamy goodness.

Happy fall.



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