Starbucks opens store focused on inclusive design in South Korea

Partners at new store in South Korea communicate in Korean Sign Language

Today, Starbucks announced the opening of a first-of-its-kind Starbucks store focused on inclusive design in South Korea. Located at Seoul National University Dental Hospital (SNUDH), the store reaffirms Starbucks commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and expands career opportunities for Starbucks partners (employees) with disabilities.

“Opening a store focused on inclusive design marks an important moment for Starbucks in South Korea and around the world,” said David Song, ceo, Starbucks Coffee Korea. “We are excited to have this opportunity to bring Starbucks Mission and values to life in our community and expand opportunities for our partners to develop their careers at Starbucks. Through our partnerships with organizations like the Korea Employment Promotion Agency for the Disabled (KEPAD), we hope to lead the way for other business in South Korea to create an inclusive environment for all.”

Starbucks partners in the disability community had raised the concept for such a store as an opportunity for the company to have a positive impact. From the beginning, Starbucks Coffee Korea partners with disabilities guided store development and operational testing to create a welcoming Third Place community for partners and customers alike. The company also partnered with the KEPAD and other advocates in the disability community to consult on store design and training.


Anyone who is passionate about access and disability inclusion can work at the new store. Half of the staff are partners with disabilities, and hold positions at nearly every level. In partnership with KEPAD, partners all receive customized training and development, including basic expressions in Korean Sign Language.

The store’s central art piece demonstrates the positive impact that Starbucks partners with disabilities have had on the company and partners’ hopes to make a place where all people can come together over a cup of coffee. Partners from across South Korea, as well as partners based at the store, contributed individual clay pieces arranged to create the word “Together” in English, mounted on a background of upcycled Starbucks coffee grounds.

“I’m so proud of this new store and the important role it will play in bringing our community together and enhancing the career development journey of Starbucks Korea partners,” said Elena Choi, assistant manager of the new store, and a partner who is hard of hearing. “Creating an inclusive space expands the ability of partners to learn and grow in their role, and we’re so excited to welcome customers to our new store.”

The store was designed to be a warm and inclusive space for people with a wide range of disabilities, from customers to partners. Partners are equipped with digital tablets to facilitate communication with customers, and the store floor, back room and bar have all been designed with additional space for comfortable wheelchair access—a first-of-its kind for Starbucks globally. At the Starbucks design lab in South Korea, members of the disability community helped test the store’s unique bar to better optimize the space for partners using mobility aids like wheelchairs.

“The new store represents our enduring commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion in every market we serve,” said Sara Trilling, president, Starbucks Asia Pacific. “We understand we are still early in our journey, and will continue to learn and expand our design principles. With feedback from partners, customers and the community, we are constantly reimagining how we build stores to create a Third Place environment that nurtures and inspires all people.”


Other unique features of the store include a dual-monitor POS that shows customers their order, mobile POS, contactless speech-to-text voice recognition through a tablet at the register, Braille menu, and digital signage lets customers track the progress of their order.

Braille tactile maps and signs around the store help customers and partners navigate by touch as well as sight. All entrance doors are automatic, with sensors and push button switches to welcome customers and partners into the store with ease. A digital community board inside the store also showcases Starbucks social impact initiatives and local activities.


Starbucks Coffee Korea plans to launch regular community engagement programs at the store to provide a platform for members of the disability community, including partner-led coffee seminars and art contests to design exclusive store merchandise—expanding supplier diversity.

“I’d like to congratulate Starbucks on the opening of this first-of-its-kind store with inclusive design,” said Jong Ran Cho, president of KEPAD. “Starbucks Coffee Korea is a company committed to creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities. KEPAD will continue to support Starbucks in this journey to create social impact through the employment of people with disabilities.”

Since 2012, Starbucks Coffee Korea has worked with the KEPAD to recruit partners with disabilities, and has held an annual Barista Championships for partners with disabilities since 2015, though this year’s event was postponed due to COVID-19. The company has also worked with the Korea Disabled People’s Development Institute (KODDI) to provide additional training and expand career opportunities for people with disabilities across South Korea since 2018.

Since entering the market in 1999, Starbucks Coffee Korea has grown rapidly to become Starbucks fifth largest international market, with more than 1,400 stores across 78 cities nationwide. Today, more than 17,000 partners proudly wear the green apron in South Korea.

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