Complete coverage of Starbucks 2018 Annual Meeting of Shareholders

More than 3,000 shareholders and special guests, including the Puerto Rican band Pirulo y La Tribu, were at Wednesday's Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders. Read our complete recap, from the first people in the predawn line to announcements by ceo Kevin Johnson to a grand finale by opera singers from La Scala.

Meeting ends in opera, a tribute to new beginnings in Italy

Traditionally the annual shareholders meeting ends with a world-class musical guest, and this year is no different. However, this year’s guest is unique, “and in keeping with the excitement and anticipation we have about Italy,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman.

“What I want to share with you is an aria,” he said. “The most famous, world-renowned singers in Italy are from La Scala, and we have brought them to Seattle.”

Opera singers Jaeheui Kwon, a tenor, and Chiara Isotton, a soprano – along with pianist Jieun Jeong – traveled to the annual meeting from the La Scala Academy, in Milan, Italy, one of the world’s premier performing arts schools. The performance, Schultz said, was chosen in “homage and deep respect to the Italian people … in anticipation of the opening of our roastery (in Milan).”

The musicians shared several songs. The first selection, “Nessun dorma,” was an aria from the final act of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “Turandot” performed by Kwon.

“As many of my friends know, I’ve had this song playing in my mind for 20 or 30 years … whenever I’d hear Pavarotti sing it,” Schultz said. “It’s an extraordinary piece of music.”

Looking toward the Reserve Roastery in Milan – and more

Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz addressed Starbucks shareholders, jumping into discussion of the stock price, which he said has been “fairly flat for the last 12 months.” He encouraged them to have faith that Starbucks is on the right path, one in which “success is best when it’s shared.”

He assured shareholders that Starbucks fully understands the “role and responsibility” of a public company. “We are in this for the long term,” Schultz said.

One area of growth is new Roasteries, featuring Princi baked goods. A Reserve Roastery opened in Shanghai in December, with three more coming soon. In New York, a Roastery will open at the end of 2018, next to an Apple store and near Google headquarters. In Tokyo, a Roastery is slated to open its doors in 2019. Chicago will also get a Roastery next year, with four floors and an escalator that Schultz called “the sexiest thing you have ever seen.”

But the Milan Roastery has got Schultz particularly excited.

“There are no words,” he said. The opening, scheduled for September, is the culmination of Schultz’s first trip to Italy 35 years ago, when he discovered the role of coffee in Italian society — “the sense of community, the romance of the coffee bar.”

During a recent hiring fair, more than 5,000 people applied for jobs at the Milan Roastery; 500 were invited for interviews.

“Once we decided to come to Italy, we said we can’t just open a store,” he said. Design elements at the location, an old post office within walking distance of the Duomo, will incorporate an Italian flair. “Everything we have done has led us to this place.”

‘A mentor, a teacher, a big brother’

“We lost one of our own,” said Howard Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman, in a tribute to his friend and mentor Orin C. Smith.

Smith, former chief executive officer at Starbucks, died on March 1 of pancreatic cancer at age 75. Smith was known for his wit, generosity, deliberate decision making and quiet, steadfast leadership, especially during a time of explosive growth at the company.

“It was Orin who always had the measure, the guidance and maturity to put us in a position to not only dream big … but to make sure we execute well,” Schultz said.

In his time at Starbucks, Smith worked closely with Schultz and former president Howard Behar – so closely the trio was dubbed “H20” (for two Howards and one Orin). The partnership yielded success at Starbucks and a deep, lasting friendship for all three men. The men kept in touch even after Smith and Behar retired, and all three spent time together in Smith’s final months.

“Orin’s passing for everyone at Starbucks is a huge, huge blow and a reminder to all of us about the fragility of life,” Schultz said. “I promised him when we were last together that we would do everything we could as a company to make sure his legacy would live on.”

Schultz added: “There would be no Starbucks coffee company today in the form that you see it without Orin Smith.”

Shanghai Roastery: Three months later

Howard Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman, said the grand opening of the Starbucks Shanghai Roastery was packed. But was this, he wondered, just because of all the free stuff? To answer this question, Schultz showed a video of the Roastery three months later – “when we’re actually charging for things,” he joked. The video showed a crowd of people streaming into the Roastery at 10 a.m.

“These are not extras,” Schultz said. “We really do everything we can to elevate the theater, the romance, the premium experience.”

For years people doubted whether Starbucks could break through in a tea society; for nine consecutive years, the company lost money in China. Now, not only has the company broken through, it’s now the largest market in the world, and Starbucks has built trust with the government and standing with consumers.

“There’s no other Western consumer brand that even comes close to what we have achieved,” Schultz said.

Schultz takes the stage, honors retiring board members

Howard Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman, and a longtime regular on stage at the annual meeting, said it’s a different feeling to watch most of the meeting. Schultz began his remarks by honoring two “extraordinary” retiring members of the Starbucks Board of Directors: former Senator WIlliam Bradley and Robert Gates, former U.S. Secretary of Defense.

“From a personal standpoint, having Senator Bradley and Secretary Gates at our side and by my side all these years – it’s hard to put into words the guidance, support and wisdom we’ve all gained and I’ve gained personally,” Schultz said. “Thank you.”

China: Starbucks’ fastest growing market in the world

Belinda Wong, chief executive officer of China, took the stage to talk about Starbucks largest growing market in the world. But at the heart of the business’ success are the partners, she said.

“They are our core purpose of being and the reason why we are passionate about what we do,” she said. “Since our earliest days, we’ve been bringing to life Starbucks deeply rooted mission and values by investing in our partners.”

Wong played a video about the critical illness insurance for parents of Starbucks China partners. It was announced last year at a Partner Family Forum. “I wish you could have seen the reception when we announced the Starbucks critical care insurance,” she said. “There were tears of joy and almost disbelief.”

Since the benefit was announced, 93 percent of eligible partners have signed up and 14,000 parents joined.  “But we have higher ambitions, we want to inspire other companies,” she said.

Wong met with other companies in China to discuss Starbucks’ parental plan and some are now planning to launch other similar programs. That commitment to family has “built a phenomenal sense of pride, enthusiasm and commitment among our 45,000 partners,” she said.

The loyalty and dedication of those partners is “the reason why China is the fastest growing and most strategic international market for Starbucks,” she said.

The company now has 3,200 stores across 139 cities in China and is serving 6.4 million customers a week, she said. Now there’s a goal of 5,000 stores by 2021.

“We are opening a new store every 15 hours,” she said.

The growth opportunity is rich. By 2022, 600 million people are expected to reach middle class status in China. And by 2030, China is expected to have the world’s largest economy.

“The rising middle class will drive coffee growth and an increased demand for Starbucks,” she said.

Part of that demand is due to the relationships Starbucks partners have with customers. “We want to build a deep and enduring friendship with them,” she said.

Two months ago, Starbucks acquired the East China region, making China a full company-operated market.

That region represents 11 percent of China’s population and 22 percent of China’s gross domestic product.

“It makes me even more excited how we can use the scale from growth the benefit the communities we serve,” she said, giving the example of Starbucks recent $20 million commitment over the next five years to benefit social impact programs in China.  Also, with Yunnan coffee, grown in China and sold at Starbucks, “we are bringing China’s coffee to the world stage.”

Starbucks’ Farmer Support Center has worked with 17,000 farmers in the Yunnan area on sustainable farming practices.

“Starbucks has become the fabric of the local community,” she said. “We will continue to work with farmers to help change their lives.”

Wong also shared a video of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Shanghai, which opened at the end of last year. She called it “the world’s most desired coffee wonderland.”

“It’s an incredible moment in time for Starbucks in China,” she said. “I stand here ... with love, pride and optimism for our future.”

Starbucks halfway to 100k hiring goal for American youth

One in eight Americans ages 16 to 24 aren’t in school or working, and exactly one year ago, Starbucks committed to hiring 100,000 of those young people by 2020 as part of its Opportunity Youth program.

“We are driving value as we live our values,” Starbucks coo Roz Brewer said.

Starbucks is already halfway to that goal, having so far hired 50,000 young people. “And we want to do more,” she said.

Starbucks aims to retain its young partners with competitive wages, health insurance, stock options, tuition-free college education through Arizona State University and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, and mentorship opportunities.

“This is working. Our data shows our young partners to be incredible additions to our company. They are staying with the company, being promoted and are enrolling in our Starbucks College Achievement Program at equal rates with all partners,” Brewer said. Young partners enrolled in the Starbucks College Achievement Plan are retained at 1.5 times the rate of the core U.S. barista population, and promoted at 2.5 times the average.

Starbucks has joined forces with LinkedIn, MENTOR (the National Mentoring Partnership), and non-profits such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Schultz Family Foundation, YMCA of the USA, City Year and YearUp to establish a nationwide mentorship call to action to help all young career seekers whether or not they come to work at Starbucks.

“Our work extends beyond Starbucks to ensure every young adult has a chance to join the workforce, pursue their ambitions and improve our shared futures,” Brewer said. “Believing in the power of human potential, regardless of background and creating pathways to opportunity in an environment where partners can learn and thrive is central to Starbucks.”

Year of Good

“What’s the role and responsibility of a for-profit, public company?” asks a sign greeting attendees of this year’s annual meeting. A new Starbucks film debuting at this year’s annual meeting highlights graduates of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, the veterans and military spouses who are Starbucks partners and much more – all made possible because of the support of Starbucks customers.

Brewer extolls constant innovation

Roz Brewer, Starbucks group president and COO, is observing a “seismic shift in retail” as customers increasingly demand customization, convenience and choice.

Within the fast food industry, mobile payments jumped 75 percent between 2016 and 2017.

With 96 percent of Americans shopping online, Starbucks plays an important role as a “respite from the business of multi-tasking, creating the need for ‘me-time’ and human connection.”

Brewer spent 10 years at Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, where she honed valuable operational skills that she transferred to her new role at Starbucks. “I’ve learned just what it takes to win this race, the importance of being strong operationally while you innovate for profitable growth.”

Starbucks is experiencing “enviable” sales growth of approximately 7 percent, but the need to innovate is clear. This year, Starbucks introduced a new espresso, Blonde Espresso, to allow customers to further customize the “heart of their beverage.”

Meanwhile, cold beverages have increased in popularity. Three years ago, they accounted for 37 percent of sales; they currently make up half of all beverage sales. In 2017, cold beverage sales in the U.S. nearly topped $5 billion.

“We can now say we are the market leader in cold brew and we have more innovation than any other coffee retailer,” Brewer said to applause.

Two years ago, Starbucks debuted Nitro Cold Brew, which built an “incredibly loyal following.”

By the end of 2018, Nitro Cold Brew will be offered in 4,000 stores.

Additionally, Starbucks plans to double its food business by 2021.  Breakfast sandwich sales have more than doubled over the past four years and now comprise 30 percent of food sales. (Incidentally, sous vide egg bites – wheat-free, grab and go — are one of Brewer’s favorite breakfast items.)

But the biggest financial opportunity is at lunchtime. With half of store traffic occurring after 11 a.m., “this is a big opportunity.”

Starbucks will expand its bistro box line, which has been growing at a rate of 20 percent for the past two years.

Finally, MOP — mobile order and pay — has transformed how Starbucks runs its stores. Starbucks Rewards members number more than 15 million, a figure that has increased 11 percent year over year. “We plan to see double-digit growth in our Rewards members this year,” Brewer said.

Equal pay for equal work

Lucy Helm, chief partner officer at Starbucks, announced a “major” achievement for Starbucks.

“Today, I am so pleased to share that we as a company have achieved a major milestone: 100 percent pay equity for women and men and people of all races performing similar work across the country,” Helm said, drawing loud cheers from the auditorium. “It’s an emotional moment for me as a 19-year partner and a leader.”

This accomplishment is the result of years of work and commitment, and Starbucks will now work “with deliberate speed” toward closing the gender pay gap for all partners in company-operated markets worldwide.

“We believe it is important to encourage others to join us in recognizing the importance of this issue, not just for our partners, but for women all around the world,” Helm said.

Starbucks will encourage multinational companies to achieve global gender pay equity – with the support of equal rights champion Billie Jean King and her Leadership Initiative (BJKLI) and leading national women’s organizations, the National Partnership for Women & Families (National Partnership) and the American Association of University Women (AAUW) – by sharing the principles and tools the company uses.  

Coffee’s journey from bean to cup

Each cup of coffee has a story behind it – and a constellation of people who make it possible. Meet some of them in a new film that will introduce you to some of those people – from coffee growers to baristas – at Hacienda Alsacia, Starbucks coffee farm in Costa Rica.

A coffee tasting for 3,000 

Coffee tastings are a long tradition at Starbucks – a way to build community and honor all that went into that great cup of coffee. For the first time at the annual meeting, attendees are being led in a group coffee tasting. The ritual begins with smelling the coffee and noticing its unique notes, followed by a loud slurping so that the coffee reaches taste buds across the entire tongue. Starbucks partners Fabiola Sanchez and Sergio Alvarez led the tasting, explaining the background of the Pike Place Roast being sampled as the small tasting cups were passed down the rows to all 3,000 participants. “Coffee has a way of bringing strangers together,” said Sanchez.

Coffee Tasting by the Numbers 

17,080  fluid-ounces of Starbucks Pike Place® Roast coffee

3,614    short cups (made from recycled Starbucks cups)

198       partner volunteers

137       green hawking trays

15         minutes from pour to sip

9           pouring stations

1st        Annual Meeting coffee tasting

Pearl Jam joins forces to end hometown homelessness

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks chief executive officer, called for a “surge” to end family homelessness in Seattle and King County.

“Homelessness is a complex issue, but we believe this part of it, child homelessness, is solvable,” Johnson said.

Over the next year, Starbucks will host a summit on solving the emergency shelter crisis with local stakeholders, partner with the United Way of King County and Mary’s Place to host four events to provide services to families in need; and work with Mayor Jenny Durkan to focus public resources on this crisis. Starbucks will also partner with Pearl Jam to raise awareness of unsheltered families at TheHomeShows, two historic benefit concerts in Seattle in August that will bring together businesses, foundations, individuals, and fans around this critical need in the Seattle community.

“Living our mission and values, our partners serve these families, give them comfort, and a place to rest every day, and now they are helping to save lives,” Johnson said. “In one of the wealthiest cities in the world, we simply find it unacceptable that there is not enough emergency shelter for children and we are changing that.”

For the past two years, Starbucks has helped mobilize partners and customers in Seattle and King County stores in support of Mary’s Place and the No Child Sleeps Outside campaign. Together with the local business community, the company has helped raise more than $6 million, helping bring nearly 2,000 families inside this past winter.

Johnson announced that Starbucks is also partnering with Pearl Jam to raise awareness of unsheltered families at TheHomeShows, two historic benefit concerts in Seattle this August that will bring together businesses, foundations, individuals, and fans around this critical need in the Seattle community. Together, and with the community’s help, these collective efforts will help close the gap. 

The ingredients of growth

Kevin Johnson, Starbucks ceo, spoke about the company’s digital present and future. More than 20 percent of all U.S. customer transactions are currently paid for using the Starbucks mobile app, and the company continues to invest in its digital future.

Johnson said in his three decades in the tech industry he’s seen many technology disruptions, the most impactful of which has been the mobile device. People can now make airline reservations, watch a movie, listen to any musical artist in the world and shop for items to be delivered in minutes, all from the palm of the hand. That evolution has not only changed consumer behavior, but human behavior, and Starbucks is on that journey as well.

“We’re investing, and those investments are showing up in our performance,” Johnson said. “We are now working to expand our digital customer relationships well beyond this 20 percent to reach millions more customers digitally.”

Johnson mentioned other elements that will contribute to the company’s financial goals – Reserve stores, growth in China and maintaining the community-centric nature of stores while offering convenience. In the Reserve stores, customers find innovative coffee and experiences. Those will trickle out to all Starbucks stores, making sure that fast does not become the opposing force of great experiences, Johnson said. In China, home to the fastest growing middle class in the world, Starbucks is opening a new store about every 15 hours. Starbucks is a coveted brand there, Johnson said, and is winning over consumers with premium coffee and the idea of the third place.

Johnson said the company made investments such as Reserve stores, digital growth, and market growth in China “”while still growing the business by 7%, same store sales by 3% and we opened over 2,200 new stores.” Long-term, the company expects to deliver revenue growth in the upper single digits, a 3 to 5 percent same store comparable growth, and 12 percent or greater earnings per share (EPS) growth.

“We are optimistic about our future which is why we also committed to return $15 billion in cash to shareholders over the next 3 years in the form of buybacks and dividends,” Johnson said to applause in the room.

Technology will take ‘bean to cup’ to the next level

Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer, said Starbucks will be using technology to take its “bean to cup” transparency to the next level.

“Over the next two years, we will look to demonstrate how technology and innovative data platforms can give coffee farmers even more financial empowerment,” Johnson said.

As a continuation of its ethical sourcing commitment, Starbucks will launch a pilot program with select coffee farmers in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda to develop next-level data technology to log and share real-time information along the journey of coffee beans with the aim of driving positive impact to smallholder farmers within its supply chain.

Wisdom to know what to preserve and courage to change

One year after becoming chief executive officer of Starbucks, Kevin Johnson said he wanted to share his perspective and what he said is his “most important and weighty responsibility – to keep moving Starbucks forward to claim its vibrant future.”

To do that, he said, he’s focused on having “the wisdom to know which aspects of Starbucks must be honored and preserved — and, at the same time, the courage to boldly reimagine and reinvent our future.”

During the annual meeting, he’ll show you how the company will do both, he said, focusing on three things.

  • How the hard work of the last five years positions Starbucks for growth in the next 10.
  • How we’re modernizing this respected and beloved global brand, to reach more people…uplifting and elevating their day…in more places…and for more occasions…than ever before in our history. 
  • How we are adding diverse talents, diverse perspectives, and creating a fully representative culture—which we believe is the foundation for a truly modern Starbucks.

Doing good together

Kevin Johnson, chief executive officer of Starbucks, kicks off the company’s annual meeting by asking Starbucks partners, veterans and military spouses and licensed partners to rise. To the sound of applause, he asked all shareholders and guests to stand. With the entire audience on its feet, he said, “Together as a community, all of us are trying to do something meaningful and good – a company that sees the pursuit of profit and the desire to do something good not as opposing forces but rather, as two strands of DNA that are woven together – both are essential for life.”

In the face of hard times, “How we choose to respond as people says a lot about who we are,” he said. “This Starbucks community – to which we all belong – chooses to respond with compassion and optimism. ... (It's) about banding together during times of adversity, believing in yourself, and working together to do what needs to be done."  

‘Music from the heart’ opens meeting

“Our hearts have been challenged this past year as so many communities were impacted by disasters,” said Starbucks ceo Kevin Johnson in his opening remarks at Wednesday’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders, thanking Puerto Rican band Pirulo y La Tribu for their festive, joyous salsa music that ushered shareholders to their seats.

Francisco "Pirulo" Rosada Rosario, wearing a gold lame jacket, black sunglasses and a white baseball cap on his long, black braids that stretched to the back pockets of his tattered jeans, told the crowd that this was his band’s first time in Seattle. Pirulo described his sound as “music from the soul, music from the heart,” launching into a joyous rendition of Latin crowd-pleaser Oye Como Va, written by mambo musician Tito Puente in the 1960s and further popularized a decade later by Carlos Santana.

The selection of Puerto Rico musicians to open the annual meeting was an intentional decision on the part of Holly Hinton, Starbucks director of music and entertainment. “Normally we have recorded music while people get seated,” Hinton said. “Having this band play changes the energy.”

Starbucks has been in conversation with the family of Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway show Hamilton, regarding the Mirandas’ relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The family has been instrumental in partnering with the Hispanic Federation to raise millions of dollars to help rebuild the U.S. territory, where Luis Miranda, Lin-Manuel’s father, grew up.

Starbucks too has been deeply involved in relief efforts. Immediately after the Category 5 storm made landfall, Starbucks partners came together to collect and deliver relief supplies, serving coffee to weary rescuers. In addition to volunteering their time, customers and partners contributed more than $2 million to disaster relief, Johnson noted in his comments.

Several months ago, Hinton asked Luis Miranda for a suggestion about which Puerto Rican musicians might be a good fit for the annual meeting’s opening act. Miranda connected her with Ender Vega, who is producing Hamilton when the show comes to Puerto Rico for a three-week run in 2019. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the original Hamilton, will be back in the lead role for that run. Vega cobbled together a short list of suggestions, including Pirulo y La Tribu, which blends Nuyorian salsa, Afro-Cuban son and Puerto Rican bomba for a percussion-heavy, Latin-inspired dance fest.

“I watched some videos and I was like, yeah, Pirulo is our guy,” Hinton said. “His music is like sunshine.”

Nine band members traveled to Seattle from Puerto Rico, where 100,000 people remain without power.

The woman behind the voice of Annual Meeting 

Meet Cherese Campo, the familiar voice behind Starbucks Annual Meeting. She has been at the mic as the event’s show caller for 15 years, a warm and welcoming voice of Starbucks for the more than 3,000 shareholders who gather each year.

High school 'investment club' field trips to meeting


At Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders, most of the attendees are, well, shareholders. But one small group — three teenagers from Auburn, Wash. — occupy a different category. They are shareholders only in the virtual world.

The students from West Auburn High School, a small alternative high school south of Seattle, are part of a lunchtime school club where the conversation turns to talk of profit and loss and asset allocation. Teacher Joshua Melanson convenes the investment club, schooling students in the art and science of investing in the stock market.

Melanson, who teaches classes including personal finance and accounting, is bringing five club members to the annual meeting.

“I reached out to Starbucks investor relations and told them I was teaching business at a small alternative school and that I thought this would make a really big impression in their lives,” he said.

In the investment club, Melanson uses Starbucks as a keystone company to help him teach students how a corporation operates. “We focus on one company, which gets them very familiar with one firm and allows them to apply their knowledge to different firms,” said Melanson. “It’s a nice springboard to create this club where we talk about investing and hopefully inspire actual investing in the future.”

Emily Rodriguez, a high school senior, has participated in the investment club since last summer. She’s learned how to handle money and how to assess what products will sell. With that newly acquired perspective, Rodriguez was looking forward to hearing Starbucks leadership discuss the intricacies of its business strategy. “It’s like a door is being opened,” Rodriguez said.

Students work with a simulated stock market investment program where some of them have chosen to invest in Starbucks. So it was particularly exciting to be among the 3,000 attendees on Wednesday, learning what Starbucks has achieved in the past year and what it hopes to do in the future.

“I just want to learn as much as I can,” said junior Dominic Bundridge, holding a sample cup of Costa Rican coffee that he proclaimed “very strong” minutes before the shareholders’ meeting began.

“This is going to wake me up!” Bundridge said.

Sampling the wares

Elizabeth Corrigan, left, and Sue Styles sip coffee made at one of pop-up cafes in the mezzanine before Starbucks annual meeting.

Moved by the mission

“Every day I think about how I can make someone’s life better,” said Christina Colgan, left, a Starbucks store manager from Olympia, Wash.  She posed in front of a sign bearing the Starbucks values statement:"With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values: Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other. Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect. Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results. We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity."

Doors are open!

As the doors opened at 8 a.m., the first in the long line of attendees began to stream into McCaw Hall. Among them was Jennifer Ireland, a store manager at Starbucks Finn Hill Reserve store in Poulsbo, Wash. As she paused next to banners for the Starbuck College Achievement Plan and other social impact initiatives, she teared up. “I know we work for a company that embodies what we say we do,” she said.

As a 12-year Starbucks partner, she said she’s seen people come into her store on first dates, new mothers the day after having a baby and people who are grieving the loss of the a loved one who “just want to see their favorite barista.” She recently read an article called “The Epidemic of Loneliness,” and thinks about how “every single customer who comes in, we can make a difference. For some it might be the only connection they have all day.”

It’s oh so quiet

It’s the last few minutes of silence in McCaw Hall, a 2,963-seat auditorium, before doors open to the crowd of Starbucks shareholders waiting outside and the room fills with people, music and coffee.

Starbucks held its first Annual Meeting of Shareholders in a small meeting room in downtown Seattle’s Olympic Hotel in 1993. Howard Schultz, then chief executive officer, told the gathering of 30 or 40 people at that first meeting about the company’s plans to open 78 new stores that year, including its first in New York. The shareholders meeting continued to outgrow spaces and in the late ’90s, Starbucks started holding the meeting at spaces with larger capacity, such as Seattle’s Paramount Theater and Benaroya Hall, before settling at McCaw Hall.

Annual reunion of shareholders

They only see each other once a year, but in the pre-dawn hours, they seemed like old friends swapping memories. At the front of the line, waiting to enter the Starbucks Annual Meeting of Shareholders at Seattle’s McCaw Hall, Judy Dobler, Steve Nussbaum, Debbie Lehrberger, Mary Melanson and Dan Franks reminisced about past annual meetings. There were the years it was held at the Kent, Wash., Roasting Plant, the year it was at Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle, the time Oprah appeared and much more.

“There’s a lot of fun history,” said Dobler, who has been attending annual meetings since the first one 26 years ago. This morning, she left her North Seattle home before 5 a.m. to claim a spot as second in line behind Joy Urakawa, who drove up from Kent.

Over the years, the group has gotten to know each other, drawn together by their shared passion for the company. Melanson’s daughter-in-law and granddaughter are both Starbucks partners; her granddaughter, Katie, is graduating from the Starbucks College Achievement Plan in December.

“I’m always interested in seeing what Starbucks is doing to help,” said Lehrberger, who drives up with Nussbaum from Portland each year. As volunteers passed out samples of coffee in the early morning chill, the group wondered who the entertainment would be and about the announcements the company would make.

“I want to hear about what’s going to happen in the next year,” said Urakawa. “It’s always been very interesting.”

Cold morning, hot coffee

 “Good morning! We have Pike Place today,” said Re’Shaughn Garden, a six-year Starbucks partner, as she carried a tray of 30 small cups of coffee through the winding line of shareholders waiting for doors to open. It was a chilly 39 degrees Wednesday morning, and the steam of hot coffee mingled with the fog of breath; all 30 cups disappeared from her tray in less than 60 seconds.

“I volunteer for the meeting every year. Even though it’s cold outside, the fact that I get to interact with shareholders is really fun,” Garden said.