Starbucks first opened its doors in Chicago on Oct. 19, 1987, in the lobby of a downtown high-rise near the Chicago Board of Trade. It was a make-or-break moment for the young company trying to prove itself beyond the gray skies of Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. The date was anything but auspicious – it would come to be known as Black Monday, when stock markets crashed around the world.
“A number of business experts made various arguments against opening stores in Chicago. Chicagoans, I was told, would never drink dark-roasted coffee. But I wanted to go to Chicago. It’s a city of neighborhoods, which usually welcome local gathering places,” said Howard Schultz in his book, “Pour Your Heart Into It.”
Chicago now has more than 130 stores, and the Windy City has become a proving ground for new store concepts and experiences. The store at Oak & Rush was an early demonstration of the company’s transformation of its store designs in 2011, followed by one of its first express format stores and the Mercato lunch concept, five Starbucks Reserve coffee bar locations, and a new store and training center on Chicago’s South Side to provide opportunities for young people. There’s even a coffee that’s a tribute to the city, Gold Coast Blend®, named after the historic neighborhood along Lake Michigan’s shores. And in 2019, Starbucks will open a Reserve Roastery on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
Today, more than 30 years after that first sip of Starbucks® coffee, Chicago gets its first taste of Princi artisanal baking. The new Princi store at the corner of West Randolph and Morgan Streets in the West Loop neighborhood is the second stand-alone Princi location in the United States, with one in Seattle and another to open in New York later this fall. Starbucks is an investor and global licensee of Princi, a boutique bakery and café started in 1986 by renowned Milanese baker, Rocco Princi.
“Chicago was Starbucks second city in the U.S., and our first city outside the Pacific Northwest. Now we’re doing the same thing with Princi,” said Selim Giray, vice president of business planning for Princi. “We have a long relationship with the city of Chicago, and it is a great food and restaurant town. There’s a lot of pride and heritage in the food.”
The new location, located in an industrial pre-war building in the West Loop neighborhood, is imbued with a feeling of history and charm with its exposed brick and wooden rafters. The layout is a first for a Princi location, with a long wrap-around counter that makes food and beverages the focal point, with Princi’s signature bread wall right at the center.
On the menu are more than 70 items from founder Rocco Princi’s repertoire, honed over 30 years in his eponymous bakeries in Milan and London. There are more than 50 ingredients imported from Italy (like tomato sauce from Campania and prosciutto from Parma) along with dozens of types of locally sourced produce. Items are prepared fresh daily by a team of masterful bakers, and commessas, starting at breakfast with cornetti topped with almonds or piped with raspberry jam, baked eggs in a spicy tomato sauce and steel-cut oats with Italian marmalade. At lunchtime, the menu offers soups, salads, focaccia sandwiches, pizza al taglio and hot entrees. Afternoons expand to a wider selection of Italian cakes and tarts, like Princina (made from a chocolate shortbread crust, filled with ganache and dusted with cocoa powder). Starbucks Reserve Princi™ Blend is the signature coffee offering, along with handcrafted espresso beverages made on a manual espresso machine.
“It will be a new concept for the customers of Chicago,” Giray said. “It’s not just a bakery for the morning. You can come here for breakfast, espresso, lunch, or an evening aperitivo—which showcases a curated selection of Italian wines, cocktails and digestivi. We are bringing the essence of the Italian bakery and café to life, focused on freshness, the culinary experience, and an abundance of menu items.”
Just back from Italy for the opening of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, Giray is looking ahead to the opening of the Chicago Reserve Roastery in 2019.
“Spending time with Rocco in Milan, I got to see the city through his eyes. His genuine passion, his spirit,” he said. “Now we have the opportunity to bring that spirit of Milan to Chicago in an intimate way, while setting the stage for what comes next.”
Princi, 1000 W. Randolph Street (at Morgan Street). Open Monday to Friday 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday to Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. www.princi.com. Instagram: @princi Facebook: @thisisprinci