Meet Giampaolo Grossi, Starbucks Italy’s Employee No. 1

MILAN – Giampaolo Grossi is a man of details.

This much becomes clear after tailing the general manager of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan for a busy morning a few short days before opening.

As hundreds of employees trained and put finishing touches on the warm, bright space, Grossi juggled back-to-back meetings and phone calls. Yet as he strode quickly about building, he took time to shake hands with employees or to clap them on the back and greet them by name. “Ciao, Alessandro! Buongiorno, Simona!”

Starbucks Reserve Roastery MilanGiampaolo Grossi presents partners with their Roastery aprons. 

Grossi moves with the elegance of a professional football player (which, in fact, he was for the better part of his twenties in clubs around Italy) and each day, appears at the Roastery dressed in pristinely tailored jackets, slacks and leather loafers, as if he’s just wandered off of a billboard above the chic Piazza Cordusio outside. The son of a Florentine banker, his father taught him the importance of “making a good presentation.”

“Have you ever seen a Ferrari dirty? No,” Grossi said, smiling broadly. “You see them clean and running. Details are the most important. I want to bring that philosophy to the Roastery.”

Starbucks hired Grossi to manage the new Milan Roastery a year ago, before which he’d managed a number of upscale bars and restaurants in New York, Milan and even Kuwait. Most recently, Grossi was general manager of the Prada-owned Pasticceria Marchesi. Known for its chocolates and traditional Panettone, Marchesi is one of Milan’s oldest pastry shops, and is considered one of its finest.

The precise assortment of things Grossi has learned from family, mentors and teammates on his far-flung journey – this dedication to relationships, this attention to detail and precision, this comfort with discipline and training – is what  he says prepare him for his biggest challenge yet. One year ago, he became Starbucks Employee No. 1 in Italy. This week, he will open his country’s first Starbucks. But it’s no ordinary store, he said.

The new Roastery, a former post office is in Palazzo della Poste on the Piazza Cordusio, is a few blocks away from some of Milan’s most postcard-inspiring – the Duomo di Milano, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Teatro alla Scala. In many ways, the Milan Roastery is a full circle moment in the company’s 47-year history. Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus of Starbucks, said his first trip to Milan in 1983 is what inspired and helped shape the company that would go on to have a worldwide presence. The Roastery is also a culmination of Italian coffee culture and the art and science of coffee Starbucks has worked for years to develop.

“Everyone who has been inside says it’s the most beautiful Starbucks in the world,” Grossi said.

Grossi, 38, grew up in Florence, Italy, with one older sister. He was 6 years old when his mother died of cancer. He doesn’t remember much.

“I can remember her voice, and a couple of images,” Grossi said. “And by the way, she’s still with me every day.”

Young Giampaolo Grossi poses with his dog, Ulisse, and his mother Paola, sister Francesca and father Giovanni.

Because his father worked a lot at the bank, his grandmother stepped in and became a second mother to him. It’s also when Grossi began playing football. What began as a way to keep him occupied after school eventually became a career; he played semi-professionally until he was 29. After that, he dove headlong into bar and restaurant work, moving up quickly through the ranks from bartender to management.

While he was managing a bar in New York City, he met his fiancée Katia, who is from the Italian island Sardinia but was also living and working in the city.

“I said, ‘Hey, hi, nice to meet you, who are you – oh wow,’” Grossi said. “That was four years ago. She’s not a fiancée that says, ‘Oh you’re the best, you’re incredible. No. She says to me, ‘You can do better.’”

Grossi and his fiancée, Katia.

Grossi credits her – and his father, grandmother and sister – for supporting him no matter what.

“They gave me the opportunity to do whatever I want, and I’m not talking about money,” Grossi said. “My father, he taught me a lot how to survive, to be respectful, to be generous and a good man. I’m grateful for that.”

Grossi said it was his interviews with Schultz and Cliff Burrows, group president of Siren Retail, that convinced him that Starbucks would become an extension of the family who loves and supports him.

Burrows said he was struck by Grossi’s range of experience working in bars and restaurants in the United States coupled with his experience in fine dining and customer service, especially the kind of required of him at Marchesi.

“From our very first meeting, Giampaolo demonstrated his love of people, his passion for service and his commitment to the community. A person’s CV tells us what they’ve done, but as you know, this is a values-driven company, and a person’s empathy, passion and commitment to their community tell us much more about who they actually are,” said Burrows, who leads Starbucks Roastery, Reserve, Teavana and Princi operations.

Giampaolo Grossi, general manager of the Milan Roastery, presents partner Andreea Miron with a new apron.

Grossi said Burrows helped him see how his experience, even playing football, demonstrated the kind of attention and care and focus on relationships needed to help make the Roastery a success.

“Throughout his training and this time in the U.S., Giampaolo has demonstrated time and time again what he believes in,” Burrows said. “He walks the talk.”

Grossi recalled a later meeting with Schultz in Seattle six months ago, where the two chatted about Italian coffee culture and espresso for a few minutes before Schultz asked Grossi about his family.

“It was a sunny day, and Howard had these big windows in his office, and he said he could imagine my mom watching me right now and that she’d be proud of me. It was very emotional,” Grossi said. “I left that office and walked a few meters down the hallway and stopped. This conversation is what made me understand what Starbucks really means.”

It’s been a wild year, and Grossi said he’s looking forward to even more excitement ahead once the doors open and visitors get to experience the one-of-a-kind coffee Roastery. His fiancée tells him he’s a different man than he was a year ago.

“Every day she looks at me and says, ‘What’s going on? Where’s Giampaolo who argues and never smiles and never dances?” Grossi said. “I wanted to do something for Milan, and I wanted to change my life, and I wanted to help others. I think Starbucks gave me the opportunity to fully be myself.”

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