MILAN - Hours before the opening of the first Starbucks in Italy, the line outside wrapped the length of the building. Howard Schultz, chairman emeritus of Starbucks, and Giampaolo Grossi, general manager of the new Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Milan, walked together through the front doors to welcome its first customers.
People flooded inside, eyes wide, mouths open, phones recording. The Roastery quickly reached capacity as people circulated, ordered coffee and food from Princi Bakery and shopped for merchandise.
“I was like, ‘We have to be first,’” said Erika Aragon, who with her husband, Dimitri, and their 4-month-old baby, Serafina, were among the first to come inside. She was greeted by Schultz himself, and gave him a hug.
“It’s very beautiful. It’s not at all like a regular Starbucks,” she said. When she found out the Milan Roastery was opening, and on her husband’s birthday, she knew they had to get up early to get in line.
“It looks like the chocolate factory from Willy Wonka,” Dimitri Aragon said.
By noon, hours after the Roastery opened, the line still stretched down the side of the building, a historic former post office in Palazzo delle Poste, a bustling city square along the stylish Piazza Cordusio. Starbucks partners and leaders walked up and down the line passing out cups of French press coffee for people to enjoy before they entered the Roastery. Once inside, people circulated, took selfies and videos, shopped and sat to enjoy coffee and food.
Mike Reynolds flew to Italy from Bellevue, Wash., to attend the opening of the Roastery. He’s known Kevin Johnson, Starbucks chief executive officer, for a while – the two met at his neighborhood store back in Washington and said the two have coffee there from time to time.
“Kevin told me about the opening in Shanghai (last December), so I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to the next one,’” Reynolds said. “It’s exciting, the way the coffee cask blooms, the tubes carrying beans that look like transit, the bronze wall with the timeline – it’s better than I expected.”
Travis Imel traveled to Milan from a different Washington – Washington, D.C. He said he has family in Seattle, but works at Gallaudet University, the only university in the world for deaf and hard of hearing people.
“I came for the opening. And of course to see some of Milan on the side,” he wrote on a notebook. “I just love this place!”
Imel was dressed in a Starbucks T-shirt with pictures of hands spelling out each letter of S-T-A-R-B-U-C-K-S in American Sign Language (ASL) across the back. He said he’s excited about Starbucks opening a signing store in Washington, D.C., next month.
Outside the Roastery doors are some of Milan’s most postcard-inspiring – the towering Duomo di Milano, the soaring light and glass of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and Teatro alla Scala, the most famous opera house in the world. The Milan Roastery is the third Roastery in the world. Shanghai opened in 2017 and Seattle, the first, in 2014.
The Milan Roastery employees nearly 300 partners, or employees, and will offer locally roasted, small-lot Arabica coffee sourced from 30 countries, and freshly baked, artisanal food from local baker, Rocco Princi.
Inside, Sheng-Chi Lin filled an empty suitcase with newly purchased Roastery mugs and other merchandise. He made a one-day trip from Taiwan especially for the opening of the Roastery.
“This is the first Starbucks in Italy, so I know it will trend. I brought an empty suitcase with me. I’m going to take back many, many souvenirs. In my country, we have many people who collect these,” he said. “This is the best Starbucks, and I’ve seen many Starbucks.”
Luanne Dietz contributed to this report.