Little did Jerry Baldwin, Ziv Siegl and Gordon Bowker expect, when they sold their modestly successful coffee company to the determined guy they'd once hired to do their marketing, that he'd turn Starbucks into the world's most frequented brand.
And yet, and yet. Not satisfied with the company's phenomenal growth, Howard Schultz wants to be even more than America's top caffeine pusher, he wants to be our cultural pimp, too. His grand ambition is all over a story on the front page of USA Today: he literally sees Starbucks as the "editor" of American popular culture.
A culture czar? Heaven forfend! We've already got Oprah, Martha, Paris, Ellen and Hilary, not to mention Jon, Rush, the George-Dick-Don-Karl Quartet, and the whole Fox gang. Get in line with the rest of the wannabes, Howard.
"One of the great strengths of Starbucks is our humility," he tells USAT with a straight face, but it's still a naked power grab.
Sure, Starbucks has taught us to drink better coffee, but it's also conditioned us to pay $5 for what used to cost a buck.
Sure, Starbucks supports Fair Trade coffee growers in third-world countries, but it's also selling obscene amounts of calorie-laden drinks and snacks to its own customers.
Sure, Starbucks is turning its stores into comfortable neighborhood magnets, but it's a slippery slope. Once Howard decides he knows what's best for us (uplifting movies like Akeelah and the Bee, CDs by Tony Bennett), who knows what's next? Edsels? New Coke? Koolaid?