let’s learn from La Boulange

It’s 11:58 am on a wednesday morning, and I’m sitting at the La Boulange in Walnut Creek. I’m sipping the foam off of the top of a matcha latte with non-fat milk and no vanilla-bean syrup. I’m sitting at a two person table barely large enough to fit my computer and latte at the same time, and I’m writing. I cannot complain about anything except the fact that very soon I won’t be able to do this anymore.

Starbucks is closing all of the 23 La Boulange locations around the bay because they “weren’t sustainable for the company’s long-term growth.” Instead, Starbucks will take La Boulange’s bakery items and place them on their shelf. This makes me very, very angry. In my opinion, La Boulange’s value proposition is not quality baked goods — it’s worth mentioning that that is certainly not Starbucks’ either — it is the atmosphere, the lifestyle.

Let me embellish the previous description a little bit. The table that I’m sitting at is underneath a trellis with festooned vines and purple flowers. There are cute, french-styled chairs and side-walk seating that could only be reminiscent of the Champs Elysée. I’m plugged into Spotify, listening to the “French Cafe” Playlist.

I’m secretly indulging in my Parisian lifestyle fantasy, and I only had to drive 10 minutes to do it. Starbuck’s will never do this for me, nor presumably for anyone else. It is the product of modern “material design” and hipster culture that leaves the atmosphere not only unwelcoming but also confusingly inconsistent with the purpose of a café: to enjoy oneself. Starbucks paid $100 million to expand into another vertical: baked goods, but in doing so, it killed one of the finest examples of a lifestyle brands in existence.

And for what? Shitty coffee defined not by quality or identity but by price and convenience? It’s about time that people start to recognize the value that things in their life really provide. Not monetarily but in a more abstract way. It’s easy to see the monetary value in things: “well, I want a Ferrari. So that’s $400,000. Okay, I guess I can’t afford that.” It’s harder to see the underlying value, and that’s what I think people and businesses in particular forget to see: “it may be $400,000 and I might go into debt that I can never pay off, but hey, I’m gonna look like a pretentious asshole who has more money than I can spend on anything practical like an apartment.” That’s real value.

But actually. I think more people should buy Ferraris.

(Not actual Ferraris.)

People and businesses, especially large ones that have the leverage to make an impact in the world, need to take a step back and look at humanity and the effect of decisions on humanity. Business shouldn’t be about making as much green as possible, it should be about making as much green as possible, while doing whatever it takes to find and support a mission that improves humanity.

I can confidently say that Starbucks is not improving humanity in any way. La Boulange was but won’t be anymore, and I hope that someone replaces La Boulange and doesn’t sell out.

One of the most beautiful examples I can think of comes from a marketing campaign that CVS introduced a few years back. They advertised that they would not be selling cigarettes anymore; they linked the movement to the irony that CVS was a pharmaceutical company intending to improve people’s health, yet they were selling products that were proven to kill people.

They tried to pressure other pharmacies to take a stand against smoking by not selling them, but I don’t think any of the others did. They were too attached to the profit and the potential to poach customers from a company that did the right thing. I haven’t been into any of these stores for a long time, so I don’t know if they are still doing this, but I still severely respect CVS for taking such a large monetary risk for the betterment of humanity.

People need learn to evaluate their decisions from a less rational and practical perspective and incorporate some less quantifiable values into the equation like happiness, personal growth, and morals. Who knows, maybe when you buy that Ferrari, you’ll find that you like driving all over the country and don’t need a house.

Right after I wrote this article, I went to whole foods and saw this shirt. I had to sneak a picture.
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