Brand loyalty: Betrayal through the sin of convenience
Today I learned Starbucks is closing all of its La Boulange bakeries.
Acquired in 2012, La Boulange’s purchasing brought better pastries (and, arguably, food in general) to Starbucks stores everywhere. Until today, that was awesome for me: I could now get my favorite cheese danish in Ohio, New York, or Texas. Life was great.
I’ve been a diehard fan of La Boulange since 2007. There was a store in a shopping mall not a mile from my office in Marin County — I could walk there, if I wanted to take a long lunch. Their open faced sandwiches were great. Their salads were solid. And their soups? I’m the kind of person who loves the idea of soup and never can get through an entire bowl — but La Boulange knew how to sell me some motherfucking soup.
That shit was delicious.
Yes, I worried in 2012 when my favorite little San Francisco bakery was gobbled up by the Evil Conglomerate That Is Starbucks — but I understand big business and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a gold member of Starbucks who usually has about $30 of money preloaded on her phone for when I need coffee. Starbucks are everywhere. And they are consistent. I know I will get a middling cup of coffee there, no matter where I am (and a shockingly bad cup of cold brew, a tangent I’ll go off on since I’m angry at Starbucks today. Seriously, I don’t know how they can make cold brew so acidic. The whole point of cold brew is to make coffee smoother. What sort of evil coffee wizard did you employ to make yours so absolutely vile?)
Here we are today: June 17, 2015, and I’m being told one of the staples of my San Francisco life is closing down. La Boulange brought some semi decent food to Starbucks (their sandwiches and breakfast food still is, in my opinion, inedible — stick to pastries, folks) and Starbucks got the La Boulange name out nationally. Now? All 23 shops are closing as well as manufacturing facilities. Like so many small companies that larger chains purchase, whatever scraps worked for Starbucks will stick around and the rest is jettisoned. Did the purchase of La Boulange fail for Starbucks or was this their game plan? Honestly, as a La Boulange lover, I don’t know and I frankly don’t care.
But here’s the rub: as fiercely loyal as I am to the La Boulange brand, I’m going to betray them through the sin of convenience. Yes, I honestly think Starbucks is a shitty company for closing La Boulange down — even though I’ve worked at companies while they executed similar closures— and I don’t want to patronize Starbucks anymore.
Those words ring hollow, though, because Starbucks knows what they are: they are the decent coffee shop where you can get pretty much everything (from normal coffee to frou fou things with lots of syrup squiggles) anywhere in the country and quite a bit of the entire world. Even if every La Boulange patron gave Starbucks the middle finger and stuck to their brand loyalty guns, never patronizing a Starbucks ever again (even if we all went to the dreaded McDonalds and bought their coffee offerings to stick it to the Starbucks man) it wouldn’t matter. Starbucks is so big, they can take that hit.
That won’t happen, though. We, the loyal La Boulange masses, won’t leave. I can grab my phone and take a stroll for 20 minutes between business meetings and grab a coffee in pretty much any urban area (and if I have a car, 20 minutes even in more rural surrounds.) I don’t need cash or a wallet — and even if I have a ridiculous order like a grande hazelnut upside down double iced latte with skim milk and half the pumps of syrup (yes, that’s a real order I make sometimes — kill me, please) I’ll be able to get that drink reliably, every time. Convenience, you succubus, you make me betray all that I thought I loved.
After all, I’m only 4 Stars away from my next Free Drink Reward.
Rest in peace, La Boulange. You were awesome, and we did you wrong. I sure the owners got a sweet deal from the sale and I hope everyone else working there also got something good for the last three years.
Starbucks, you suck, and your food is still shitty. I hate you even more now, and I’m going to wish ill on you every time I walk through your doors.
…which might be as soon as tomorrow.
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