Long-awaited Coney Island Starbucks drive-thru opens amid controversy

Starbucks drive-thru
A Starbucks on Surf Avenue finally opened its doors after having donned a “Coming soon!” sign since this picture was taken in October 2019.
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A new Starbucks drive-thru opened its take-out window in Coney Island after nearly two years of anticipation — but not without pushback from community members, who feared potential traffic accidents due to the coffee emporium’s proximity to the neighborhood’s heavily-pedestrian amusement district.

“There were some pretty strong concerns about that being used as a drive-thru because of pedestrians,” said Coney Island resident and community maven Orlando Mendez. “What’s it gonna take for them to close it down? It’s going to take a death, or a number of deaths.”

The café, located across from the Cyclone near W. 10th Street, contains a large indoor seating area as well as a drive-thru that can hold a handful of cars at a time. 

Because Surf Avenue is a two-way street, however, locals raised concerns that the cars waiting to turn into the driveway could block traffic, or that drivers making left-hand turns could inadvertently hit someone walking around America’s Playground. 

One parent said that he regularly walks past the Starbucks with his three-year-old to go to nearby Asser Levy Park, and that he worries a driver wouldn’t see his young son while turning into the drive-thru.

“Having a drive-thru like that… it’s just another barrier for parents with young children who want to go out and take them to places like that park,” said Kouichi Shirayanagi. “It’s just another barrier to having a peaceful pedestrian walkway.”

‘Nothing but a lie’

Starbucks executives first filed permits to construct the new café — which is the second Starbucks in Coney Island, and the first with indoor seating — in April 2019, and reportedly presented their plans to local Community Board 13 to ask for a recommendation to the Department of Buildings. 

But when members of the civic panel asked about the driveway during the presentation, a Starbucks representative and his attorney said that it would be used “strictly a service driveway,” according to a board member at the meeting. Only later would locals realize that the coffee chain planned on opening a drive-thru.

“That would mean the whole presentation was nothing but a lie,” said Mendez, who was on the board at the time. “And several community members feel the same way, that something was pulled on us.”

The Department of Buildings did not initially grant the Starbucks permission to open the drive-thru, and the location sat unopened for months — until DOB ruled in September 2020 that the drive-thru was, in fact, compliant. 

“DOB reviews building construction plans to ensure they comply with the NYC Construction Codes and NYC Zoning Resolution. The drive-through facility at this location is allowed by zoning,” said agency representative Andrew Rudansky.

And despite the less-than-smooth introduction, a Starbucks spokesman said the outlet hopes to build a good relationship with the neighborhood.

“Starbucks is proud to join the Coney Island community and are committed to being a good neighbor. We look forward to serving as a gathering place for citizens and visitors of the community once it is safe to do so,” Starbucks representative Jory Mendes told Brooklyn Paper in a phone call. “This store was issued a Certificate of Occupancy by NYC’s Department of Buildings, deeming it in full compliance with all applicable laws.”