Espresso arms race in Gardens

Everything was happy and shiny at the new Starbucks at Smith and Wyckoff streets last week.

Black-clad recent hires fished for potential “regulars” with the naïve optimism of first-year teachers in September. Inside, a beaming cashier asked me my name and if she would be seeing me “in the neighborhood.” A chalkboard behind her welcomed me to my “neighborhood Starbucks.”

Meanwhile, over on Court Street — inside what had been my “neighborhood Starbucks” until the new one opened on Smith Street — things were grimmer.

The reason is simple: The new Starbucks has two espresso machines. The older, bigger Starbucks has only one. To add insult to injury, the baristas on Court Street have been asking their corporate parent for a second machine for “forever,” as one miffed employee put it.

And yes, all’s fair in love, war and corporate growth strategy, but that doesn’t mean that the guy or girl behind the counter won’t be bitter.

“The corporate office says our numbers show we aren’t busy enough for a second machine,” she said, gritting he teeth. “The [Smith Street location] doesn’t even have numbers yet.”

OK, so little sister got the toy that big sister wanted. Isn’t blood thicker than latte?

Maybe. But sibling rivalry is different than business rivalry, even when both sides are part of the same corporate family. As Cindy Lauper once put it, money changes everything.

A second espresso machine would go a long way at the Court Street shop. Java-slingers could prepare their double grande mocha latte frappuchino macchiatos two at a time. People would get their brew faster. The tip jar would fill.

“I guess they don’t care if we are slower here,” one barista said. “For them, whatever business is lost here they make there. But for us it matters.”

Baristas at the two-machine shop were sympathetic to the plight of their fellow espresso-pullers.

“Two machines is totally normal,” said one of the coffee-jerks, a hipster-looking guy who admitted that he had just interviewed for a new job at a record label.

He suggested that the $2.4-billion-a-year company was cutting costs. Already, the bosses in Seattle have reduced the number of new stores within a set market out of fear that the locations would cannibalize each other. But even so, what does it say when one location feels threatened by another location of the same chain?

Well, I’m no genius with making money (witness this job), but I do know one way the mint-mocha monolith could trim overhead: open fewer stores in Brooklyn. Competition is bitter; the coffee business doesn’t have to be.

The Kitchen Sink

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