Is anyone else worried about Starbucks?

They seem to be in trouble, and I’m not sure what to do. Poor Starbuck!

On one hand, they are closing stores left and right – and even though MA was to be spared, they later announced we are not, losing 7 or more stores locally. On the other hand, I see even more “Help Wanted” signs in their front doors that ever before. Plus they’re pushing more and more benefits to cardholders: free refills, free shots, other giveaways that you never would have seen before.

They come up with a huge marketing thing for their new drink, hoping it can revivify their business. What is this vivivying magic they’ve come up with? A banana smoothie. Not what I expect from such an experienced vendor. You think a smoothie’s going to turn your business around? Think again.

Their desperation is showing in many other ways: when using my card to get my free in-store drip coffee refills, I got not one but three receipts, even though I never normally take them. One for the first cuppa, of course; then two for the refill. Not only did the staff patiently explain about their $2 for any cold grande after 2pm offer, but they also eagerly pressed their customer survey – CustomerVoice! – into my hand. This is about the third time I’ve gotten a survey in the past month, and it’s not like I’m in there daily to account for their sudden interest in my opinion.

Plus, they’re canceling their muffin contract, and ditching their breakfast sandwiches. I know there are a lot of mixed opinions about them – myself included: have you ever gotten a breakfast sandwich at the old ‘Buck that was actually assembled straight? I haven’t. But I still like them, and they’re actually reasonably priced for the ingredients, considering their corporate price levels. That’ll be a sad goodbye to the toasties in the morning some days.

What can we do to help them out? Poor little Starbuck, she’s tough but vulnerable these days.

Hmmm.

Oh, wait.

They are an evil corporate giant. Never mind. Let loose the dogs of capitalism, and if you enjoy it, update your schedule to use your card to take your break there: free wifi, free syrup, and the free refills mean it’s a great way to spend an hour in the morning, for those of you who like the coffee there. I mean, it’s good, although Starbucks is not as good as Peet’s.

The first step is admitting the problem

Hi, I’m Shane, and this is the third coffee shop I’ve visited today.

Admittedly, today is a rather unusual day, and the post title and lead-in is a cheap bit of hyperbole. Today is a day of inconveniently scheduled meetings, long drives, and a bunch of getting out of the way of a FOAF that I’m delivering the moving truck for. So this is not a normal day at all, and I rarely ever visit two coffee shops in one day – honest!

The day started with exactly not quite enough time to get anywhere between the morning dropoff and my first meeting. Hence, I decided to skip rush hour traffic, and drive just a couple of blocks to my coffee home, Peet’s in Lexington. The staff is great (Hi Janice!), there are plenty of tables, and for all the fact that they don’t offer free wifi, I really do find it a good place to focus on work without distractions. It’s also quiet enough in the back to be able to call into my meeting with good cell coverage. Since it was still early in the day, I opted for hot coffee here.

Meeting over, I then had enough time to drive home to do a couple of hours of work, which of course took longer than expected, and left me late to pickup the rental truck. Being hungry, hot, late, and in possession of one of the free sandwich coupons, I stopped at a convenient DD for my large iced, milk, half a sugar, hazelnut, and a flatbread sandwich to finish while waiting for rental truck paperwork. I must admit that I did not actually sit down at that coffee shop.

Truck delivered to the friend who’s moving, I now have a few hours to try to finish some work while they decide what to load up and what to leave behind. Of course, I have them drop me off at the closest Starbucks for another large iced, half-sweet, since now I really do need the free wifi to read my email. This time, I am sitting down.

I promise – I won’t do this again. This week I’ll pull my thermos out of the cupboard and start making iced coffee to bring with me. But today was just a little bit too much happening for that.

I hear you ask: so, how do they compare, these three highly branded corporate behemoths of the caffeine addiction trade? I’m not sure it’s completely fair to do a head-to-head, given the differing styles, but I will share this:

  • I love Peet’s. Better coffee, better bar drinks, and a good variety of pastries that I happen to like. Always my favorite, but not always immediately convenient.
  • DD is such a background to the fabric of life that it will always be important. I would never call it gourmet, but sometimes you just need a predictable cuppa, and I know I can always find a DD. Sadly, today’s iced was a tad down; I think they actually gave me too little sugar, which rarely happens (I often have to explain “just a HALF sugar, please”).
  • The primary value to Starbucks is that when you really need a bar drink, you can always find a passable one. And in today’s case, the free wifi (with air conditioning and comfortable chairs!) was the important part.

And now, back to tracking the latest round of software defects…

Weekend Report: Thanksgiving Families

(Yes, I still have ApacheCon blog postings to finish; I’m waiting on a friend to supply some graphics-fu before I wrap those up with a bang.)

The Thanksgiving week started out in a Murphy-esque way after we all arrived back home from our respective trips. The day after I stopped taking Airborne, I got a cold, which was quite a doozy on Wednesday. Luckily, we weren’t planning to travel far.

Thanksgiving day my lovely wife Amy volunteered to do the cooking and watch Roxanne, allowing me to sleep in and feel a bit better. We spent the traditional Thanksgiving locally with my mother, stepfather, stepbrother and his beau. Although my stepfather has been seriously ill, we made it through Thanksgiving with all traditions intact, if a little more tired than usual.

My mother’s traditional Thanksgiving is pretty familiar, with a couple of twists. The good white wine goes with cheeses, crackers, and crudite. The only requirements – besides good wine – is that one of the cheeses is blue, the stuff with mold in it. I lucked out and picked a wine that went perfectly with my light french blue (on the gorgonzola side). With the TV on the in background, there’s the traditional half-hourly dashes to the oven to baste the turkey and set the next side dish into motion. I usually help with the gravy, and then do the mashed potatoes as everyone else takes care of a vegetable.

Our biggest twist is the addition of sauerkraut, steeped with the turkey neck, as a side dish. It’s a surprisingly good counterpoint to the white meat, and comes from the tiny bit of Germanic blood in our background. Dinner is simple, and is accompanied by the good red wine. Everyone got through dinner fine, Roxanne even with unscathed clothes after deciding that the best use for cranberry sauce is to spread like jelly on the cranberry bread.

After the cleanup and finishing of one of the football games, we have coffee with the traditional pecan and chocolate mousse pies. Yes, I actually like pumpkin better, but my stepfather’s dark chocolate mousse pie has been a staple since I don’t remember when.

Friday we drove a couple of hours to spend a night with Amy’s family in CT. This is always great, because her parents use this as an excuse to have everyone else over, including their kids – all close in age, and (usually) all who play together for a while, leaving us a little bit of time to catch up. The dinner was, of course, traditional – turkey sandwiches. Hot or cold as you decided on microwaving with gravy (or not, with homemade cranberry sauce) yourself.

The highlight of this trip was bringing Lucas, our beloved Siamese cat, home again. He had been staying with family for a few weeks since we had both been traveling previously, and he’s a very social guy. He took the trip just fine, but I sense that he’s still a little miffed for having been sent away for a couple of weeks, since he’s still not purring nearly as much as he usually does. Siamese can hold a grudge for quite a long time…

Sunday was fairly productive in getting the house ready for winter, and trying to face up to going back to work in the face of only XX more shopping days until the midwinter holidays. Hope everyone had a good trip, wherever they went! (Or didn’t go, for those of you working a normal week and not succumbing to the odd colonial America holiday!)

I’m blogging this

Yes, I’m blogging this. Just sent home two very dear friends who arranged a surprise night out to celebrate my 37th birthday. Note: they were a tad late with the celebration, but that still made the surprise just as sweet. I must admit to failing my save against stun when they walked in, especially since I’d just returned from a crazy week at ApacheCon previously.

After a nicely mysterious drive into town – spoiled only by the fact they weren’t quite sure how to get there, and I was wondering if I should drive, M & M took me to see Tomb!, the interactive adventure. This amusing interlude – presuming your disbelief is suspendable, or you just enjoy watching everyone else – was the start of many a good joke for the evening. You will laugh or incur my wrath.

A quick jaunt and a moderate parking circle got us to The Elephant Walk, an excellent French/Cambodian restaurant. Veeeeery tasty. After waiting at the bar with some spring rolls and a drink – a surprisingly good French martini, which mixes gin and fruity stuff successfully – we moved to the dining room for dinner. Just about heavenly. Plus the waiter (a $dayjob co-worker of M’s) surprised us all with delivery of dessert with a candle in it for my supposed birthday celebration. Delightful overall.

Damn! It happened again. Most of the funny stories have already escaped the grasp of my conscious mind. However one theme was growing up – something we’ve each done to different degress – in the Boston area. That means there’s a whole raft of shared media experiences we have, including Candlepin Bowling and Willie Whistle, to mention but a few.

(Look! I found this posting lost in the mists of the ether!)

I’m blogging this

This, alas, was a wonderful post about the delightful show-and-dinner experience that two very dear and longtime friends took me out for to celebrate my 37th birthday, but it was never saved and was apparently wiped by some mysterious key combination on my Thinkpad.

I assure you, the original was almost worth reading. A pity I need to now leave the table full of liquor bottles as they are, and stumble off to bed.

Thank you, M & M, for a night to remember. I’ll follow the path or else feel his wrath.

The croissant-shaped brioche

It’s been that kind of week. I stopped at a cafe I’ve always liked but rarely pass by, because it was a special week. Café-au-lait because I want something different, and a croissant because they look good. Get to work, laptop refreshes for dual monitors, and dive into some work and my tasty second breakfast.
But it’s not. Tasty, that is. The café is blah, the au-lait I could have poured myself from a carton, and the croissant isn’t. It’s tasty, but it’s no croissant. I may not be French, but I’ve learned more than enough from Julia Child to know that this is actually a very trickily disguised brioche, shaped to look like a croissant. Nice, but not what I had gone out of my way for. I was actually doing the fancy second breakfasts several days this week because it was my birthday – a way of treating myself.
See, Amy was actually away on a trip on my actual birthday. When I woke up with Roxanne, I talked about it being a special day, it was my birthday. With the perfect clarity and sense that only a 3 year old has, she said no, it wasn’t – it couldn’t be my birthday without mom home. We’d just have to hold that thought until later in the week when the whole family could be here.
Hence, I sort of stretched my definition of birthday for a while, and had quite a lot of second breakfasts. Peet’s is my favorite, both for coffee and bar drinks, plus the excellent service locally (Lexington). They get snobby bakery croissants, which aren’t bad, but I usually go for their scones which are just about right on the slightly dry/crumbly side.
Today I did Au Bon Pain since I was passing by there. I opted for a croissant, since I’ve long ago bored myself of their mass-made scones. What the heck happened to Au Bon Pain’s croissants? It wasn’t even brioche, it was just vaguely buttery cooked dough shaped in a wrapped horn! Geez, I’ve had more layers in a Pillsbury Crescent roll before! Was it just me, and nostalgia for days past, or did Boston area Au Bon Pains actually used to have decent croissant? Not actual French croissants – no American chain could pull that off – but still, I recall watching The Chessmaster noshing on a nicely flaky ABP croissant in years past.
This is turning into more of a nostalgia trip than a riff on disguised bakery products, but I do remember The Chessmaster, and was glad to see he’s still there one second breakfast earlier this week. The used book shelves at the Harvard Book Store are still there, although the science fiction section is disappointingly short from the pre-Amazon days. And so many of the stores in HSq have changed! The past 6 or so years has seen a huge gentrification of the area, which is a real shame. I mean, Cardullo’s Wursthaus may not have been the healthiest place around for your wurst-mit-kraut, but it sure had an infinity more style than the stupid sunglasses and trends store they’ve got in there now. There really isn’t that much benefit to the new HSq, and there’s a lot less class and culture there now. I suppose a fair number of places are a little cleaner, though.

Now I really want some decent coffee – and a brioche-shaped brioche. Hmmm. That’ll have to wait for morning, I suppose.

It was a double, double-D day today

Meaning I had two iced Dunkin Donuts coffees during the day. Yum. That was even after making real fresh ground Peet’s coffee this morning for breakfast. No, I don’t roast my own beans, but I do respect those who do. But I also very much enjoy the thin brown flavor of that local behemoth coffee shop, Dunkin Donuts. Little known fact (unless you read corporate history websites): the 100th Dunkin Donuts franchise opened in 1963, and the 1,000th franchise in 1979! No wonder I feel a kinship with the local chain, and remember Fred so fondly.
But the story isn’t about the donuts, and it isn’t even about the coffee, since heck, it wasn’t that hot today. The second iced was to get through putting my father’s air conditioner in, which always ends up being hot and sticky work no matter the weather. This post is actually about another song of my daughters, titled simply enough “Dunkin Donuts”. I sure hope their lawyers come emailing down my website to complain about trademark violations…

Dun-kin Doooo–nuts
Dun-kin Doooo–nuts
Dunnn-kin Doooo–nuts
The store is very far from heeere

Well, we had just left one DD, and were just driving past another DD on the other side of the road (if you know the Fresh Pond circles, you know what I mean), but it was a very cute song nonetheless. I was really hoping she’d continue, but the next verse to the same tune was about going to the pool, which we were about to do. More later about my theories on the Dunkin Distance, and the average Dunkin Daily Drive Time later.

OMG, now I’m hungry for a drive

The “fab” Skoda advert, where you can have your cake and drive it too. OK, I admit part of the pavlovian response is the music – Julie Andrews singing the classic whiskers on kittens, which my daughter loves. But the cake car they built looks fabulous. And the commercial itself is pretty funny – along with the obvious music video editing emphasizing the dichotomy of industrial baking and a finished life-like model of an automobile – includes just one touching moment of one of the bakers taking a fingerfull of batter as they mix.

As RibaRambles points out (via many other sources) there’s a making of video as well.  Ooooh, you have to check out at 4:07 when they’re building such a complete cake replica of the engine itself that someone pours in chocolate engine oil into the top of the crankcase!
Now I need more dessert. Who cares if it’s thirds; it’s a holiday weekend.