The grand reopening of the Starbucks near the Albertsons store in Calabasas drew scores of people Friday evening who gathered to check out the coffee place's new Evenings Menu, complete with wine, beer and the kinds of appetizers one would expect to find at an upscale bistro.
The tasting event marked the unveiling of a recent remodel that is evolving the iconic coffeehouse into a sophisticated cafe, bridging the gap between coffeeshop and wine bar.
“Customers love the way the remodel came out,” said David Mizon, Starbucks district manager. “The food offerings have been really well received, and there’s been a lot of community support.”
The coffee menu board is now flanked by wine bottles above shiny brick veneer of a deep brownish red reminiscent not only of coffee, but of wines, beer and even chocolate. Walls have been remade from wine crates or have been knocked down completely to accommodate longer tables and more intimate seating.
Along with the signature coffee drinks that propelled Starbucks to world renown, customers can now expect to find chardonnays from Sonoma County, pinot noirs from Santa Barbara and other adult beverages complementing an assortment of appetizers, small plates and desserts.
It’s all part of the new Evenings Menu, which kicks off after 4 p.m. and is only being offered at two locations in California—the other in Santa Margarita—and 17 locations nationwide, mostly in the Northwest, where Starbucks was born. The Calabasas location is at 26521 Agoura Road.
“We launched the Evenings Menu in 2010 in Seattle and used it to test, initially, choosing wines carefully and offering small plates for a nice option in a casual, non-bar environment,” said Alisa Martinez, a Starbucks spokesperson.
Finding that customers were receptive to the new offerings, Martinez said the company decided to relaunch it this year. “Calabasas was chosen as a great wine-growing region," said Martinez, adding that “it’s a little bit like coffeehouses in Europe where wine and beer are served side by side with coffee.”
Anthony Lee, a senior design manager with Starbucks, told the Calabasas Planning Commission earlier this year that Calabasas was picked for the pilot program because Starbucks considered it a sophisticated city and wanted to offer adult customers more variety.
It’s a change that many in the community are welcoming with open arms and clinks of glasses.
This particular Starbucks has "always been a gathering area, but now this adds a new dimension," said Ravi Sawhney, who owns homes in Calabasas and Malibu. "You can look around and see it’s light, it’s open; they’ve done a really good job. You couldn’t feel more comfortable. This whole area is making wines, so this is very relevant. It’s a huge complement to Calabasas and the area.”
For the opening, baristas, normally relegated to working behind the counter, emerged as sommeliers to cork bottles, pour glasses and offer tastes of 10 selections ranging from the local wine country to Argentina and Italy. Beer is also on the menu.
Mingling with the rich, fruity aromas of red wines and Mediterranean-inspired appetizers such as brie cheese and bacon-wrapped dates was the distinctly Starbucks smell of fresh-brewed coffee and the sound of espressos being made.
“I’m quite amazed," said Stella Chavez, a Thousand Oaks resident. "I like the space they have in here. It’s a lot more modern and designed for adults. It’s a good spot to meet someone for a first date. If you look around, you see that it’s attracting everybody—young adults and professionals.”
In the holiday spirit, Lauren Almanza, the store manager, announced specially-themed evenings for the 10 following Fridays, with a Kiwanis toy drive planned for this week.
“We’re looking at a lot of organizations in the community to connect with and build awareness,” Almanza said.
The move toward alcohol and upscale hors d'oeuvres isn’t the first expansion by the prolific company famed for having stores across the street from other stores (indeed, one only needs to meander across the parking lot to Albertsons to find another Starbucks inside the market.)
This fall in San Francisco, Starbucks delved into Jamba Juice territory with the opening of its first Evolution Fresh Inc. juicery outside of its home state of Washington. The company also recently acquired the global tea company Teavana for $620 million and launched stores as far as India.
But here at home, this location in the heart of Calabasas may be a litmus test for expanding to other Southern California locations, and may be a staging point to incorporate uber-local vintners and musicians into the Evenings scene--as has been the case in Seattle where winemakers often appear in the store to showcase their products.
“We’ve expanded into areas where there was a need and that’s why we expanded into Calabasas," Martinez said. "There was a customer interest."