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Starbucks (SBUX) will open its first store in Milan, Italy, this week, in the coffee mecca that inspired the company as we know it today.
Starbucks’s new Reserve Roastery in Milan will occupy the nearly 30,000 square-foot former post office building along the Piazza Cordusio, a few blocks away from The Duomo. The Roastery officially opens on Friday, September 7, the anniversary of the day Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982.
“It’s so hard to describe in words. There’s so much emotion,” chairman emeritus Howard Schultz told Yahoo Finance in an exclusive interview. “Yesterday, when we had the partner meeting and they started singing that song in Italian, I literally started crying.”
Schultz joined Starbucks in 1982. At the time he joined, Starbucks was a small seller of whole bean coffee with just four stores.
It was in 1983 when a 30-year-old Schultz took a business trip to Milan while working as a marketing director. While on his way to a trade show, Schultz walked into an espresso bar and became enamored by the “romance” and “theater” of Italian espresso, he said. This inspiration led to the present-day Starbucks. And while Starbucks has grown into a global coffee behemoth, it had never entered the Italian market until now.
“I’ve dreamed about opening in Italy for so many years and to be able to open the Roastery and the response we’ve gotten over the last week from the Italians who have seen it, I think, just speaks volumes to the fact that we’ve tried to be very humble, respectful of the Italian heritage and at the same time really do everything we’ve learned over many, many years and bring it to life in ways that the Italians have never seen before,” Schultz said.
In a city that boasts 1,500 coffee bars, Starbucks’s grand opening has been met with skepticism. However, Schultz sees the Roastery as offering something different.
“On the other hand, people have encouraged us because of the expression of what we do with coffee — there’s different methods of how the customer can get their coffee, the quality, the integrity of this place. And I think we have something to offer that is not Italian, that is complementary. Also the space— this is almost 30,000 square feet — it’s, I think the Italians are expecting us to have another coffee store. Most Italians have never seen coffee roasted despite how much they love coffee … I think the Italians are going to vote very positively and say, ‘yes, I want to be in this space.'”
Back in 1983, when the young Schultz saw the potential in translating the Italian espresso bar to Starbucks, he raced back to the U.S. to convince Starbucks’s founders that he had “seen the light.” Ultimately, Schultz’s idea to transform Starbucks was turned down by the initial founders. Soon after, Schultz left to set up his first coffee bar Il Giornale, named after a daily newspaper published in Milan.
Starbucks ultimately encountered some financial trouble, and the founder approached Schultz to buy the company in 1987. With the help of Bill Gates Sr., Schultz secured the funding to realize his dream.
Today, Starbucks operates more than 28,000 stores in over 70 countries serving more than 100 million people each week. Starbucks employs more than 350,000 people, whom the company refers to as “partners.”
Under Schultz’s leadership, Starbucks grew as a company that offers health care benefits for both full-time and part-time workers and equity in the form of stock options. More recent benefits include college tuition.
Schultz, 65, stepped down as CEO in April 2017. Just over a year later, he stepped down from his role as chairman on June 26, the anniversary of Starbucks’s initial public offering.
Julia La Roche is a finance reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.