Rocco Princi opened his first store in Villa San Giovanni, Italy and moved his business to Milan in 1986. Back then, Howard Schultz was still convincing the founders of Starbucks that coffeehouses could catch on in the U.S. Now, Starbucks, with more than 13,000 U.S. locations, has invested in Princi, and is bringing to the U.S. a second location of the high-end bakery and bar.
"We as a company were so intrigued by the possibility," Selim Giray, Starbucks VP of business planning for Princi, recalls of meeting with the Italian chain's founder about six years ago.
While there definitely won't be nearly as many locations for Princi, the chain is starting to grow, thanks to Starbucks. On Tuesday, Starbucks will open a Chicago location for Princi, its second U.S. location and its first outside Seattle.
The Windy City location may be the latest sign that an established giant is eager to truly test a new concept. The opening comes just a day after Amazon opened its first cashier-free Amazon Go store outside Seattle, also in Chicago. The openings of both stores, while separate from each other, show how companies are setting their sites on urban expansion.
Starbucks' 2016 investment in Princi gave the coffee giant access to higher-end baked goods and another way to try to get people to linger longer and spend more. Princi's upscale shops sell food, such as sweet and savory breakfast cornetti (Italy's buttery, curved answer to France's croissant), pizzas, salads and sweets, as well as coffee, cocktails, wine and beer.
Ad Age got an early look at the Chicago shop last week. Here are a few things worth knowing.
Didn't Starbucks try this before? Not exactly.
Princi is even more high-end and has fewer locations than La Boulange Bakery, the upscale San Francisco-based chain Starbucks bought for $100 million in 2012. French baker Pascal Rigo also joined Starbucks as part of that deal. Princi remains tied to his own business and struck an undisclosed investment and global licensee deal with Starbucks. The La Boulange takeover was largely to get that company's recipes and enhance the food at mainstream Starbucks shops. And while in some ways it was a success, Starbucks decided that running La Boulange shops didn't make much sense for the coffee giant, which closed the La Boulange chain and parted ways with Rigo in 2015. Now, Starbucks is licensing the Princi name and gets all of the revenue from the shops it opens. Starbucks also tried selling beer and wine through its Starbucks Evenings program, which ultimately made it into a few hundred U.S. locations before ending in 2017. Princi's service, which includes a bartender making cocktails to order, is decidedly different.
"They've got a history of acquiring businesses, usually with the stated intention at the time of running them as standalone businesses or integrating them into Starbucks," says David Henkes, senior principal at Technomic.