Starbucks' debut perks up Yokosuka

Yokosuka Naval Base is the first naval base in Japan to get its own Starbucks Coffee shop. The store’s grand opening was Monday.



YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE — It’s not just the Americanos and lattes that made Starbucks Coffee go so global that it became a prime target for window-smashers during the World Trade Organization protests and riots in Seattle a few years ago.

The secret to the success of the coffee giant — the leading retailer of specialty coffee in the world — is also the ambiance. It’s the soft lighting, cozy chairs and blond wood tables. It’s the jazz heard playing softly — if the blenders aren’t going.

“It’s the whole experience,” said Weldon Spangler, Starbucks Japan vice president for retail operations. “You get to sit here and have your coffee and talk to your friends and relax.”

And for the first time ever on a naval base in Japan, that experience just became available.

“Not only can you get good coffee,” Capt. King Dietrich, Yokosuka Naval Base commander, said at the store’s grand opening Monday before downing a mocha frappuccino, “it’s another first for Yokosuka.”

The shop, although new to the base, is not new to Japan. Japan was the first overseas market for the Seattle-based Starbucks, mostly because Starbucks found a business partner — Sazaby League — “that had the same values as we do,” Spangler said.

The first Starbucks opened in Tokyo’s Ginza district seven years ago, Spangler said. The one in Shibuya, although it came later, is rumored to be the most profitable Starbucks in the world. Spangler said he couldn’t comment on that for competitive reasons. “It’s certainly one of the ones we’re most proud of,” he said.

The Yokosuka base store, Japan’s 514th Starbucks, is expected to have a ready customer base. Kids to sailors to families: “Whoever we talk to … they all seem to be happy,” said Nettie Hoot, base Morale, Welfare and Recreation club operations manager.

Starbucks Japan and MWR will split the profits, although neither would disclose who gets how much.

In fact, the store, in what was once a video games parlor across from the base exchange, is about 300 square feet larger than the average-sized Starbucks, Spangler said, in part because of expectations of “a lot” of customers.

The store was a long time in coming. Planning started in 2002.

“Some of the difficulties we ran into would be complying with all the U.S. laws for food safety and Japanese laws,” Spangler said. “And accepting two types of currency was something we had to work through.”

At Monday’s grand opening, the drinks were free — MWR had handed out coupons — and some of the 30 members of Starbuck’s staff circulated with baskets of cookies and sweet rolls. There was also a green-and-white cake, matching the Starbuck’s colors. The line of people waiting to get in stretched out the door for more than an hour.

The new Starbucks will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. “There’s always a problem in finding a place to go,” Hoot said. “This is one more.”