By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz • Chicago Tribune

The highly anticipated Starbucks Reserve Roastery Chicago is scheduled to open Nov. 15 on the Magnificent Mile, marking the last and largest of the chain’s grand coffee palaces.

The Chicago roastery, announced more than two years ago, will open at 10 a.m. that day in a glassy 43,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Crate & Barrel. The four-story emporium will employ 200 people and include on-site roasting of its rare Reserve beans, interactive tours, exclusive drinks “inspired by the culture and traditions of Chicago” and a full kitchen for making desserts, breads, pizzas and salads from Italian bakery Princi, Chief Operating Officer Roz Brewer said.

Starbucks’ pick of Chicago to house its largest roastery underscores the city’s importance to the coffee giant, which in 1987 opened its first cafe outside of the Pacific Northwest in the area of Chicago’s famed Willis (formerly Sears) Tower, a store that has since closed. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz has said Chicago was a gateway to broader expansion of the chain, which now has more than 14,000 stores in the U.S. and nearly 30,000 globally.

Though Starbucks is saving most details of what customers will find inside until the opening, a highlight will be cocktails developed by local mixologists. “Having mixology there creates a great entertainment space, and being able to look over the city,” Brewer said.

Chicago is the sixth city where Starbucks has opened what it calls “theatrical, experiential shrines to coffee passion,” following New York; Tokyo; Shanghai; Milan, Italy; and its hometown of Seattle, which opened the first Reserve Roastery in late 2014.

There are no plans for additional roasteries, which serve as “brand amplifiers,” as well as innovation centers to test new ideas, though that could change, Brewer said.

Starbucks involved Crate & Barrel founder Gordon Segal in the design of the Chicago space, which takes a prominent corner in the heart of Chicago’s tourist and shopping district. The company preserved numerous architectural details of the bright, window-filled building, constructed in 1990, focusing as much on the views from the outside in as those from the inside out, Brewer said.

Some 12,000 Starbucks store managers and regional leaders were in Chicago recently for a leadership conference with top company executives, including CEO Kevin Johnson, who succeeded Schultz in 2017. It’s the first time the company had convened its managers in one place since 2012 and was the largest employee conference in its history.

The event is an outgrowth of the April 2018 incident in which a manager at a Philadelphia Starbucks called police on a pair of black men who were waiting at a table, Brewer said. Amid an uproar, the chain closed all of its stores for a day of diversity and inclusion training and has conducted 12 other training sessions since.

The conference, called Leadership Experience, focused on the company’s shift toward streamlining and automating some menial tasks to give managers more time to train store employees. It also urged greater community involvement. The company also planned to announce sustainability initiatives and a commitment to addressing mental health issues.

Early this month, Starbucks signaled its profit growth is starting to slow. The company spooked investors with a presentation that indicated its recent rate of 10% or more profit expansion won’t carry into next year. Starbucks said the effect of a tax benefit in 2019 will end in its next fiscal year, which starts in October, and the company will also reduce share buybacks.

Still, “I would say that we’re firing on all cylinders from an operating performance perspective, with the focus and discipline necessary to drive growth at scale for a company like Starbucks,” Pat Grismer, the company’s chief financial officer, said at an investor conference.

Starbucks has made some changes in recent years to revitalize growth, including shuttering locations in U.S. markets that were densely populated with cafes and instead focusing more on suburban markets and expansion in China. In July, the company posted its best quarterly sales growth in three years, boosted by gains in customer traffic and higher prices. It also increased its profit forecast, buoying investors a year after uninspiring results had them questioning the company.

The company faces steep competition in the U.S., where more premium coffee options have resonated with customers. Its plans in China could be hampered by geopolitical tension and local operators with ambitious expansion plans.

— Information from an earlier Bloomberg report is included in this story.

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