• News/Talk
  • Music
  • Entertainment

Soul Searching

Listen to this Story
Larger view
Partial Starbucks Logo

A few weeks back Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, sent a memo to his company expressing his concern that the large coffee chain might be losing its soul. Weekend America reporter John Moe recruited Pastor Wayne Bacus and soul singer Felicia Loud to investigate. The experts on soul share their findings.

Notes From Reporter John Moe...

In Seattle, where I live, everyone has an opinion on Starbucks. It's like politics or country music, you just have to know where you stand. To many urban coffee enthusiasts, Starbucks is seen as something like Satan, full of evil corporate practices, over-roasted beans, and far too many Sheryl Crow CDs (not that Satan listens to Sheryl Crow but you get what I mean). Curiously, those who like Starbucks rarely defend it. It's not cool to like the popular thing. But it's still a popular place and I've never seen a location shut down. Thing is, Starbucks used to be a little independent shop downtown. They sold coffee, tea, and spices and had a logo of a mermaid. It was a funky place, the kind favored by those in the know. Then it grew, of course. A lot. A whole lot. A whooooooole lot.

So when a memo was leaked recently outlining CEO Howard Schultz's anxiety over the loss of corporate soul in his stores, it got me thinking. The original shop, located in the Pike Place Market area downtown, has been kept pretty much intact from those early days while the numerous other Starbucks in the area look incredibly different. Was there soul in one and not the other? Did there used to be soul and no longer was? Was there ever soul in the first place? Can soul survive rapid expansion?

In a way it reminded me of rock bands that become huge. Like when REM or U2 first appeared on my cultural radar, I enjoyed the smug knowledge that I enjoyed the very deep and soulful music of these artists. But the more popular they became, the less I associated them with soulfulness. How can REM have soul when high school cheerleaders and your mom are into them? But they're still REM and there must be some remnant of Murmur remaining on Green.

Also, what is soul anyway? Not sure I know. For this story, I called up Wayne Bacus, the pastor at Seattle's Queen Anne Lutheran Church. I've interviewed him before and knew him as someone with a knack for talking about spiritual issues in an accessible way. I also contacted Felicia Loud, widely regarded as the best soul singer in all of Seattle. We met for coffee at a Starbucks downtown, one of the newer ones, the kind that makes Howard Schultz worried. We then continued on to that original Starbucks. I fully expected them to rip into the new place as soulless and glorify the original site. Things didn't turn out as I expected.

  • Music Bridge:
    Artist: Robert Glasper
    CD: Canvas (Blue Note)


  • Comment | Refresh

  • Post a Comment: Please be civil, brief and relevant.

    Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. All comments are moderated. Weekend America reserves the right to edit any comments on this site and to read them on the air if they are extra-interesting. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting.

      Form is no longer active


    You must be 13 or over to submit information to American Public Media. The information entered into this form will not be used to send unsolicited email and will not be sold to a third party. For more information see Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Download Weekend America

Weekend Weather

From the January 31 broadcast

Support American Public Media with your Amazon.com purchases
Search Amazon.com:
 ©2015 American Public Media