Is Starbucks ripping me off? Is a giant corporation picking on—or more accurately, picking the brains of—a little guy? Is the announcement made by Starbucks last Tuesday—which turns fiction into fact—just a coincidence?
Fact: Starbucks will launch its first store in Colombia, the South American coffee-growing nation that gave us Juan Valdez. They’ll open in Bogotá in 2014.
Fact: My last novel, San Café, tells the satiric story of a retail coffee giant, Mobys. It’s pure fiction. But what does that mean? Fiction—even fantasy—reflects the world in which we live and particularly human nature. As it happens, Mobys enters its one-hundredth country by opening a store in the Republic of San Cristo, a coffee-dominated nation nicknamed San Café. Moreover, Mobys has major interests in San Cristo, just as Starbucks is involved in Colombia’s coffee industry.
Fact: I was first with the concept of a giant coffee company finally opening a store in a nation, which supplies many of its beans.
Fact: Starbucks’ marketing staff hasn’t thanked me for the inspiration—or even offered a token of its appreciation. Cash would be nice. A gift card would do. Of course, selling San Café in all its stores would really show good faith.
I’m not saying that I’ll sue. But the parallels are, shall we say, interesting. As of 2012, Starbucks had 18,000 locations worldwide with 200,000-plus employees. Revenues totaled $13.3 billion. Mobys? I quote San Café: “Mobys’ operations, even after a modest restructuring, included 15,000 owned or licensed stores, kiosks and in-home dispensaries. If [Chairman Whitman] Scharq was proud of anything, it was soccer moms, stay-home dads and stuck-in-the-job-search unemployed of all demographics hustling a little extra cash by selling coffee out of their garages and living rooms.”
Alas, I’m not at liberty to reveal Mobys’ number of employees, revenues or the status of its Yo Mobys! and ¡Mobys Aquí! handcarts promoting capitalism in the nation’s ghettos and barrios. Even fictional corporations have their secrets.
Fact: Starbucks sells a variety of products and owns Tazo Tea, Seattle’s Best Coffee and the La Boulange bakery chain. Mobys licenses logo-imprinted jewelry, school supplies, underwear, children’s toys and auto accessories. It also offers religious items to mega-church gift shops.
But wait. This Mobys information isn’t fact. It’s fiction. It just feels like fact. Because fact and fiction tend to merge—in either direction.
So maybe I’m being a little dramatic. Maybe Starbucks’ Chairman Howard Schultz bears no resemblance to Whitman “The Great Whit” Scharq. Maybe Starbucks doesn’t run the government of Colombia. Maybe no bodies will show up in and around Bogotá as a response to Starbucks’ looming presence.
But, if Starbucks sends a retired Special Forces officer to honcho the security of the new store… if a leftist revolutionary who loves gourmet cooking announces he’s seeking the nation’s presidency… if Starbucks is cooking up an alternative energy source based on coffee… and if Schultz announces that the Pope will cut the ribbon at the Bogotá grand opening… the graffiti is on the wall. That’s my story.
And I’m sticking to it.
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To all of you observing the Jewish High Holy Days, I wish you a New Year (5774) of health, fulfillment and peace.
Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com.