The new Starbucks opened up in Austin two weeks ago, the first coffee shop location to open outside Galewood |
Credit: Igor Studenkov/Staff Reporter

Starbucks quietly opened a store in Austin, 4925 W. North Ave., during the second week of June.

This is the first West Side Starbucks outside of Galewood, which had a location at 7112 W. North Ave. for years, and another opened in March at 2001 N. Harlem Ave. The coffee shop chain told Austin Weekly News the new location is part of its “community store” program. The idea is to engage and invest in communities that historically haven’t seen much investment by working with local nonprofits, hiring locally, engaging with local, preferably minority-owned contractors and hiring local artists to paint interior art.

The West Side doesn’t have many coffee shops. Lawndale Christian Health Center operates the Green Tomato Café at 3750 W. Ogden Ave., and Beelove Cafe opened in 2021 at 1111 S. Homan Ave. in Homan Square. More recently, Momentum Coffee, a Chicago Black-owned coffee chain, opened a North Lawndale location at 2644 W. Ogden Ave., and it plans on opening an Austin location inside the new Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD) Chicago headquarters in Austin, at 5112 W. Harrison St.

While there have been several attempts to open coffee shops in Austin, only one has succeeded so far. Urban Essentials Coffee Café had a soft opening on Juneteenth at 5300 W. Chicago Ave.

Starbucks’ Community Store program launched in 2015. One of its first community stores opened in Chicago, in the South Side’s Englewood neighborhood, at 806 W. 63rd St. Since then, it ramped up its commitment to expand its stores. Its current goal is to open 1,000 community stores worldwide by 2030.

The chain determines where to open community stores based on the American Human Development Index, an economic indicator developed by economist Mahbub ul Haq. The index looks beyond economic signs to incorporate factors such as life expectancy, educational attainment, median earnings, race, gender and geography.

The new Starbucks opened in the Washington Square shopping plaza at the northeast corner of Austin, inside a building that was previously a Pizza Hut location. There is already a Starbucks a few blocks north in the neighboring Hermosa community, at 1941 N. Cicero Ave.

The new Austin store has a drive thru, and the building has been remodeled to include a large counter and a seating area with multiple power outlets in the north third of the building. A colorful mural decorates the west wall.

Starbucks spokesperson Tiana Noble was unable to find the specific information about the Austin location, including who its community partners are, who painted the mural, what local contractors were involved and how the store approached local hiring, by deadline. But she said that the standard procedure for every community development store is to work closely with community partners, because local organizations know their communities the best. For the Englewood store, for example, Starbucks worked with Teamwork Englewood, a community service nonprofit.

Noble described the murals inside the company stores as one of the elements that make them distinct from corporate-owned stores.

“We really pride ourselves in being able to connect with local artists and local muralists that have roots in the community and are able to embody [the community],” she said.

Noble said Starbucks puts a lot of research into finding vendors that “strongly reflect the community” where the store is located “in addition to aligning with Starbucks values.”

Local hiring, she said, is another important component.

“Community stores create environments for Starbucks partners (employees in the Starbucks parlance) to connect with, engage and represent the neighborhoods they serve,” she said.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...