• The new Starbucks opened up in Austin two weeks ago, the first coffee shop location to open outside Galewood |

Starbucks’ first Austin store outside of Galewood was always meant to be community-orientated – but so far, that community doesn’t necessarily seem to be Austin.

The Starbucks at Washington Square shopping plaza, inside the former Pizza Hut, quietly opened in June and is part of the chain’s 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. At the time, Starbucks didn’t release much information about what the community component would look like, saying that they would save that for the official opening.

The chain followed through after the Oct. 5 grand opening, and so far, the Austin-based Starbucks has a West Humboldt Park flavor. Store manager Ellisa Lotti is a Humboldt Parker, and so is artist Rubén Aguirre, who painted the colorful mural that decorates the western wall. But in a statement to the media, Lotti said that both West Humboldt Park and North Austin are priorities for her, and she will build connections in both communities.

Until the opening of the Washington Square store, Starbucks only had two West Side locations, and both of them were in Galewood. The location at 7112 W. North Ave. has been around for years, and another opened in March at 2001 N. Harlem Ave.

The West Side doesn’t have many coffee shops. Lawndale Christian Health Center operates the Green Tomato Café at on Ogden Avenue, and Beelove Cafe opened in 2021 in Homan Square. More recently, Momentum Coffee, a Chicago Black-owned coffee chain, opened a North Lawndale location and an Austin location inside the new Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development Chicago headquarters in Austin.

Starbucks’ Community Store program launched in 2015. One of its first community stores opened in Chicago, in the South Side’s Englewood neighborhood. 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.

According to Starbucks, the Austin location has 25 employees. In a statement, Lotti said that she was “honored” to be appointed its manager.

“[I enjoy] connecting with others in our community to understand and advocate for our local needs,” she said. “Living in this community, I am excited to provide resources and a safe space to an area that is limited and underserved, the West Humboldt/ North Austin area.”

Lotti said that a big part of it is learning more about the community and talking with organizations that work there is a big part of that vision.

“Together, we will find ways to grow and build opportunities through hosting events, building relationships, and working together to support one another and our local needs,” she said.

Lotti said that so far, she plans to host events such as job preparedness workshops and Coffee with Community events. She said that she plans to host “office hours” where residents and stakeholders can come in and discuss what they do.

“We are so excited to be part of this community and want to make sure that whatever we do has our community and customers in mind,” Lotti said.

 “We will be engaging our customers to understand what means the most to them and this unique and energizing community.”

One of the store’s most distinctive features is a mural that stretches from the door to the restrooms, featuring bright, colorful flowers and trees. Austin Weekly News was unable to interview Aguirre by deadline, but in a statement provided by Starbucks, he said the park that gave the Humboldt Park community its name was his inspiration.

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...