What Is Princi? The Starbucks Reserve Roastery Just Debuted Something Huge

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Something major happened at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle today: The opening of Princi, a brand-new bakery and café space. But what is Princi at Starbucks, you ask? That's a fair question; until extremely recently, I was asking myself the same thing. The short version is that Princi, a well-loved, family-run Italian bakery based in Milan, will be teaming up with Starbucks to bring their handcrafted breads, pastries, and more to the Seattle Roastery, as well as to all other planned Roasteries that Starbucks will be opening in the near future. Honestly, though, the whole thing is so, so much more than just that.

The partnership between Princi and Starbucks was originally announced in 2016 — and Princi’s 2017 arrival at the Roastery marks both the first time in history that food items have been baked directly on-site for Starbucks, and the opening of Princi's first U.S. location.

On a recent trip to visit the Princi space in the Seattle Roastery, Bustle got the lowdown on the whole Princi experience — and believe you me, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen come out of Starbucks before.

Here’s what you need to know:

First Things First: What The Heck Is Princi?

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Princi's founder, Rocco Princi grew up in a tiny village in Calabria in the southernmost part of Italy — and because of where he grew up, he was all about good food from very early age, he says, speaking through a translator. At 16, Rocco knew that he wanted to become a baker — and that he wanted to do it the way the baker in his village did: On a small scale, using excellent ingredients, and with everything done absolutely right.

He worked as an apprentice at his town’s bakery for two years to learn the trade. In his early 20s, he opened his first shop —and then in 1985, he moved north to Milan and opened the very first Princi bakery and café in 1986. He eventually expanded, opening four more locations in Milan and one in London for a total of six European bakeries. And they’re well-regarded, indeed: Wrote Kabir Chibber in 2008 for the New York Times of the Milan location at 5 Piazza XXV Aprile, “While the whole experience, especially at a busy lunchtime, can resemble one of the riots that often take place when the city’s two beloved soccer teams play each other, it’s worth it when the taste reaches your lips.”

For all its growth, though, it’s still a family-run business; each location maintains the same small scale, high quality fare. Rocco has no interest whatsoever in industrializing his process — a philosophy by which the Roastery location will continue to abide.

What’s The Starbucks Connection?

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In July of 2016, Starbucks announced that it had become a global licensee and investor in Princi — and with the announcement came a major revelation: Soon, baking was about to start at the Seattle Roastery. This was notable because, as Schultz said in a press release at the time the partnership was announced, “We have never baked in our stores in 45 years." He added, “Rocco and his team at Princi possess a passion for handcrafted food and artisanal baked goods that mirrors how I feel about our coffee.”

To prepare for the Seattle opening, a select group of bakers and Starbucks partners went to Milan to train directly at Princi’s original locations; their experiences were then used to create a whole training program, ensuring that each new team of bakers will have the same careful attention to detail that the European ones do. Ingredients have all been extremely carefully sourced, with many of them being imported directly from Italy.

Important to note is that Starbucks doesn’t own Princi; they’re an investor and licensee. The relationship, therefore is a symbiotic one: Princi will be the exclusive purveyor of food in the Starbucks Reserve Roasteries, and in turn, Starbucks will help Princi open standalone locations worldwide.  

Enough Of The Business — Tell Me About The Food!

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Princi at the Roastery is truly An Experience — one that requires Overly Emphatic Capital Letters to really underline. Located immediately to the right of the doors when you walk into the Seattle Roastery, it occupies 2,000 square feet of the space. The first thing you’ll notice, however, is that there aren’t any printed menus posted anywhere; instead, you’ll confer with an actual person called a commessa. The idea is that you walk in, head over to the food counter, notice something that catches your eye, and ask a commessa, “What’s that?” From there, the commessa will guide you through the whole experience and help you pick out the perfect meal based on your mood, your favorite ingredients, and more.

“It’s very much an Italian experience that is directly from Rocco’s stores and how we organized our case and our service,” Alan Booth, Director of Culinary Operations, tells Bustle. “It’s intended to be that customer will just gravitate towards whatever strikes their fancy, and that’s where we’ll meet them and connect over food.”

Princi will operate for the same hours as the Roastery (that is, daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.), but as the time of day changes, so will items at the food counter. However,there won’t be a big shift or anything between breakfast, lunch, afternoon, and evening; instead, the changeover will happen gradually. “We sequence our production to anticipate the next service we’re going to roll into,” Booth tells Bustle; the bakers are continually baking, working in eight-hour shifts starting at 3 a.m. and going through ‘til closing time, enabling a seamless transition between each time of day. The bakery has a library of over 100 recipes, so what’s available day to day might vary; regardless, though, all items are priced between $3 and $11.

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Here's a quick overview of what you can expect to find on the menu and when:

  • All Day: Breads and pastries. Focaccia, Cereali Ciabatta, and Princi’s signature loaf are among the options available.
  • Morning (open to 11 a.m.): Mattina, or breakfast items. Both savory and sweet options are available.
  • Early to Mid-Afternoon (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.): Pranzo, or lunch items. Salads, sandwiches, and soups are the stars here.
  • Early Afternoon and Onward (11 a.m. to close): Pizza. Really, really good pizza, served al taglio.
  • Mid-Afternoon and Evening (2 p.m. to close): Dolci, or desserts. Got a sweet tooth? You will be very happy here. The tiramisu is a standout.
  • Late Afternoon to Evening (4 p.m. to close): Aperitivo, or cocktails and small plates. Did I mention that there’s a full bar? Because there is. Wine, beer, and cocktails inspired by Italian aperitivos are the name of the game here.

When And Where Can I Get My Hands On Princi’s Goodies?

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You already knew that Starbucks was opening up a bunch of new Reserve Roasteries in the next couple of years, right? Like the original one in Seattle, which opened in 2014, these new Roasteries — which will be located in Shanghai, New York, Tokyo, Milan, and Chicago — will essentially be like “Willy Wonka for coffee,” as they’ve famously been termed. The Seattle Roastery also often serves as a sort of test kitchen for drinks that might later make their way to regular Starbucks stores; the Smoked Butterscotch Latte, the Cascara Latte, and the Nitro Cold Brew, for example, all originated at the Roastery before arriving at Starbucks locations across the country, either for limited or permanent runs.

But, again, I’m willing to bet you already knew most of that, if not all of what. What you might not know, though, is that when each of the new Roasteries open, they’ll open with a Princi already up and running in it. “Any time we open a next Roastery, Princi will already be in it. They’ll be integrated,” a Starbucks spokesperson tells Bustle.

The bad news, of course, is that in terms of Starbucks locations, Princi’s goodies will only be available at the Reserve Roasteries. You won’t be able to get them at regular Starbucks stores; nor are there currently plans to bring Princi to the Reserve Bars available at select Starbucks locations across the country.

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The Shanghai Roastery is opening in December of this year; then, in 2018, the New York, Tokyo, and Milan Roasteries will follow. The Chicago Roastery will bring up the rear in 2019.

But! There’s good news, too: Standalone Princi locations will also be opening in the United States in 2018, with Starbucks’ help. The standalone Princis won’t have a full Starbucks menu, but they will all be serving the Starbucks Princi Reserve blend that the coffee and bakery giants created together.

As a Starbucks spokesperson put it to Bustle, the idea is simple: “Whenever you have Princi, you have Reserve coffee; whenever you have Reserve coffee, you have Princi food.” In borrowed words, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.