Starbucks is pulling the plug on its standalone Princi Italian bakery bars, with locations in Chicago and Seattle set to close next week. The move is due to a shift in corporate strategy, according to a spokesperson, who also notes a New York location never reopened after pandemic restrictions first hit the restaurant industry back in March 2020.
A spokesperson confirms that September 3 is the final day of operation for Princi in Chicago (1000 W. Randolph Street) and in Seattle (2118 Westlake Avenue). Starbucks will continue to serve Princi’s breads, pastries, pizzas, and sandwiches at its mammoth roasteries in Chicago (where the world’s largest Starbucks resides), New York, Seattle, Shanghai, Milan, and Tokyo. Each of these cities has a commercial kitchen where the primary baking occurs.
The reason behind the closures wasn’t shared. The Chicago cafe was busy in recent weeks with customers bringing their laptops in to work while sipping drinks — even as concerns about the spreading delta variant mount. Last week, Chicago brought back its indoor mask mandate.
The decision doesn’t affect Princi locations outside the U.S. Starbucks inked a licensing deal with Princi in 2016 to operate and develop American locations. Upgrading the cafe’s reputation for food offerings presented another catalyst. Princi’s menu spans Roman-style pizza, sandwiches with bresaola and mortadella, and a smattering of sweets including tarts baked with seasonal fruit. The food was a distancing from an earlier generation of sad grab-and-go items in the coolers near Starbucks’ counters, saddled with stale bread and deflated lettuce.
Rocco Princi founded his cafe chain in 1986 in Milan and developed a reputation for artisanal breads. The cafes supposedly mesmerized former Starbucks CEO and chairman Howard Schultz while on a business trip, and he became determined to bring Princi to the States. Starbucks opened three standalone Princis in 2018: Seattle, then Chicago, then New York. Princi himself would travel from Italy to ensure operations went smoothly in Chicago upon opening.
The Chicago location opened along Randolph’s restaurant row, home of two restaurants from Iron Chef Stephanie Izard and Chicago’s famous Au Cheval. Princi was designed to blend in with those trendy restaurants, with cocktails and a decidedly upscale interior feel, distinct from the typical Starbucks that customers would find in suburbia, or anywhere.
Block Club Chicago first heard word about the closure from employees. Many of those workers could shift to other nearby Starbucks locations. While a spokesperson stressed that Princi’s baked goods would continue to power its roasteries — those aforementioned large flagship locations — the closings join other discarded ideas (including Starbucks Evenings) as the company has historically shown a willingness to cut bait and shift resources.