According to Karen Lebovitz, owner of Otherlands Coffee and Gift Shop, located on Cooper between Central and Peabody, her shop has seen no real loss of business since Starbucks opened.Lebovitz
admits, however, to being fearful when she
first heard they were heading into town, "because it's never just one, there will be a lot of them.I'm just glad they didn't move in next door," she
Ironically, it was a former Starbucks employee who showed Lebovitz
the ropes when she
opened the shop in 1994."He
was really into precision - the epitome of the Starbucks machine.We based our entire operation on that, and it's worked out really well.We still have three of our original employees working that were trained by him, so there's not much dilution of information," says Lebovitz
But while she
considers efficiency and great coffee important in Otherlands' success, what's paramount for Lebovitz
is the relationship that she
employees develop with their customers."It may sound corny but my concept for this place was to be like Cheers.Everyone will always have a place at my bar," she
grins."Even my ex-boyfriend." Lebovitz
is definitely doing something right.In the past six years, Otherlands
has generated quite the following.It could be that dogs are always welcome on the wisteria-covered patio, or perhaps it's the quality of the Caravali line of coffee, shipped in weekly from Seattle.But, more than not, it's the atmosphere that keeps people coming back.
"One of my biggest concerns was having the baristas [coffee bartenders] learn the customers' names and learn their drinks.They know pretty much all of the customers, and even if they don't, there will always be someone behind that cash register," she
says, pointing, "who will acknowledge you and let you know you will be helped."
Some customers have suggested to Lebovitz
put in a drive-thru window as well.Not gonna happen, she
"I think the drive-thru creates this concept that this is instant stuff," explains Lebovitz
, "and it's not.It takes time to make espresso drinks, and then people end up getting angry at you because they are waiting."
"I think the biggest difference between [Starbucks] and us is all going to boil down to customer service and consistency," she
So for now, it seems no one has gotten their caffeinated feathers ruffled.But what if all of that changes?Is there a chance that the big guys will squeeze out the competition?
"I really don't think so," says the Deliberate Literate's Curtis."But we have plans to open a wine bar and extend the menu from just bagels and sandwiches to complement that.
agrees."I've always said that competition is a good thing.It really makes you keep your nails polished."
So for now, the "coffee wars" seem to be on ice.They could, however, be whipped back into a frothy frenzy if, as expected, Starbucks begin to sprout like weeds along Poplar, Germantown Parkway, Front Street, and other Memphis-area byways.