A Starbucks executive has reportedly called a customer to apologise after he accused the man of trying to steal trade secrets to take back to China during a chance meeting in a Seattle store.
Daniel Lui, who works for a Christian Fellowship in San Francisco, visited the store on Pike Street in Seattle with a friend while a corporate meeting was being held in room next door. In a Yelp review, Lui said that once the meeting had finished, one of the executives started to give a tour.
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“I got genuinely interested in this conversation happening right in front of us and were learning some unique things about the way they built the place and the siphon coffee process...,” Lui said. “...but the man stopped and looked at us. ‘You're part of the business, right? The coffee business, right?’”
The executive went on to say that Lui was free to copy Starbucks' equipment in China, according to Lui’s account. Lui and his friend decided to shrug off the remark.
But 15 minutes later they were accosted by the same executive who put his hands on Lui’s shoulders. Lui said the man continued with his earlier speech as follows: “Look. You can take all of our equipment. You can copy everything we have. You can even steal our beans and our suppliers. But let me tell you what you can’t get if you copy us in China – our training.”
Lui said he felt talked down to, misunderstood and ‘plain discriminated’ by the encounter. It came just days before Starbucks launched its #RaceTogether campaign to try and promote discussion of race relations – a promotion it has now scrapped.
Starbucks initially apologised and added $50 (£30) to Lui’s coffee card. He later received a call from the executive apologising fully.
“He actually ‘fessed up to really thinking that we were from China and wanting to steal secrets,” Lui told a local San Francisco news source.
Starbucks did not respond to requests for comment by press time.