Starbucks opened Friday, Sept. 28, in the saucer-shaped building that was formerly a Del Taco. Jaime Mowers. (click for larger version)
September 28, 2012People were lined up outside the new Starbucks in the city's iconic saucer-shaped building on South Grand Boulevard when its doors opened for the first time at 5 a.m. Friday, Sept. 28.
College students, business professionals and community members poured into the coffee shop that was formerly a Del Taco.
It's a Starbucks that almost wasn't. When the Del Taco closed in July 2011, it looked as though demolition was to be the fate of the uniquely-shaped structure that developer Rick Yackey said he planned to replace with a more traditional building. After several protests and online petitions to save the structure gained support, Yackey changed courses – and many are grateful.
"Rick Yackey and his partner (Hany Abounader of Balke Brown Transwestern) are heroes," said Randy Vines, a co-owner of STL-Style on Cherokee Street and Landmarks Association Board member who was at the forefront of the movement to save the saucer. "We didn't think it would get saved because we're used to losing neat buildings. This symbolizes a shift in attitudes and consciousness of mid-century buildings and is an example of what could be and should be done to save them. People underestimate the adaptability of these buildings."
His twin brother, Jeff Vines, also a co-owner of STL-Style and Landmarks Commission board member, echoed that sentiment.
"This represents a shift in what we value as a city – it's a new way of thinking," Jeff Vines said. "And, this is the most memorable Starbucks in the St. Louis – and probably the country."
Hany Abounader, vice president of commercial brokerage at Balke Brown and Yackey's partner in this endeavor, said he's excited about how Starbucks turned out.
"This is the appropriate way to save a building," Abounader said Friday morning, sipping a cup of coffee as a steady stream of customers flowed into Starbucks. "We wanted this to be something that served the area."
Yackey said even though the size of a new building could have been bigger, he's more than satisifed with the way the saucer came back to life.
"I'm totally happy with the way it turned out," he said. "It's a really nice project and it puts a corporate stamp on the area. It's very good for the neighborhood."
Starbucks District Manager Alicia Jacques was pleased to see a lot of people enjoying their morning coffee at the new location.
"We've been very, very busy," she said, looking around and noting the diversity of the crowd, which included college students, business professionals, parents and families. "I feel like it really embraces the community, and that's what Starbucks is about."
Jacques also pointed out the new location offers The Clover brewing system, which makes one cup at a time and aims to pull out each of the specific flavors in the coffee bean. It not only brews a complex flavor, but allows individuals to customize their very own cup of coffee.
Patrons were impressed, with many touting the shop's design, long tables, and chairs for lounging. More than anything, the buzz was about what a perfect location the flying-saucer building is for a Starbucks. Sitting at the corner of South Grand Boulevard and Forest Park, its situated close to St. Louis University, student housing complexes and apartment buildings, the new Grand Boulevard Bridge and major highways.
"It's the best location," SLU student Dominique D'Souza of Chicago said Friday morning as she grabbed a cup of coffee before heading to class. "It's very convenient and it's going to be a great place to study and hang out."
SLU student Erik Turner said the location is definitely convenient, but he's not a big fan of Starbucks.
"I'm glad they saved the saucer, but I don't like Starbucks," he said. "But I'm still glad it's open."
The Vines brothers said they would have liked to see a local retailer move into the location too, but are still glad to see the Starbucks.
"It was either going to be Starbucks and Chipotle in a strip mall, or Starbucks and Chipotle in the saucer, so we can live with this compromise," Jeff Vines said.
Chipotle will soon occupy the other half of the recently rehabbed saucer. The Mexican fast-food restaurant is slated to start construction on its side of the saucer in mid-October and should be ready to open 60 to 90 days after that, according to Abounader.
Steve Spreck, a 1974 SLU graduate who stopped in Starbucks on his way to work Friday morning, said he plans to frequent it more in the future.
"It's a good thing for the community and for SLU students, especially," he said. "This will be a nice meeting place when I'm meeting somebody for a cup of coffee."
Randy Vines couldn't be more thrilled the saucer is still standing.
"It's going to be a vibrant piece of midtown for a long, long time," he said.