Vandalism Forces Temporary Closure Of Starbucks Reserve Roastery

CORRECTION 11/30/2023: A previous version of this article stated that the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Capitol Hill would be closed for a week following this incident. The location was reopened the next day. 

Instead of a hot cup of coffee, visitors at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in Seattle's Capitol Hill found broken glass and graffiti on the morning of Saturday, November 26. The window of the Pike Street coffee chop was smashed in an act of vandalism, reports Seattle news outlet Kiro 7, and the destruction seems to be politically motivated. The words "Free Gaza" were spray painted on the walls and windows in black paint, and "Free Palestine" was painted on the floors. Employees told the local news outlet that the Seattle Roastery was temporarily closed and they expected the doors to remain shut for another week. However, Starbucks confirmed to Tasting Table that the location was reopened the following day, on November 27.

The vandalism is tough not only for the local community and regular customers who frequent the shop but also because the flagship Roastery is a tourist destination for coffee lovers, many of whom have already driven out of the way to visit the shop and found it temporarily closed. Customers who were in the Roastery at the time of the attack had to evacuate through the back of the store. The attack could be connected to a larger wave of demonstrations; per Kiro 7, the same group of protestors disrupted the downtown annual Seattle tree lighting the day before.

The controversy surrounding Starbucks' response to the Israel-Hamas war

Aside from its union-busting tactics, Starbucks' political leanings regarding international affairs have come under the public eye in recent months. Corporate Starbucks and union group Starbucks Workers United (SBWU) have been embroiled in a mutual lawsuit over a pro-Palestinian social media post made by the SBWU. On October 9, SBWU posted "Solidarity with Palestine!" on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The post was deleted 40 minutes after it was created, but notably, it was also met with a wave of violent demonstrations. One Rhode Island store was vandalized with a spray-painted swastika and Star of David on the windows.

Starbucks also allegedly encouraged the boycott of unionized stores following the controversial Tweet in late October. SBWU accused the company of giving the Orthodox Jewish Chamber of Commerce (OJCC) a list of at least 300 unionized Starbucks locations, citing them as "stores to avoid," per Restaurant Business News.

The group that vandalized the Seattle Reserve Roastery has not claimed any affiliation with SBWU. Meanwhile, SBWU has been making impactful changes via a series of peaceful, non-violent demonstrations, successfully unionizing at least 366 stores since December 2021. 

Long-winded vandals bring a series of contentious points to light

The Israel-Hamas war wasn't the only topic that the pro-Palestine protesters mentioned in their graffiti on the Seattle Roastery. There was also a Pride flag spray-painted with the word "Lies," and another poster with the word "genocide" written in the same font as retail giant Earlier this year, Starbucks was accused of banning Pride decorations put up by employees in several stores during the month of June, citing "uniformity and safety" issues, while simultaneously releasing a line of Pride-themed collectible cups and tumblers for the same month.

This new act of intense vandalism — while not affiliated with the union — could also ultimately have less to do with Starbucks itself than with the high visibility of the Seattle Roastery as a landmark. As Kiro 7 reported in its on-the-scene interviews, some folks were shocked to see the damage and vandalism but also recognized the act as a strong way to reach a public platform and provide a louder voice to a message they want to spread. Either way, this violent act marks another chapter in what is shaping up to be a pretty depressing side quest for the controversy-shrouded coffee giant.