Starbucks Makes An Unofficial Return To Russia, At Least In Some Form

Russia's invasion of Ukraine forced companies to make a decision. Those decisions have been tracked by the Yale School of Management, which has constructed a database that separates Western companies that had a presence in Russia into the five categories of digging in, buying time, scaling back, suspending business, and having actively withdrawn. Starbucks announced in May that after initially suspending its operations in Russia, it would withdraw its brand presence and pay the 2,000 workers a six-month severance to help them find new work (per CNBC).

What that means in practice seems more like Starbucks decided to withdraw its branding license instead of ripping out a corporate spearhead. CNN noted at the time that 130 locations in Russia were owned and operated by a partner (specifically, the Alshaya Group of Kuwait, via AP News). This is an important distinction because the structure of a cafe chain remained in Russia — it just lost its green aprons. So, it was no surprise when Reuters reported that Russian restaurateur Anton Pinskiy first approached Starbucks in March to begin negotiations that resulted in him acquiring all the Starbucks stores along with Russian rapper Timati and the Sindika holding company. As Starbucks revoked its branding, however, the stores had to wait before reopening.

A Starbucks by any other name is just as sweet

Earlier today, the locations that once housed Starbucks stores reopened to introduce the Russian public to the new coffee chain: Star. You read that right. AP News notes how the rest of the new brand is geared to be just dissimilar enough from the original Starbucks to avoid a lawsuit. The logo, for example, has a brown background instead of green and uses contrasting white lines to display a woman wearing a kokoshnik instead of a mermaid designed by contrasting white lines. The menu, too, passes off as a good imitation of Starbucks.

"People's perceptions may be different," Anton Pinskiy argued in a statement shared by CNN. "But if you compare, then apart from the circle, you won't find anything in common." Starbucks declined to comment. AP News offers the explanation that this goes beyond simply trying to piggyback off of the established success of Starbucks. The sanctions have hit Russia hard, the piece argues, so having a Russian Starbucks is an attempt by the pro-Putin rapper to push back against discontent.