Pilgrimage to Milan

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 NIV
Duomo Cathedral, Milan

Milan, Italy is known as a fashion center, financial capital, and the home of da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. While most people would visit the second biggest city in Italy for these or other cultural sights, we specifically visited it to go to…Starbucks.

Last September, Starbucks opened a roastery in Milan. What’s unique about this location is Milan is the city that inspired Howard Schultz to change the course of the Seattle based company from a local chain that sold only coffee and related to supplies to an international institution with over 30,000 stores. 

In 1983 Shultz was working as the marketing director for the niche coffee company when he went to a trade show in Milan. His experience there transformed the company, and our lives. 

Howard was captivated and inspired by the coffee culture that he saw in Milan. The multitude of coffee bars serving espresso and related drinks in what was part craft and part showmanship led him to eventually put Starbucks on the path to becoming the third largest restaurant chain in the world—and the place where Laurie spent the last 21 years of her work life before retiring. 

We visited the Milano Roastery in October after completing our Way of St Francis trek across Italy. The multi-level Roastery is located in the old post office. It is well preserved on the outside, and impressively remodeled on the inside. We grabbed a seat on the upper level to have lunch and enjoy the show on the floor below. 

We were served by Riccardo, a local who has been with Starbucks since before the roastery opened in September of 2018. When he heard that Laurie was a retiree he had us sample a few different nitro and cold brew samples so we could compare them to the US versions. He explained that everything there—from food to furnishings—is Italian. 

When we were there in the mid afternoon the place was busy, but not packed. Riccardo said that more than half the patrons were typically tourists, like us. The rest were Italians. This is currently the only Starbucks store in Italy (other than airport locations) but they would love to expand.

We also had a chance to talk to one of the partners (Starbucks’ term for employees) about the roasting operation. He explained that this roastery provides the small lot coffee for all of Europe. The place is part roastery, part restaurant, and part tribute to the city that provided the inspiration for the modern Starbucks. 

While in Milan, we did have a chance to visit their impressive cathedral, the Duomo, and spend time in the canal district, designed in part by Leonardo da Vinci. Then of course, there is the incomparable painting of The Last Supper by the master.

Piazza del Duomo

Unfortunately, we didn’t try to get tickets until a few weeks before our visit. At that time it was booked out for over a month. If you plan a visit, plan ahead and don’t get shut out like we did. We also recommend the audio tour guides provided by Rick Steves.

If you’d like to know more about the Starbucks story and personal triumph through adversity we recommend Howard Shultz’s first book, Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. His latest book, From the Ground Up, is also excellent. 

Trip Update: We’re currently living in Valencia, Spain—and loving it. It’s large, but very safe compared to many other metropolitan areas. We are beginning our third and last week of Spanish classes and will write more about our experience here, later.

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