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Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: How Coffee came to Main Street, U.S.A.

4 August 2013

by Reuben Gutierrez

Last June, I explored the Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Cafe at Disney's California Adventure, the first location offering Starbucks coffee and products on Disney property. From my initial observations, the popular coffee franchise seamlessly integrated into the roaring 20's Hollywood setting of Buena Vista Street in DCA. In addition to blending into the setting, the cafe had a strong back story illustrated by pictures on the wall, suggested by props and articles, and explained online and in print. Today, we'll take a look at the manner in which Disney tells the story of how Starbucks fits itself into more sacred ground: Main Street, U.S.A. of the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World.

Main Street Starbucks

Main Street Starbucks

As a Walt Disney World cast member, I was lucky enough to preview the reimagined Main Street Bakery twice. With little prior knowledge about the 'story' of the new bakery, I sampled and experienced the new Starbucks and left feeling little story, if any at all. There were some old pictures of old things on the wall, shelves of baking ingredients and tools, and dozens of coffee grinders. If this is turn-of-the-century small town America, then they would need dozens of coffee grinders to meet guest demands. This was satisfactory as the look and feel of fitting Starbucks into Main Street was achieved, albeit minimally, and at the expense of essentially losing the bakery (a topic we'll discuss next week). The previous iteration of the bakery had no story, just more of a feel of 'back then.' The problem is DCA had done it so strongly, and Disney had to do it again in a place where die-hard and casual Disney park fans would expect something more. So they invented and installed a back story, but where was it?

Main Street Starbucks
Some old fashioned coffee grinders and bakery things

Main Street Bakery Starbucks
A 'historic' photograph from the Main Street's Bakery's grand opening

Upon my return home, I decided to do some online digging and learn what this story is supposed to be. Maybe because Main Street's Starbucks is just over a month old, but I found it odd that I could not find a printed back story anywhere, at least from official sources. Even most fan websites would just glaze over or barely mention the apparent back story behind the bakery. In my research, the most I've found was an article on how the Starbucks logo fits in with turn-of-the-century Main Street. The author discusses how Disney Imagineers adapted a logo designed by Starbucks in 1971 into a bakery existing about 70 years earlier than it's time. In short, cultural artifacts and decor of mermaids led to the design of the Starbucks logo we know today. It's clever work on Disney's part, but it creates a sort of paradox as to exactly what era are we in when visiting the Main Street Bakery? Are we on Main Street at the turn of the century as time travelers stepping back in time for our vacation (which I always thought was the case)? Or are we merely visiting a place where time stopped, but technology (computer registers), merchandise (electric spray bottle fans), and franchises (Starbucks) have anachronistically crept in for convenience, efficiency and profit? I prefer the removal-from-reality idea of the former school of thought. These were thoughts I didn't think of when analyzing Starbucks at DCA, which makes me wonder if they should be thought of at all.

Main Street Bakery Main Street Bakery
The Pikes

After shaking my brain of time travel inconsistencies and reaching some dead ends in my online research, I decided I needed to get out of the office and return to the park for some firsthand field research. On my first visit to the Main Street Bakery, I noticed two portraits hung on the wall by the entrance. My friend Aaron, who happens to be a Starbucks connoisseur, informed me that they are 'the Pikes,' the Main Street residents who founded the Main Street Bakery. He continued that while these characters are fictitious, the name 'Pike' actually comes from a coffee blend offered at Starbucks called 'Pike Place Roast,' which incidentally is named for the historical farmer's market in Seattle, where the first Starbucks opened.

Pike Peak Roast

In my recent field study, name plates have appeared beneath the portraits, confirming that this is Ishmael and Clara Pike, proprietors of the Main Street Bakery, its portrait placed between them. A quick online search found that a Clara Pike was married in 1914 Newfoundland, Canada, but she has no connection with Starbucks or Disney. That could count for something since she was in the correct time period! Maybe Clara and Ishmael were her parents? Whatever the case, the first part of the story was told: a setting and our main characters.

Starbucks Main Street Magic Kingdom

Valencia Orange Starbucks

As with other dining areas and attractions at Disney, the story is subtle, and you have to go look for it. After placing my beverage order (a grande size New Valencia Orange Refresher, exclusive to Main Street Bakery), I scanned the area for more signs of a story. By the beverage island, the wall is decorated with a World map and black and white photographs, most dated 1897, depicting different locations throughout the world. Upon further scrutiny of the photographs, one could see that a caption was scribbled beneath them. Finally, I had found the missing key that unlocks the connections between the proprietors, the old bakery, the new Starbucks, the new decor, and Main Street, U.S.A.! A few choice photos below help tell the story:

Disney World Starbucks
Verona, 10 January 1897,
'Clara and I stopped here today and had a delicious cup of coffee.'

Magic Kingdom Starbucks
Dar es Salaam, 4 February 1897
'The coffee here inspired us to someday open our own little coffee shop back home."

Starbucks in Disney
9 November 1897
'All kinds of flavorful ingredients can be found in the warm vineyards of New Guinea.'

From these words, it is obvious that Ishmael and Clara had traveled the world and brought back these photographs. Other photos line the walls of the bakery, though they were too high for me to decipher the scribbled captions. The south end of the bakery features photos of people from around the world drinking (presumably) coffee. Clearly, the Pikes were world travelers. This idea is further enforced by the various cultural artifacts scattered around the shop (which are the items that led to the design of the Starbucks logo).

Starbucks on Main Street, USA
Moroccans enjoy a fresh cup of coffee

Starbucks in Disney
South American women grind coffee beans

Starbucks in Magic Kingdom
Coffee drinkers around the world

Perhaps their success with the Main Street Bakery allowed them to afford a world tour in 1897, where they tried different coffees and eventually find the places where the ingredients are grown. Upon their return, their popular bakery was transformed into more of a coffee shop. To cross reference my detective work, I talked to the greeter cast member stationed at the queue entrance. I asked her if the portraits are of real people (knowing full well that they're not). Sounding a bit rehearsed, but at least mildly enthusiastic, she informed me that Ishmael Pike was real and Clara was his wife. He was the man responsible for bringing Starbucks to 'all of this,' she said with a flourish of her arm. I asked if she meant he was the man responsible for bringing in the franchise to Disney. She repeated herself and then I understood that she, a turn-of-the-century coffee maid, was telling me that Ishmael Pike brought coffee to Main Street U.S.A. We turned around and she pointed out the various things in the bakery. His world travels allowed him to discover this high quality coffee and he brought back with him all of the coffee grinders, dishware, and lots of photographs. The cast member was very nice, and seemed pleased to tell the 'story' of the bakery to someone who was genuinely interested.

Main Street Starbucks

I wanted to talk to more people and get more story, but the majority of the cast members were behind the counter preparing drinks. The Main Street Bakery was technically now a 'Starbucks' after all, so most of the manpower was needed to deliver the coffee delivered to the street by Ishmael Pike. While it is a bit silly to think one made-up man first brought coffee to the park (though some may debate the identity of the Nescafe 'coffee' previously served on Disney property), it's fun to think that the small town in which Main Street exists got its coffee from their traveling baker. Coffee was nothing new to America at the turn of the century and most of this made-up story clashes with history, but when you reach that point in the thought process, then you've passed the point of enjoying your vacation and returned to criticizing everything like you're in the real world. In order to fully enjoy the magic of Disney, you sometimes have to separate from your real world knowledge and return to the blissful ignorance of childhood. While the official story has not been officially printed anywhere online, the story of Main Street Bakery is in place, just as it was for the Fifer, Fiddler, and Practical cafe. The visuals, decorations, surroundings, subtle clues, and most importantly, people tell the story. Like Ishmael Pike, you'll just have to discover it yourself.


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