Dr. McDreamy, Tully’s Coffee Take on Starbucks

Capitalism, at its most basic, is a system that enables the public to vote with its money. By offering or withholding funds, the public decides which companies succeed and which companies fail.

So as cynical and jaded as the public can be about the ubiquitous presence of Starbucks and its cultural influence over how we—we meaning the entire human race—perceive and consume coffee, it is important to remember that the public elevated the brand to global prominence.

As Starbucks continues its caffeinated march across multiple nations and generations, we see a growing opportunity for brands that cater to people who–gasp!–love coffee but don’t love Starbucks. Some folks, for example, think Starbucks coffee tastes bitter or burnt (and this isn’t just the Dunkin’ Donuts crowd).

Enter actor Patrick Dempsey–yes, that would be Dr. McDreamy from Grey’s Anatomy. The man who isn’t a doctor but plays one on TV just purchased Tully’s Coffee, a chain based in Starbuck’s own hometown of Seattle, Washington which filed for bankruptcy in October. At auction, Mr. Dempsey and his group Global Baristas outbid six other competitors (including Starbucks and Baristas Coffee Co.), paying $9.15 million for the company.

From a public relations standpoint, this is a compelling purchase that raises two questions among industry experts:

  • “Umm, how do you plan to beat coffee juggernaut Starbucks on its own turf?”
  • “Are you crazy?”

But Mr. Dempsey doesn’t think he is crazy, and here’s why: This is personal.

In a statement, Mr. Dempsey explained that the city of Seattle has been good to him and his career, and so he is honored to not only have the opportunity to save the hundreds of jobs associated with Tully’s Coffee but to build the brand into a successful business venture.

Businesspeople know, of course, that wanting to do the right thing doesn’t always translate into a successful enterprise. So we’ll watch this one closely.

Are there any Seattle readers out there who can shine a little more light on the PR aspects of this story? Can Tully’s take on Starbucks, or did they fall into bankruptcy for a reason?