This Day In History: March 30

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On March 30, 1971, Starbucks opens its first store in Seattle's iconic Pike Place market with a single employee. The store sells high-quality roasted coffee beans, freshly brewed hot coffee and not much else.

Founders Gerald Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker, 20-something coffee lovers who met at the University of San Francisco, named their business "Starbucks" after the first mate from the novel Moby Dick, to honor the maritime history of both Seattle and the coffee trade. They had considered naming the business "Pequod," after the ship from Moby Dick, but decided that didn’t sound very appetizing.

Their first store was a 1,000-square-foot commercial space staffed by just one employee: Siegl. (His partners kept their day jobs.) Modeled after the San Francisco Bay area coffee shop Peet’s, which the trio loved in their college days, their new coffee shop offered whole roasted coffee beans, tea, spices and a limited selection of hot coffee—but no cold drinks. The original store also featured the first, more naturalistic version of the famous Starbucks siren logo.

Starbucks's phenomenal success since 1971 in building America’s premium coffee market has transformed the company into a corporate giant, and a potent symbol of American consumer culture. The Starbucks siren represents both the successes and shortcomings of corporate America, including meteoric growth, domestic labor disputes and pushback in foreign markets. As of January 2024, Starbucks has expanded to more than 38,000 locations worldwide, with more than 15,000 in the United States alone.

The business model has changed dramatically from the first Seattle store: Currently, more than half of all sales come from drive-through orders, and 75 percent of sales, whether walk-in or drive-through, come from cold drinks. The original Pike Place store, a popular tourist destination for fans of the brand, still welcomes walk-in customers every day.