Along With That Caffeine Rush, a Taste of Seattle
The latest thing in Addis Ababa is this Starbucks knockoff. It is run by Tseday Asrat, who has grown to admire the Seattle coffee chain, and says confidently, “They can’t compete with me.” The cafe is named Kaldi’s for the Ethiopian goat herder who, legend has it, discovered the heady effect of caffeine.
Published: July 22, 2005
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, July 18 -
Antonio Fiorente for The New York Times
Even the green aprons for the employees and the round logo are startlingly familiar to anyone who has spent time over a Frappuccino.
Kaldi's has a Starbucks-like logo and Starbucks-like décor, and its workers wear Starbucks-like green aprons. At the bar, there are Starbucks-like "short" and "tall" coffee options, although Kaldi's sticks exclusively to Ethiopia's coffee varieties, while the real Starbucks includes Ethiopia's premium beans among many other offerings.
"I've always loved Starbucks, the ambiance of it," said Tseday Asrat, the proprietor of Kaldi's, fessing up to the obvious inspiration behind her year-old business. "So we created our own version of it here."
Kaldi's is by no means the only pretender around here. The latest hotel to go up near the airport is a "Marriot," another knockoff that uses only one "t" but has the exact same typeface in its sign as the J. W. Marriott hotel chain. There is a 7-11 convenience store here, as well, which has no connection to the 7-Elevens on so many corners back in America. The copycats are evidence of the financial success that many Ethiopians are attaining in the United States and of the desire of many of them to invest some of their wealth back home.
Officials at the Starbucks Coffee Company were not thrilled when they learned of the knockoff. "Even where it may seem playful, this type of misappropriation of a company's name (and reputation) is both derivative and dilutive of their trademark rights," a company spokeswoman, Lara Wyss, said in an e-mail message, adding that the company prefers to resolve such conflicts amicably.
The copycat cafe is not exactly cutting into the profits of the real Starbucks, though Kaldi's is popular enough that it will soon open its second cafe. And Ms. Asrat has no fear of competition from the chain, which has watched many rivals sadly hang up "Out of Business" signs.
"They can't compete with me," she said bluntly.
She allowed that a large company like Starbucks could theoretically try to undercut her business with lower prices. But prices here are already quite low. A Kaldi's short Macchiato with a Starbucks-like chocolate muffin costs just 6.50 birr, which is under a dollar and pricey by Ethiopian standards. A similar pick-me-up at a Starbucks in the United States would cost more than five times as much.
When it comes to knowing the ways of Ethiopia's finicky coffee consumers, Ms. Asrat clearly has a leg up on her rival. She points out that Ethiopians do not like to order their coffee from the counter, Starbucks style. She has a counter, compete with a Starbucks-like glass case for her baked goods, but her clients by and large sit down in their Starbucks-like chairs and issue orders to workers.
"Ethiopians like to be treated like a king when they come to a place like this," she explained. "They like to say, 'Waiter, a Macchiato. Waiter, come back, warm this up. Waiter, how about a muffin now?' "
They also expect parking-lot service, something that is not to be found in the business plan of a typical Starbucks. Many Ethiopians, especially young hip ones, enjoy pulling up to a cafe and ordering directly from their car windows. At a rival cafe there was far more car service than actual cafe service on a recent afternoon.
To prove her point about the importance of ample parking, Ms. Asrat motioned toward a cozy but all-but-abandoned cafe across the street from Kaldi's. "They have good coffee but look at them," she said with pity in her voice. "There's no place to park."
Her lot was full, with cars and waiters balancing trays of coffee and pastries. At the new coffee bar that she will open soon, there will be room for 200 cars, she said.
Traditionally, Ethiopians have taken their coffee at home, drinking slowly, with only close friends and family. They roasted the beans on the spot, part of an elaborate coffee ceremony that remains an important part of the culture here but that is not always practical for those on the move.
"Coffee is part of every Ethiopian's life," Ms. Asrat said. "We discuss life over coffee. We talk about our marriages. We have coffee ceremonies that go on and on."
Though she is busily injecting Ethiopian culture with a bit of America, Ms. Asrat has not lived in the United States. But her husband, a pilot for Ethiopian Airlines, has made regular trips there, frequently with her in tow.
She said she did not feel the least bit guilty about her imitation cafe. After all, legend has it that coffee itself originated in Ethiopia long ago when a goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats prancing around with glee after eating some strange red berries. Yemen, just across the Red Sea, makes its own claim as the birthplace of coffee. Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: coffee did not originate in Seattle.
Ms. Asrat has the history of Kaldi printed on the wall of her cafe, proudly promoting the Ethiopian roots of her product. But even there Starbucks was the inspiration. Ms. Asrat acknowledges that she knew nothing about the legend of Kaldi until she read about him on the Starbucks Web site.