Starbucks impersonator takes over former chain stores in Russia

Moscow residents who were disappointed when Starbucks closed its cafes after Russia sent troops to Ukraine can now feel a caffeinated boost of hope with the opening of a nearly identical operation in the capital.

The name is almost the same: Stars Coffee. The logo could be the Starbucks mermaid’s estranged twin at birth, with flowing hair, an enigmatic little smile and a star atop her head – although instead of a Starbucks crown, she wears a Russian headdress called kokoshnik.

The menu, judging by the company’s app introduced a day before the store officially opens on Friday, would look familiar to any Starbucks customer.

Big companies exodus from Russia

Starbucks said it had no comment on the new stores.

Seattle-based Starbucks was one of the most visible in the wave of foreign companies that pulled out of Russia or suspended operations in response to Russia’s military operation in Ukraine. Others included McDonald’s, IKEA and fast fashion giant H&M.

The departure of these companies was a psychological blow to Russians who had become accustomed to the comforts of Western-style consumer culture. But Russian entrepreneurs saw opportunities in suddenly empty stores.

Stars Coffee fills the gap left in Russia by the withdrawal of Starbucks. (AP)

Former McDonald’s outlets reopen and draw large crowds as Vkusno — i Tochka. Although the name doesn’t easily roll off the tongue and is a little hard to translate (basically: it’s tasty—period), the menu is testament to the fact that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Yunus Yusupov, a popular rapper who uses the stage name Timati, and restaurateur Anton Pinsky teamed up to buy the assets of Starbucks, then took the copycat strategy one step further by giving the operation a name in English.

At a press conference on Thursday, they pledged to reopen all old Starbucks under their new identity and even expand the business.

The US company had built its Russian operation to around 130 stores since entering the country in 2007. The stores were owned and operated by a franchisee, Alshaya Group of Kuwait.

While the new operations’ close resemblance to their predecessors could be seen as someone else’s inspiration and efforts, the successors to Starbucks and McDonald’s also fit a concept of national pride.

Since Russia has been hit by sanctions and foreign withdrawals, officials frequently argue that Russia will overcome by relying on its own resources and energies.

Russian singer and entrepreneur Timur Yunusov, better known as Timati, is one of the forces behind the new channel. (AP)

“Now the economic situation is tough, but it’s a time of opportunity,” Oleg Ekindarov, chairman of the holding company that partnered in the Starbucks deal, told state-run Tass news agency.

“For the past four months, we have been very actively looking for exiting companies like Starbucks. There are several other similar examples, but we can’t talk about them yet.”

Christi C. Elwood