Latte or Cabernet? Starbucks launches wine and beer menu in Canada

TORONTO – Forget that complicated coffee order.

Soon, a Starbucks barista may be taking down your name for a glass of Pinot Grigio or a pint of craft beer.

After six years in the U.S., coffee giant Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ:SBUX) will be rolling out its Evenings menu in Canada for the first time next week.

The program, which will kick off on Tuesday, will offer customers wine, beer and shareable small plates beginning at 2 p.m. at three locations in Toronto.

Starbucks Canada CEO Rossann Williams said serving alcohol in their cafes makes sense because coffee drinkers are also likely discerning beer and wine drinkers too.

“What we’ve heard from our customers is that it’s great to just have an option,” she said in an interview Wednesday at one of the cafes in west Toronto.

“They can stop and hang out with their friends. It’s a great place to go, something very familiar and something very friendly. It’s just a natural extension of what we already do.”

The menu will feature 10 wines ranging from a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon to a Niagara Riesling, with prices from $9 to $13 a glass. There will also be seven varieties of beer and one cider, including Muskoka Brewery’s Mad Tom IPA and Amsterdam’s Big Wheel Amber Ale for $5 to $6.

Like in the U.S., the beer and wine menu will feature some local breweries and wineries, specific to the region where the cafe is located.

The new food menu items are priced under $8 and was curated to complement the alcohol offerings. It includes tapas-style plates like artichoke and goat cheese flatbread, and truffle macaroni and cheese.

Starbucks, the world’s largest coffee company, first launched its Evenings menu at one of its Seattle cafes in 2010. It is now available at more than 300 locations in the U.S. from Chicago to Los Angeles. It also serves alcohol at one location in Japan and one in the U.K.

Williams said it took a while for the idea to come north of the border because the company wanted to make sure it chose the correct test locations. It picked the Toronto market because it’s where its Canadian head office is based.

Starbucks wanted to introduce the concept in renovated locations that were in busy neighbourhoods, with the intention that it would appeal to both the soccer mom looking for a glass of wine while their child is at a game and the group of friends meeting up for a beer after work, Williams said.

The three Evenings locations in Toronto are at 3079 Bloor Street W., 446 Spadina Rd. and 1740 Avenue Rd.

The company said it is open to testing out the concept in other major Canadian cities such as Vancouver and Montreal, and in smaller towns if the fit is right.

Williams said it would also consider Calgary, even amid the current troubles of the struggling oilpatch.

“No matter what’s going on in the outside world, when customers walk over the threshold into a Starbucks store, it’s like their third place,” she said.

“We’re not as impacted by economic climate because this is a place where people come together and hang out with their friends. They may come less frequently but it’s still home and we still welcome people in.”

The Evenings menu is part of an aggressive push by Starbucks to expand into a food destination in the late afternoon and evening, rather than just a stopover for coffee in the morning. Starbucks already sells sandwiches, salads and specialty drinks.

Still, Williams maintains that the company at its “core” will always be a coffee shop.

“(Coffee) will always be the heartbeat of our store,” she said.

Founded in 1971 in Seattle, Starbucks now operates more than 20,000 stores around the world. The first Canadian location opened in Vancouver in 1987.

Follow @LindaNguyenTO on Twitter.