Starbucks stops writing ‘Race Together’ on cups

For a week, Starbucks employees wrote "Race Together" on customers' cups or used a sticker bearing the phrase. Above, an iced drink bearing a sticker in a Seattle store on Wednesday.
(Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

The most controversial facet of Starbucks’ “Race Together” campaign — in which baristas wrote the words on customers’ cups to initiate conversations about race relations — has come to an end, the coffee company announced Sunday.

Putting the phrase on cups was just a phase of the campaign and was always scheduled to last only a week, Chief Executive Howard Schultz said Sunday in an open letter to employees, adding that the overall initiative “is far from over.”

In the coming months, he said, the Seattle-based coffee chain will continue efforts such as collaborating with USA Today to create “special sections” on race, fostering “more open dialogue with police and community leaders” and “expanding our store footprint in urban communities.”

Starbucks spokeswoman Laurel Harper said Schultz already has spoken with the chiefs of the Los Angeles, New York and Seattle police departments. And a Starbucks store in Seattle hosted an open forum where the public could interact with the city’s police chief, she said.

The “Race Together” initiative stemmed from a forum in December at company headquarters in Seattle, where employees discussed racial tensions in the United States after police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and New York.


The campaign has drawn sharp criticism, with people commenting on issues such as the company’s lack of diversity in hiring and whether employees were equipped to engage customers in discussions about race.

It’s unclear how effective the first phase of the campaign has been. At a downtown Los Angeles Starbucks on Sunday afternoon, nearly a dozen patrons approached by the Los Angeles Times had not heard of it.

“Honestly, it’s just weird,” Nico Young, 18, said about the prospect of discussing race with a barista. “But ... it makes sense why they want to start a conversation.”

Kaitlin Taibl and her mother, Gretchen, said they would have been receptive to such a conversation, though they had not heard about the possibility until they read about it Sunday in a newspaper article.

“In L.A. it’s awesome because this is such a diverse town,” Taibl said. “How this might work in less diverse places, like somewhere in Idaho or Wyoming, I don’t know.”

Steven George, 48, who lives in Silver Lake and does finance work, said he had heard about the effort and called it “a great idea on an issue that doesn’t receive enough attention.”

George said it could be “awkward” for people to talk with a barista about race, but that the experience “might empower them at a later time to talk about race with friends or family.”

Times staff writer Samantha Masunaga contributed to this report.

For more news, follow @raablauren and @kurtisalee on Twitter.