F*** you, Caribou.
posted Dec 07, 2005

Remember the South Park episode where Harbucks Coffee forces local coffee shop Tweek's to close? Here's Caribou, doing the same thing. Just in time for Christmas. Caribou Coffee is a national chain of coffeeshops, second in size to Starbucks. It has over 300 stores. 26 more will be opening in December. Caribou Coffee recently went public. Limu Coffee is a locally owned coffeeshop. It has one store in St. Anthony, MN (a suburb of Minneapolis). The store is owned and operated by Ms. Azeze--a 40-year-old Ethiopian Immigrant (now a US Citizen). In the Spring of 2005, she got a letter from the owner of the shopping center where Limu resides. The lease was cancelled. Caribou said so. Ms. Azeze weighed her options while scouting for new locations and moving funds. In October, she recieved an attorney's letter. Get out by Dev. 31. A few differences between South Park and reality:
  1. In South Park, (the audience discovers) Harbucks coffee is actually tastier than the local brand.

    In real life, Limu Coffee would kick Caribou's ass in a fair fight. Limu's coffee is better, and costs less. Like most coffee shops, Limu has other offerings (smoothies, various teas). It has a drive-thru. It has wifi. Unlike most coffee shops, the non-coffee beverages are as high-quality as the coffee. The hot cocoa is made from some kind of swiss powder that tastes unbelievably good - like something Willy Wonka would create. I live 20 miles away, and I try to find excuses to visit Limu Coffee.

  2. In South Park, Harbucks competes (somewhat) traditionally, by opening a giant store across the road from Tweeks.

    Caribou, on the other hand, has negotiated an exclusive lease agreement with the shopping center where Limu has operated since birth. The shopping center can't lease space to other coffee shops as long as it leases to Caribou.

It's just business, says the Caribou CEO. "I would want to make sure they're not going to put a Starbucks in the center." Yeah, it would certainly suck if some other coffee business moved into your territory.

The shopping center denies wrongdoing

"Any suggestion by the tenant that it is being forced to close its business is contrary to the facts and without merit." reads the statement by the real-estate conglomerate which owns the plaza. Duplicitious bullshit. Of course Limu isn't being forced to close. They're just being forced to move.

Caribou denies wrongdoing

"The decision had nothing to do with us. If the landlord wanted to keep the tenant, it should not have granted us the exclusive, and we'd still have gone there." Double bullshit. They'd still have gone there, but for less money. Caribou is paying more for that exclusive contract than it would for a non-exclusive one. The exclusive contract was their idea. The local paper and TV station have covered this story. Afterwards, Caribou attempted to shift blame toward the shopping center. In a follow-up statement from the CEO:
"I want to go on record to say Caribou supports the wishes of Ms. Azeze to continue to operate in her current location. Any clause we have in our contract that limits leasing to other coffee shops pertains only to future leases, not to her renewal. This type of clause is standard in mall contracts, primarily to keep large competitors from opening up next to our stores. We have no concerns about Ms. Azeze. We hope she can work out a new lease and wish her only the best. She is a good neighbor."
What a bunch of clumsy spin-doctoring. "I want to go on record to say Caribou supports the wishes of Ms. Azeze to continue to operate in her current location." That's a false statement. You can't simultaneously support competition and press for contracts that prevent it. "This type of clause is standard in mall contracts..." Sure. Burger King and McDonalds and Wendys and Arbys and DQ compete on nearby turf. Barnes & Noble and B Dalton have bookstores in the same mall. Kohl's and JCPenney can sell clothes together. Sears and Home Depot can sell tools across from each other. But heaven forbid another coffee shop should operate near Caribou. What's worse than the lie is the attempt to paint such anti-competitive contracts as "standard". "...primarily to keep large competitors from opening up next to our stores." That is really pretty stunning hypocrisy. Here's the attempt to avoid responsibility: "Any clause we have in our contract that limits leasing to other coffee shops pertains only to future leases, not to her renewal" This is also a lie. It's contradicted by the CEO's earlier statement: "If the landlord wanted to keep the tenant, it should not have granted us the exclusive." It's also contradicted by the letter from the shopping center announcing the lease termination: "The lease agreement with Caribou provides that no other coffee shop will be allowed in the shopping center" (source) Finally, there's this bit of patronizing flackery. "We have no concerns about Ms. Azeze. We hope she can work out a new lease and wish her only the best. She is a good neighbor." Yeah, I bet you chat often. Let's face facts:
  • If Caribou coffee gave a damn about anything local, they'd have hardly done this in the first place. Their corporate headquarters is barely 8 miles from Limu Coffee.
  • According to their IPO filing, Caribou is aiming at 15,000 retail outlets. They're trying to beat Starbucks at the "get-bigger-faster" game.
According to Caribou's website:
Here at Caribou Coffee, we believe this to be true: that if passion, hard work, and excellence go into an endeavor, the outcome will be a quality experience, and therefore rewarding.
(While making sure other folks' passion, hard work and excellence doesn't interfere with our rewards.) According to Caribou's Code of Business Conduct & Ethics (pdf):
C. Fair Dealing

The Company has a history of succeeding through honest business competition. We do not seek competitive advantages through illegal or unethical business practices. Each employee and director should endeavor to deal fairly with the Company's customers, vendors, service providers, suppliers, competitors and employees. No employee or director should take unfair advantage of anyone through manipulation, concealment, abuse of privileged information, misrepresentation of material facts, or any unfair dealing practice.

But exclusive lease agreements are ok because, you know, Starbucks.

So what?

You probably don't have a personal stake in Limu Coffee, since you haven't tried their coffee. Heck, you might not even like Limu's coffee. But if you drink coffee at any local shop, you might consider this a wake-up call. Caribou wants 15,000 stores. They want zero competition. You can: - Sell the stock. Email their Investor Relations department and tell them why. Nothing makes a CEO respond like motion on the ticker. Most CEOs would eat a worm if they thought it would make the stock rise. - Give Caribou a call (1-888-227-4268). They love to hear from people. - Email Caribou's PR firm. They love to hear from people too. A lot of PR professionals truly believe there's no such thing as bad publicity. You might ask why I'm not reserving some blame for the mall owner (St. Anthony Retail Development). I believe most real estate barons are devoid of ethics by default. Their business is about as fair and ethical as feudal Mongolia. They also aren't public companies, aimed at global domination. Caribou, on the other hand, is tossing aside any business ethics it may once have possessed, in its scramble toward growth. Caribou isn't a If their CEO is losing sleep at night, it's not because of the coffee.
Comment by Tom Gates
posted Dec 11, 2005

Excellent description of this year's winner of the Christmas Scrooge award. Big business puts woman shop keeper out as her Christmas present. The local city council of St Anthony Village needs to wake up to the monster they've let grow by turning their backs on their responsibility to the community. Many local business people have attempted to move or open shops in this facility only to be told if you're not a franchise, you're not welcome. So, as a small business person, who do you have to know to get your store front???

Limu Coffee was (still is for now) a great establishment. They toughed out a couple of rough years with the demolition of the old shopping center, construction of the new, roads that were simply mud paths. She stuck it out only to be given this "wonderful" Christmas present as she should instead be starting to reap the rewards of her perseverance.

I for one cancelled any plans to purchase Caribou gift cards for relatives this year.

My new creedo - Any Brew but Caribou.


Comment by David
posted Dec 13, 2005

I'm disappointed in Caribou. They were my preferred "chain" over Starbucks because they originated in Minnesota. I've lived near the Silver Lake Village area for a few years and have visited Limu Coffee a number of times, even though I'm a very infrequent coffee drinker. They are very friendly there, and one morning I observed what appeared to be a number of frequent customers. I always appreciated the fact that there was a nice independent coffee shop around here, although I wished it was open in the evening for studying (there just wasn't enough traffic in the area prior to the new development).

I'm going to go to Limu tomorrow to show my support. I hope she doesn't leave--it would be a shame. It would have been cool if Limu could have moved in to the spot occupied by Caribou, but alas...

Comment by Moira Heffron
posted Dec 13, 2005

As St. Anthony residents, we welcomed re-vitalizing the Apache site and we accepted the necessity of some trade-offs in the process; but neither we nor the area benefit in any way by driving out quality local businesses. Limu Coffee has held a definite spot in the shopping center and in the area for a long time. We should support this business owner and others in this situation so that we can continue to have a livable community and not just another corporate clone.

Comment by Nancy
posted Jan 09, 2006

What is going on NOW with this issue. Haven't read anything...I live in St. Paul, so my info is either written or televised!

Comment by George W. Bush
posted Feb 19, 2006

Caribou Coffee has every right to be safe, in fact that is one of their God-given inaliable rights. And they had good reason to believe that Limu Coffee was hiding Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten them. After all, only Caribou Coffee should be able to possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, and no others (except those that we can't do anything about, or else they're on our side and we support their right to own Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Therefore Caribou Coffee had every right to invade the soverign territory so long occupied by Limu Coffee, and even though no Weapons of Mass Destruction were found, well it's a good thing anyway and there should be no regrets and what the hell even do it again if they had to because now the world of coffee is so much safer now that Caribou Coffee has those terrorists on the run. Take it to them first or they'll take it to us, that's my motto. So I stand full and foresquare behind Caribou Coffee in their noble goals of spreading freedom and democracy throughout the world of coffee, just as I represent the same forces for law and order in the larger world where I have control of the biggest nuclear arsenal in the world and I want to keep it that way.


Comment by Rita Andert
posted Mar 30, 2009

There is an individually owned coffee shop in Spring Lake Park that has been there since 1995 called Global Cafe. I believe it was 2 years ago that Caribou moved in across the highway, I'd say not even 2 blocks away. Its at 8188 Hwy 65 between Pizza Hut and Hope's Chinese. Their prices are also less and they serve lunch and breakfast bagels. Check it out, you'll love it. It is so cute and the family that runs it are top of the heap. I will not go to Caribou. RA

Comment by SW
posted Jul 16, 2009

I am dissapointed by the actions of Caribou. I had no idea that they were so adamant in their quest for dominance in MN. As if Limu Coffee could possibly pose a threat!!! With all that Caribou says they want to do for people and the environment, I am surprised by their actions.

I will definetly be going to Limu Coffee at her new location!