Published December 14th, 2016
Moraga Drive-Through: From Burger King to Starbucks
By Sophie Braccini
Don't line up just yet to get your Chestnut Praline Latte at the drive-through Starbucks: the building is still Burger King. But the Seattle-based coffee company has plans to take over the stand-alone building at Moraga's Rheem Center, with the objective of making it a larger community cafe experience than is now offered. The new location should be ready for business by next fall, said Moraga Starbucks manager Amanda Sargent.
The planning commission approved 4-1 on Dec. 5 the application presented by the Rheem Center property owner, U.S. Realty Partners, Inc., and Starbucks Inc. to convert and improve the Burger King drive-through. The footprint of the building will not change, but the exterior and interior will be renovated, and a 600-foot enclosed patio added. As the Starbucks representative explained it to the commissioners, the company will transfer the existing 1,600-square-foot facility now operating in the building next to Burger King to a 3,000-square-foot cafe. She added that the company plans to add seven to 10 employees to the 14 they already employ in Moraga.
However, commissioner Kymberleigh Korpus appealed the decision because of one sticking point: The new Starbucks calls for gender-neutral, family restrooms, and Korpus wants women-only and men-only ones.
"Though I was very impressed with the project overall, I view Starbucks' reliance upon only a single 'gender neutral' communal bathroom for restrooms as a safety issue that cannot be ignored," she wrote in a letter to attorney Ellen Rosenbluth and town planner Kelly Clancy. "As we discussed, Moraga is generally safe, but I believe overwhelming evidence supports the conclusion that children, women and impaired persons are physically safer in all-women bathrooms than in bathrooms used by men."
Korpus said she hopes the current town council can decide the issue before the new town council takes over, so there as not to cause any unnecessary delay for the applicant." The new plans call for the addition of the drive-through. In a 2014 article reported, "Drive-throughs account for more than 40 percent of company-operated stores and have a higher-than-average sales growth compared with non-drive-through locations." However, the coffee giant has experienced difficulty with its operations and according to Quick Service Restaurant Magazine, "Starbucks ranked last in drive-thru speed of service and in the bottom half with order accuracy" last year. The company has since started to add video communication with baristas to improve the experience.
The planning commission did not concern itself with the private company's operations but had questions regarding the queuing of cars in the early hours of the day, especially just before Campolindo High school starts and students want to be caffeinated before class. Town planner Coleman Frick explained that a peer review was conducted with Starbucks engineers and that there is a risk to see the queue overflow the parking area where it will form. The staff recommendation was to evaluate traffic after three months and after one year to make sure the coffee queue would not affect other parts of the shopping center.
Starbucks made an enticing presentation of its project, indicating that the purpose was to create a real community experience with this larger new space and outdoor patio where music could be allowed. Wendy Scheck, president of the Moraga Chamber of Commerce, asked the town to support this use that is in line with what the community wants to see at the Rheem Center.
The business operator indicated that alcohol was not part of the application at this time, but that beer and wine could be offered in the future. This addition would require an Alcohol and Beverage Control license. The commissioners made sure that Starbucks would limit alcohol consumption to the premises, that it would not be a drive-through item and that staff was trained not to sell it without proper age verification.
While the other commissioners did not agree with Korpus' concerns about the restrooms, they did support another of her proposals: the addition of a new pedestrian crosswalk in front of the new cafe.
The project will have to be reviewed by the Design Review Board to fine-tune the visual impact of the remodel along the scenic corridor before work can start. There is no indication yet of what the existing Starbucks location will become.

Reach the reporter at:

Copyright Lamorinda Weekly, Moraga CA