Richard Turen
Richard Turen

You might know the story behind the founding of Starbucks. One of the owners of a smallish coffee-bean distributer in the States, Howard Schultz, decided he needed to attend a major coffee roaster conference being held in Milan. Schultz stayed at a hotel a fair distance away from the conference center. That required a long walk on the first morning of the gathering. During his walk through the city, he kept passing bars where Italians were mostly standing, some sitting, having coffee, talking and laughing together.

He loved the concept and he realized that America had no pubs, no local gathering places where people could hang out. Bars in the U.S. were not family-appropriate. 

Schultz knew that coffee was the best way to make money in the food industry. He imagined he might corner the quick, upscale breakfast market in America. 

He got excited and called his partner, who had little interest in sharing Schultz's vision. Schultz bought him out. That morning walk through the streets of Milan changed the world in some important ways. 

But there is a great irony to this story. Italy has never had a Starbucks. Italians never imagined for a moment that an American chain could teach any Italian anything about coffee. The Italian media scoffed at the way Americans thought Starbucks served real coffee. They hated almost everything about it. They felt that Americans wouldn't know a good espresso if it hit them in the eye. 

The Italians felt that they owned the coffee bar concept. They found the American interest in the chain amusing. "If you want great coffee," they insisted, "come to Italy."

Understand that Italy resisted Starbucks for the company's first 35 years of operation. Italians would tell American visitors that it was overpriced and of poor quality. The best machines, they would insist, are Italian, and the secrets, from the beans to the proper froth, were inherently Italian. 

Drinking Starbucks, one Italian friend confided in me, "is like eating at McDonald's and thinking you are having bistecca alla fiorentina."

But in September, the Seattle-based chain opened its first cafe in Italy, a branch of the company's flagship Reserve Roastery stores. American tourists will have to visit the store in Milan, Italy's most fashionable city.

It was determined early on that Italians would never accept a typical Starbucks. Prejudices ran too deep for that. So this Starbucks is new, bold, different. The chain has done everything imaginable to appeal to Italian tastes. 

It is a huge store located in the historical former post office prominently placed on busy Piazza Cordusio. The store will have a roastery, a bar, a bakery and a huge wood-fired oven. In the early evening hours, the store will hope to attract locals with cocktails and light bites before the more serious pursuit of dinner as the hours pass. 

Early indications on Twitter are not particularly favorable despite the long lines. One tweet read, "A two-hour wait for a Starbucks Coffee? Not even if you pay me."

That particular tweet came from Italy's deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini.

So let's tell our clients that Starbucks has finally opened in Italy. Suggest that they pay a visit when they are in Milan. While they still can.

• • • 

A few months ago, I reported that the French had installed a number of public drinking water fountains in Paris that produced carbonated, Perrier-type water for all to enjoy.

In a loosely related story, we learn that Paris has become the first European capital to install a series of uritrottoirs, or public urinals. Now when we say "public" we actually mean that. They are boxes, actually large flower boxes, that are painted bright red, and they are fully exposed to passersby. They are also a bit of a selfie sensation at the moment. The open box has small plants on top.

They are placed in some prominent positions. One stands facing Notre Dame Cathedral. Another has a front-facing view of the Seine, so a one-handed wave to visitors passing by on sightseeing boats is very possible.

The French are rather proud of this innovation because the urinals are said to be ecofriendly. The city issued a press release explaining why this was a good thing, and they used a rather interesting statistic to make their point. One year's worth of an average person's urine holds enough nutrients, including potassium, nitrogen and phosphorous, to fertilize 400 square meters of wheat. 

So there you go. This is good news for me because it paves the way for an updated column next year about the changing taste of French baguettes.

• • • 

Over the years, nothing has given me greater satisfaction than passing on new business ideas and strategies and trying to anticipate trends in our industry. But I now find myself having to issue a public apology: I completely missed a big one.

There is a new kind of vacation, and I am afraid CBS News got it long before I did. The vacation involves relieving stress from guests who hail primarily from New York and Philadelphia. This is a vacation concept you might wish to add to your arsenal of ideas.

It turns out that few things on this planet will relax a stressed-out New Yorker like the opportunity to cuddle with a cow. The Mountain Horse Farm in upstate New York is offering one-hour sessions for $75. But that just gets you the cow. For $300 you get 90 minutes in which you get to cuddle with both a cow and a horse. 

There are those who already knew about the calming nature of time spent around horses. My wife has led groups to the Miraval Spa, just north of Tucson, Ariz., where Wyatt Webb has developed a sophisticated program that attempts to enhance self-awareness by interaction with horses. In one of Webb's exercises, every member of the group is asked to clean the hoof of a large horse. It is a very successful program. 

But they don't do cows at Miraval. This is a new thing. The folks at Mountain Horse Farm point out that cows have a higher body temperature than humans but a lower heart rate. So, they reason, "cuddling with a cow, feeling the lower heart rate and warmer body temperature, is very relaxing."

I have spent major portions of my professional life trying to get New Yorkers to relax. The cows in this program are about 1,000 pounds each, and they are all extremely calm. I might gift one or two of my clients with a cow-cuddling vacation. It couldn't hurt. 

• • • 

Finally, I want to tell you how to sell the most expensive vacation on the planet. Well, actually, it isn't exactly on our planet, more like out of this world.

A company called Axiom Space has put together a trip to the International Space Station that will feature comprehensive training, rocket rides and a 10-day stay on the station, which is expecting to have its "habitation pods" ready as early as 2020. 

This might sound dangerous, but Axiom is led by a former program manager at NASA. The company will be giving each "tourist" about 15 weeks of training. SpaceX and Boeing will likely be involved in taking guests beyond the stratosphere. Training will be led by several former astronauts, and guests can expect to learn how to handle weightlessness, safety, launch procedures and, of course, how to navigate the restroom facilities.

Bookings are being handled by the Virtuoso agency Roman and Erica based in New York. Oh, one more thing: The commission is going to be rather substantial, as the price per person has been announced, and the trip will cost $55 million. That is not a misprint.

I'm thinking I could buy a cuddle cow and save a great deal of money. 

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