Friday, May 30, 2008

Will Starbucks be a hit in Argentina?


The million dollar question—will Starbucks be successful in Argentina? The short answer after today is yes.

As you saw in my previous post, the temptation and curiosity were just too much to keep me away. My daughter was upset when she found out that I had gone to Starbucks without her. So I loaded up the family in a cab and headed over to Alto Palermo to treat them to TGI Fridays (right next door) and to let my daughter get her mocha fix.

When I arrived this morning around 9:00 about an hour after they opened, the line was out the door and to the steps at the corner of Arenales and Col Diaz. It was over a 30 minute wait.

When I went back this afternoon with my daughter the line was longer. It was snaking up the sidewalk of Ave. Col Diez. It stayed like that the whole time were eating lunch. After lunch, my daughter waited in that line for over an hour. For a mocha!

Was it worth it?, I asked her. Yes I would wait an hour for another one!, was the reply.

But what about Porteños? Will they stand in line for Coffee or demand that it be brought to them at the there table from mozos wearing bowties like in all the other cafés here?

When Mike and I were standing in line this morning, the whole line was made up of university kids from UBA and University of Palermo. The few older well dressed porteños would pop there head in and try to find a table, see that there was no mozo service, and then turn around and walk off.

It was much the same this afternoon. The older porteños were not having any part of it. Mainly, because of the hour long line. In fact, this afternoon the line was made up of 75% teenage girls just out of school. The one thing that is clear, Starbucks is going to be a hit with the 25 and under crowd. This ain't their father's kind of café.

I think the older crowd is still going to prefer the traditional Argentina café service. They will not wait in a line. They want to sit down at a table, have the coffee brought to them with the soda water and the small plate of cookies. And they certainly won't want to drink it out of a paper cup!

However, there was another demographic that was clearly present at Starbucks this morning. You know the type. They are the equivalent of our soccer moms back home. Except these women dress their kids in nothing but Gap clothes. The ones with the Gap logos printed real big on the front so everyone can see they must travel to Miami all the time.

They are the same women you see at the doctor office waiting rooms with the department store bags from Macy's, Barnes and Nobel, and Neimans. They like to subtly announce to everyone that they don't shop in Buenos Aires. They go to the States to shop. To them, anything with a "US" label is a must have. So naturally they want to be seen around town with the not-so-ubiquitous white cup with the green logo.

So will Starbucks be a success here? Based on the response today, Frank should be a very happy man. However, it will take time. Clearly, the under 25 crowd gets it. The older crowd will have to be converted slowly and I don't think the Martinez and Havanna chains have much to worry about yet.

This morning, I was talking with Ricardo Rico, Starbucks' director of Marketing in Latin America. He said they knew Argentina was going to be a tough market to crack. They took their time and wanted to do it right. But he knew it was going to be an education process here and that was going to take some time too. He was confident they had the right mix of products to appeal to the Argentine taste.

Come on Ricardo! A mate flavored latte? Yes thats right, a mate latte. Yuck!

Confessions of a Starbucks Addict part 2


I first came clean on my addiction in this earlier post. However, I have a new confession to make. I have fallen off the wagon. I have stumbled into the abyss of my drug addiction again. My drug of choice? Starbucks Coffee.

I fell off bad... having now consumed the equivalent of 7 shots of espresso in 2 hours! Damn me. (Damn you Mike for buying me another latte!)

I moved to Buenos Aires 10 months ago and was free of my vice. There were no
Starbucks triple-venti, non-fat, no-foam, 1-splenda lattes to be found for thousands and thousands of miles around. I thought I was safe.

And then today came. Starbucks has opened up its first store in Argentina at the Alto Palermo shopping mall. I thought I could stay away. I tried.

I woke up early and took my shower, and lied to my wife on the way out on where I was heading. But after dropping my son off at school, I hopped in a taxi and high tailed it over there. I had to get my fix after all these months.


The place was packed and there was a line out the door almost down to the street corner. But I waited patiently in line for 30 minutes. Fortunately, they were well staffed and handed out samples of their coffee to tease and taunt me while I waited. They even had a doo-wop group signing Mowtown songs to keep everyone entertained while we waited.

I had my first latte after 10 months and damn was it good. It tasted just like I remembered. I ran into the Yankster he bought me another 4 shot grande latte. And of course I had plenty of free drip coffee samples from this guy:


All in all, it was a disaster of a morning for me. For Starbucks, it was a huge success.

More to come in another post. In the mean time, I'll be looking up to see if there is a 12 step program for Starbucks addicts here in BA. I'll leave you with the Doo-wop group singing Blue Moon:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Argentine Wines: Why Cabernet?


As Tom (via his wife's blog) reported, our group of expat beer drinkers got together at friends house to try something different: A wine tasting. Instead of arguing about the nuances of blonds, blacks and tans, we spent the evening learning about Banardas and Malbecs.

Daniel Karlin hosted the event at his apartment. He has started a new venture called Anuva Vinos. Anuva hosts small intimate wine tastings here in Buenos Aires and features unique, hand crafted wines form some of the best small, hard-to-find bodegas in Argentina. They also make the wines available to order in the United States and Europe from their store on their web site.

I love wine almost as much as I love beer. My family was lucky enough to spend a month in Mendoza touring vineyards and sampling many different wines. So spending the evening with my beer drinking buddies sipping wine was a no brainer.

Of the five wines featured, one was a Cabernet. Not surprisingly, it was the least favorite of the four reds we tasted. Why are Cabernets in Argentina consistently bad when compared to the Cabernets made just across the Andes in Chile?

When I was a poor college student in Austin, I learned early that a good bottle of wine could greatly increase my chances of getting lucky later that night. I would impress dates by ordering a Santa Rita Cabernet or Casillero del Diablo Cabernet from Chile. They were very good and more important at the time—very cheap.

I just don't think you're going to impress many women by pouring an Argentine Cabernet. Why is that when they Cabernets from Chile come from the same mountain range and the Malbecs from here are so good?

As Daniel pointed out, The pacific side of the Andes provides more rain and humidity allowing the Chilean Cabernets to flourish. The Argentine side is much drier and favors the Malbec.

If I were back in college now and trying to impress my dates, I would pour a good Argentine Malbec like the Ikella Malbec that Anuva features. The Argentina Malbec is the best grape being grown anywhere. And you can't beat its price.

Anyone out there know of an Argentina Cab that is good and can give the Chileans some real competition?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Monday, May 12, 2008

Be careful what you say down here: It could get you arrested.

Things you can't say in Castellano.

My daughter and I take Spanish class here in Buenos Aires. Well we can't call it spanish class because they don't really speak Spanish here in the Rio Plata region. They certainly don't speak the Tex-mex I know. Hell, they don't even speak the Spanish from Spain.

They speak Castellano.

What is the difference? A lot. It's like the old Steve Martin bit about how the French have a different word for everything! Same here but they have a different word in Castellano for everything you managed to learn in high-school spanish class, rendering all prior spanish knowledge useless.

For instance, strawberries are not fresas like in Mexico and Spain, they are frutillas here. A jacket or coat is not a chaqueta it is a campera. The list goes on and on. It is very similar to how those crazy brits have different words for things like elevator and umbrella.

But there is more. There is this whole vos sos conjugation instead of tu eres. So my most-feared part of spanish class, verb conjugations, gets all messed up down here.

Another thing that drives most Texans and Mexicans crazy is the whole "ll" sound. It gets changed to "sh" so it is not tortilla it is tortisha. It sounds worse than my New Jersey friends trying to pronounce it "tortila".

The thing that causes the most embarrassment is the large number of innocuous words that are suddenly "dirty" here. Case in point: Concha. Everybody learns that the word for sea shell is concha (see my four-year-old son's flash card above). However, here you can't say it in public because it is a very dirty word. (Think dirty slang for a female body part).

Another, word you learned in spanish 101 is the verb coger which means to take, to grab, or to catch. Everywhere else in the spanish speaking world you use it to say you want to catch a taxi or to take a bus.

Not here. In Buenos Aires, coger (pronounced co-hare) means you want to have sexual relations with the object of the sentence you use it with. You really can't say, "¡Nececito coger un Taxi!" without being hauled off to jail.

A fellow Texan and former BA expat, Brian Winter has very funny story in his book, "Long After Midnight at the Niño Bien: A Yanqui's Missteps in Argentina" about how he mistakenly approached an old lady at bus stop and asked her if he could have sexual relations with the bus.

So do yourself a favor and learn the difference between Castellano and Spanish before you come down and say something like, "Wow! Look at the size of those conchas in the window!", like I did.

What else can you not say without being arrested in Argentina these days? My favorite is "¡Estoy con el campo!"

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Why I let my 13-Year-Old Ride the Colectivo (Bus) Alone

Picture by Villamota on Flickr"
A lot has been made of the mom who let her 9-year-old son ride the NY city subway by himself. Her editorial in a NY newspaper (Why I let my 9-Year-Old ride the Subway Alone) has generated a lot of talk among parents all over the globe.

Some praise her while others vilify her has the worst parent on the planet. Shocked by the article at first, I found myself agreeing with the author's main point—We as a society have gotten too protective of our kids due to an irrational fear of crime. You can read more about her thoughts on her blog: Free Range Kids.

The crime per capita against children has gone down over the decades since the 60's. Only the perception of crime has gone up because of the 24-hour wall-to-wall news coverage of isolated crimes against children.

I often get asked by other parents if BA is a "safe" city for children. I think it is. But like any large city you have to take precautions. My biggest fear is that my kids will be run over by a car or bus while crossing a street.

However, for the most part we feel much safer than if we were living in Downtown Dallas or Houston with our children. There is no question to me that it is safer here than living in NY or San Francisco. This could be because crime is way under reported here.

I spend a great deal of time each day escorting my kids to school events. My son goes to a "jardin" or kindergarden for 3 hours each day. My daughter spends time between homeschooling at a friends house and various other classes around town. That is a lot of time on the bus going back and forth.

My oldest had been bugging me to let her ride the bus home from our Spanish class. As a parent, I was worried that she did not have the street smarts to figure out where she was and know where to get off.

Finally, a good friend just said you got to let them make mistakes. They will never be 100% ready to venture out on their own in a parents eyes. Only by making mistakes will they figure things out on their own and grow.

So the other day she had to get back early for a doctors appointment which would mean that I would have to miss my hour of Spanish class. I gave in and let her go back on her own. I was worried the whole time and made her text me when she got on, passed the midway point and got off.

It was a success. She walked straight to the bus stop, go on, and rode across town and got off right where she was suppose to. She was surprised at how easy it was. She now has much more confidence and a sense of independence.

Would you let your thirteen-year-old ride the bus on her own? In the US I wouldn't even think of letting her. Here everyone takes the bus. Our route from Spanish class is often filed with kids as young as 9 leaving school on their own.

When we ask friends that live in the city of Buenos Aires, everyone agrees about how safe it is and that she needs to be independent by taking the bus to where she wants to go.

However, if you ask wealthier Porteños and expats in the northern suburbs, they react in shock at such a thought. Hell, my daughter's friends in the northern suburbs aren't even allowed in the city for fear they will be kidnapped. We always have to send her in a hired car out to the suburbs to see them.

What are your thoughts? How safe is BA for a thirteen-year-old?