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Thursday, May 06, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
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Jolt for Seattle's coffee grind: Juan Valdez

By Jake Batsell
Seattle Times business reporter

AFP/GETTY IMAGES, 2003
Americans will see a lot more of Juan Valdez when Colombian coffee growers open shops in the U.S.
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The Starbucks siren soon may have to contend with another coffee icon in her hometown: Juan Valdez.

A budding chain of coffeehouses named after the fictional, mule-towing Colombian farmer plans to open stores in several U.S. cities, including Seattle, later this year.

Long before Starbucks hit the mainstream, Valdez was the face of coffee to many Americans, leading his mule through coffee fields and grocery-store aisles on TV ads sponsored by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

Now, the federation is looking to parlay Valdez's familiar image into a global chain of high-end coffee shops. Ten Juan Valdez stores are up and running in Colombia, and federation chief Gabriel Silva told Reuters this week that the chain will open at least eight U.S. stores later this year.

Silva said shops are to open in Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Miami and Washington, D.C. He could not be reached yesterday to say where and when a Seattle store would open.

So what do Seattle's coffee czars think about Juan Valdez encroaching on their turf?

"I think it's fabulous," Tully's Chairman Tom O'Keefe said. "It makes a lot of sense for Juan Valdez — or really the coffee growers of Colombia, when it gets right down to it, using Juan Valdez as a brand — to open a store in Seattle because it's so high-identity."

Starbucks spokeswoman Audrey Lincoff wouldn't discuss Juan Valdez specifically but said the company welcomes competition because "we believe what we offer is completely unique."

If they want to give Starbucks a run for its money, Valdez and his mule have a lot of catching up to do. Silva said his chain wants to have 300 stores worldwide by 2007.

Starbucks, with nearly 8,000 stores worldwide, has more than 300 in Washington state alone.

Jake Batsell: 206-464-2718 or jbatsell@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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