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Originally published June 14, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 14, 2005 at 12:29 AM

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Starbucks shutting its Torrefazione coffee bars

So much for romance. Specialty-coffee giant Starbucks has decided to close its Torrefazione Italia cafes and focus on developing the upscale...

Seattle Times retail reporter

So much for romance.

Specialty-coffee giant Starbucks has decided to close its Torrefazione Italia cafes and focus on developing the upscale coffee brand through grocery and food-service deals, a company spokesman confirmed yesterday.

Starbucks bought the small, Italian-style cafe chain and sister company Seattle's Best Coffee in July 2003.

Torrefazione — which operates 17 stores in the Northwest, California, Chicago and Boston — aims to re-create the classic Italian coffee-bar experience, replete with espresso drinks served in ceramic cups.

Starbucks spokesman Alan Hilowitz said the company had two years to survey the health of its subsidiary and decided the brand had a stronger future through grocery and food-service channels.

"Operationally, the stores were not performing where they needed to perform," he said.

Starbucks has sought to give each brand a national presence since acquiring the two cafe chains.

Last fall it expanded its licensing and distribution deal with Kraft to sell both Torrefazione and Seattle's Best coffee in groceries. Starbucks also inked a deal with Borders Books and Music to open Seattle's Best cafes inside its stores.

Starbucks has not decided when to close the Torrefazione cafes. Hilowitz said the cafes average 15 employees, and each employee "in good standing" could opt to transfer to a Starbucks.

Umberto Bizzarri opened the first Torrefazione in Seattle's Pioneer Square in 1986 — the same year Starbucks Chairman Howard Schultz started his own chain of Italian-style coffee bars, Il Giornale.

Starbucks purchased Il Giornale two years later, and Schultz went on to build the specialty-coffee giant.

David Geller, who works above the original Torrefazione in Pioneer Square, said he's been a fan for nearly a decade. The cafe has a European flavor, he said, and the coffee "over the years has been consistently superb."

Asked where he plans to go once Torrefazione closes, Geller said "Zeitgeist [Cafe] is right around the corner. We're hoping some other boutique coffeehouse comes in that space."

Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or msoto@seattletimes.com

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