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Starbucks in Arizona, nationwide to close for several hours for bias training

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

More than 8,000 Starbucks locations, including dozens in Arizona, will close for several hours next month.

The closure will occur to conduct racial-bias training to its nearly 175,000 workers.

The Tuesday announcement comes after two black men were arrested in a Starbucks in Philadelphia, sparking protests and calls for a boycott on social media.

Starbucks said in a statement stores will be closed in the afternoon on May 29. Its corporate offices will also be closed at that time.

The training will aim to “address implicit bias, promote conscious inclusion, prevent discrimination and ensure everyone inside a Starbucks store feels safe and welcome.”

Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson met on Monday with the two men who were arrested. There were no details about the meeting.

Johnson, who called the arrests “reprehensible,” had said that he wanted to apologize to the men face-to-face.

“I’ve spent the last few days in Philadelphia with my leadership team listening to the community, learning what we did wrong and the steps we need to take to fix it,” Johnson said in a statement.

“While this is not limited to Starbucks, we’re committed to being a part of the solution. Closing our stores for racial bias training is just one step in a journey that requires dedication from every level of our company and partnerships in our local communities.”

Video showed several police talking quietly with two black men seated at a table.

After a few minutes, officers handcuff the men and lead them outside as other customers say they weren’t doing anything wrong.

Philadelphia-area media reported the two had been waiting for a friend.

The episode highlights the risks large corporations run when they tie their brands so closely to social messaging.

In 2015, then-CEO Howard Schultz shrugged off the “Race Together” fiasco as a well-intentioned mistake and pressed on with his public efforts to engage in the debate over race in America. Johnson was scrambling to keep the Philadelphia incident from shattering the message Schultz was going for: Starbucks is a corporation that stands for something beyond profit.

“The more your brand is trying to connect emotionally to people, the more hurt people feel when these kinds of things happen,” said Jacinta Gauda, the head of the Gauda Group, a New York strategic communications firm affiliated with the Grayling network.

“They are breaking a promise. That’s what makes it hurt deeper.”

Beyond racial relations, Starbucks has staked much of its brand on its dual promise of providing good customer service and treating its employees well, said John Gordon, a restaurant industry analyst with Pacific Management Consulting Group.

The Seattle company has a reputation for well-managed stores, “a point of difference that allows them to sell primarily drinks and coffees that have a higher cost,” he said.

But in a multinational company with more than 28,000 stores worldwide, there has “to be a situation every day where some human being handles things wrong. You can’t have that many employees and not have something stupid happen,” Gordon said.

“Even with a huge operations manual that lays out what to say and what to do, you can’t cover everything.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

KTAR News 92.3

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