The Saga of the Stinky Cheese

Newsweek, March 21, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Saga of the Stinky Cheese


English muffins gave off a strange smell--who knew?--so were switched for other breads.

Less aromatic cheeses like Gouda don't have an aroma that overpowers the coffee.

Leaner bacon is healthier and less pungent.

For me, the most symbolic representation of how Starbucks in 2007 was losing its magic was the warm breakfast sandwich. I'd resisted the idea of serving sandwiches in our stores from the start, though I understood why they made financial sense. Our warm sandwiches gained a loyal following and drove up sales and profits. The more popular they became, the more our baristas had to heat them in warming ovens. And when they did, the sandwiches would inevitably drip and sizzle in the ovens, releasing a pungent smell. The rich, hearty coffee aroma in the stores was overwhelmed by singed Monterey Jack, mozzarella, and, most offensively, cheddar. Where was the magic in burnt cheese?

At one point an "aroma task force" was pulled together to try and eliminate the smells. They experimented with different ovens. They retrained baristas to clean the ovens more often. Cook times were narrowed to prevent dripping cheese. Manufacturers were asked to rework their ovens' vents to contain the aromas, and our own operations people tried to improve the stores' heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to pull odors from the air.

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