Summary: Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, happens to sit next to me at one of the Starbucks stores in London. When I recognise who he is, I query him on his company's position towards Israel.
Many people in the Arab and Muslim world believe he supports Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. Some believe he and his company make donations to various Israeli organisations.
He denied all this. I felt he sounded like a politician.
I walk into one of my favourite Starbucks, on St Martin's Lane, London, just next to the Avenue Q theatre, a minute's walk from Trafalgar Square.
The first thing that strikes me is that there are many people queueing. And they're all in suits. I notice several attractive, tall women in snazzy business suits. I'm not happy about having to queue. One of the women immediately steps out of line and says: "Oh sorry, we're not waiting, you go right ahead." I notice her American accent. I notice they're all Americans.
"Okay," I tell myself, "so we have some American business-types on some kind of conference, coming for a coffee round. The top end of America: well-heeled, well-scrubbed, well-spoken, good-looking, ... bastards." I'm feeling a little cranky.
"I bet these Americans feel totally at home here, I bet they think: what's that guy doing in our shop," I think to myself. I shove the lady out of my way - I'm a little cranky, okay?
I order my coffee.
By the time I return to the sofa that I had "reserved" with my stuff, I find some executive sitting on the other end of the sofa. He's leaning over and being all nice and friendly to one of the good-looking women, sat on another chair. They're like old friends, talking in hushed tones - almost like teenagers sharing illicit intimate moments.
I sit next to them on "MY" part of the sofa. I'm a little agitated that I'm going to have to sit through their teenage huddle. The male executive, let's call him the Teenage Exec - eventhough he is in his forties, annoys me. While waiting for my coffee, I had seen how much of an easy presence he has, how outgoing, networky, fizzy, he is. He is also a little slimy.
On close inspection, the woman he is chatting to is not as impressive as my first impression. Lots of make-up, older than I first thought.
No sooner had I settled down, than another bunch of execs arrive. One guy sits on the sofa to the left of me. Across from him is an English woman who excitedly talks about a new range of crepes. I begin to notice that everyone is directing attention to the guy sampling the food.
I notice they have spread the crepe samples on the table as if my cup of coffee is not there. So, I push back one of their items and re-position my cup. The important man looks over to me and says "Oh sorry." But the teenage exec dislikes my move and pushes whatever I had pushed forwards, backwards - as if to say "you're one, and we're many."
The crepes-sampling man is older, possibly in his 50s, he is fit, he still has a decent mane that is not predominantly gray, ... He is relaxed and chatty and wants to be part of the crowd. He must be a senior, experienced exec, but not hugely important.
The teenage exec introduces the lady he's been chatting to: she works for Microsoft. "Tell me what phone to carry," the senior guy says to her. She asks what phone he carries now. He says it's an iphone but he doesn't like it, it's all-show. He tells her he is the least techie guy she could meet. They carry on talking about phones.
Meanwhile, the senior exec is munching on the various samples of crepes. He turns around to me and says: "Would you like some food?" I give him a dismissive shake of the head. "Get off my table, you and your posse of execs," is what I'm thinking. I shut my eyes to shut them out.
Suddenly, I open my eyes. I look at his face and something tells me this man is Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks.
Now it all makes sense. This is why the English woman was excitedly pitching to him the new line of crepes. This is why he looks so relaxedly powerful. This is why they're all looking at him. This is why he is asking such specific questions about the line of crepes: calorie count, ingredients, true cost, retail price, time of sale, etc.
He stands up and they look like they might be about to leave. I have to act.
Impromptu Interview with Howard Schultz
"Excuse me, are you Howard Schultz?" I say.
"Yes, I am," he says. He turns towards me, fully open to conversation. "And you?"
I stand up to shake hands with him. I give my name, and repeat it again.
"I was just thinking who might this guy be. And then it all suddenly, finally ... clicked," I say. They all laugh. I had clearly been a nuisance, a cranky man sat at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"A pleasure," he says.
"Actually, I want to ask you something, do you mind," I say.
"Sure," he says.
"A lot of Muslims believe you support Israeli settlement activity. Is it true?" I ask.
"Okay, I'm glad you asked that question. Please sit down. Let's talk about this," he says. He is very friendly, jumping at the chance to discuss the matter.
We sit down. All eyes are on us. My heart trembles. I am under pressure. He has celebrity power and I am - for a minute - allowed to sit with the big man, and to ask him an uncomfortable question.
"First off, what have you heard?" he says.
"That you personally support Israel, and so does Starbucks. Listen, I'm not a journalist or anything, I just thought if Howard Schultz is right here in front of me I should ask," I say.
"And I am so glad you asked. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have repeatedly denied this. These are hoaxes, and they circulate on the internet, and they keep growing, and it's not true, and I don't know what to do to stop it," he says.
"Right," I say. I am still steadying myself. I try to breathe properly. I have been totally unprepared for this. I try to focus on his eyes, to steady myself. I see green eyes that seem friendly, gentle, but I also see eyes that say nothing, and I hear a voice that has adopted a tone of a politician. I feel he is practiced in this sort of situation.
"Do you believe it?" he asks.
"Well, I personally have been coming to Starbucks for over five years. But it bothers me," I say.
"I am Jewish, but I have always said that I would never, ever want Starbucks to be the reason for any harm to come to any Muslim or Arab citizen. I want peace in the region. I want the Arabs to live alongside the Israelis in peace, and I would never support one side over the other. I'm at my wit's end, what do I have to do to let people know?" he says.
"I don't know, put it on the front page of the Starbucks website," I say.
"And we have!" he says. "I don't know what more to do," he says.
"Besides, you have all these Arabs and Muslims who work in your shops, right?" I say.
"Not just that: We have many branches across the Middle East and they're doing really well. We have a partner too, from Kuwait. They are a Starbucks partner. Where are you from?" he says.
"Egypt," I say.
"Right, we've have had very successful stores in Egypt. We're growing," he says.
"You opened three branches in Egypt recently didn't you?" I say.
"Yes, we have some amazing stores in Egypt," volunteered one of the standing execs.
"The thing is, I remember reading this internet circular over five years ago that had the text of a speech you gave to an Israeli organisation that supports Israeli settlement-building in the Palestinian occupied territories," I say.
"All a hoax. I never ... ", he says.
"I mean, there's nothing wrong with that. Many Jews support Israeli settlements, and that's their right," I say.
"Right. I've always said I'm for a two-state solution: a situation where the Palestinians live side by side to the Israelis. I want them to live in peace," he says.
Something tells me that the speech is not a hoax, that he might possibly have supported settlement-building at some point in his life, but now regrets it.
"Please spread the word. Maybe if people blog about it more," he says.
"What do you do?" he asks.
I hand him a business card, and tell him about what I do. The head of operations in the UK asks me for a card too. The teenage exec hands me his card. Mr Schultz points at the Microsoft woman and tells me: "She works for Microsoft!"
Totally over-awed by the situation, I ask for a picture with Mr Schultz.
"Absolutely, we must," he said. "Hey what phone's that? Is it good? We were just talking about phones," he says.
Then the head of UK operations takes our picture on my mobile.
I shake hands with Mr Schultz again and they leave.
The teenage exec and his lady chum do not leave, they continue to sit close to me. Very pleased with myself, I turn to the teenage exec and say: "You know, I was in Seattle last summer!"
"Is that right?" he says dryly. He turns to his companion and resumes conversation; my time's up.
[Mr Schultz hung around the branch for about twenty minutes more. I don't know what he was doing, the party had moved to another part of the shop. Later, he posed for pictures in front of the shop with a small photo crew.]
[Before leaving, Mr Schultz and the teenage exec glanced at me excitedly typing on my laptop. Could they have guessed I'm blogging about it?]