As the owner of a South Carolina funeral home, Chris Robinson is in the business of helping people grieve. This summer, he plans to do that with a hand from Starbucks.
Funeral-goers at the Robinson Funeral Home in Easley, S.C., will soon find baristas in Starbucks uniforms serving lattes in the lobby, where Robinson is building a "Coffee Corner." Robinson, whose family has owned the funeral home for four generations, said the addition of a Starbucks on the premises - complete with a Wi-Fi area, fireplace and television - is intended as one more way to comfort the bereaved.
"It should help families escape from the stress a little bit, having a private area to get their minds off of what's going on," Robinson said.
The coffee shop will not be a full-fledged Starbucks. Though its employees will be trained by Starbucks, they will be on Robinson's staff, and Robinson's agreement with the company stipulates that there will be no glowing green Starbucks sign outside the funeral home.
While the coffee is intended primarily for funeral attendees, it will be open to the public via a patio entrance.
Robinson, who owns two other funeral homes in the area, has been serving free coffee to customers for years. But when he realized his facility's renovation would provide ample space for a coffee shop, he decided to upgrade his offerings. He turned to Starbucks, he said, because theirs is "the best coffee out there."
"If we're going to offer a Coffee Corner, we're going to get the best there is," he said.
Concerned that some "might get the wrong idea," Robinson stressed that the Starbucks will be on the opposite end of the facility from the chapel.
"You won't be hit in the face with it," he said. "You could walk through the entire funeral home and hardly know it's there."
Starbucks spokeswoman Alisa Martinez said the agreement between Robinson and Starbucks is one of tens of thousands of food service accounts the company has with establishments ranging from hospitals to auto dealerships to health clubs.
The funeral home location may be "unexpected," she said, but Starbucks is simply helping Robinson meet his needs.
For those who prefer Robinson's homemade coffee, or who simply want a free cup of joe, Robinson said that option will not go away.
Starbucks will begin installing equipment and menus within a few weeks, Robinson said, and the coffee will begin brewing in August. Calls to a Starbucks spokesperson were not returned Thursday.