As the New Year rolled in, a Starbucks opened in Cuzco on the Plaza de Armas. Though the coming of Starbucks to Cuzco has been controversial, you would not have known it by the crowds that filled the second floor corporate coffee shop last night. It was standing room only, as people ordered, waited for, and consumed their “altos”, “grandes” and “ventis.”
The controversy erupted in 2008 when the chain announced its plans for opening in Cuzco. Shortly afterwards the historical Cuzco-style coffee house El Ayllu, that had occupied a space next to the Cathedral on the Plaza de Armas, announced that Cuzco’s Archbishop had refused to renew their lease. Their location was property of the Church
A fight ensued, and El Ayllu changed locations away from the Plaza. Nevertheless, Starbucks did not open in that space. Instead a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet opened in 2010.
But Starbucks is now open and steaming milk at a fierce pace. It is located in the second floor of a colonial building occupying the place of an Inca Palace, the Ajllawasi or home of the sacred women dedicated to brewing chicha for ritual events and weaving fine cloth for the Inca. Many writers compare them to contemporary nuns.
The design is tasteful and non-ostentatious. It does not interrupt or change the colonial configuration of the area. The main sign, a black and white copy of Starbuck’s logo sits back without the green shout of most Starbuck’s signage. Nevertheless it lets the public know that globalized corporate coffee has come to the Plaza.
Starbucks sits in a space that used to house Makayla restaurant, on Loreto Street #115. One enters through Loreto street between the Jesuit’s church, known as La Compañía, built on the Plaza in fine baroque style to emphasize the power of the Jesuits in colonial Peru (and tacitly to challenge the power of the secular clergy of the Cathedral almost next door.)
As a result, it is not surprising to see the drive for leading multinational food corporations to seek space on Cuzco’s plaza. Like the Cathedral and the Compañía, these announce who has power in today’s world as much as they speak to gastronomic taste.
El Ayllu has been only a part of a trend that has seen rising rents on the plaza and a drive to bring in outside capital to open restaurants as well as multinational corporations. The trend continues. Rumors are that Trotamundos is being forced out.
So, if you need a white mocha venti, or a frappuccino while in Cuzco, Starbucks is now there for you. You can either sit inside, in its ample spaces, or on its balconies with their wonderful view of Cuzco’s Plaza. Starbucks is probably here to stay.