By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) -A restaurateur and rapper duo unveiled Stars Coffee on Thursday, reopening the chain of coffee shops in Russia formerly owned by Starbucks Corp, the latest major company rebranding after a months-long Western corporate exodus from the country.
At a packed launch in central Moscow, rapper Timati presented the new brand, whose logo features an image of a woman with a star above her head, alongside co-owner and restaurateur Anton Pinskiy, before shops start opening on Friday.
Banned from using the Starbucks logo, Timati said they had sought to find some continuity, namely the circular shape and “female gender”, which he said contrasted nicely with the brown, cigar-like “masculine colour” in the new logo.
“People’s perceptions may be different,” said Pinskiy. “But if you compare, then apart from the circle, you won’t find anything in common.”
Starbucks declined to comment on the similarity of the logo and name, but referred to an earlier statement in which it said the company had made the decision to exit and no longer had a brand presence in the Russian market.
Since Starbucks had its own resource and production base, Timati said the duo had to find new suppliers, but they had encountered no problems.
Stars Coffee imports beans from Latin America and Africa, Pinskiy said, with suppliers of other items based in Russia.
“We just found other suppliers, found the right roasters, and because the baristas mixed it all correctly, we have a product that we think will be competitive,” he said.
Seattle-based Starbucks, which helped popularise takeaway coffee in a traditionally tea-loving society, said it would exit Russia after nearly 15 years in late May.
Starbucks had 130 stores in Russia, operated by its licensee Alshaya Group, with nearly 2,000 employees in the country. Pinskiy said shops would gradually reopen throughout August and September.
Global franchise operator Alshaya, established in Kuwait, had lost interest in doing business after Starbucks pulled its brand from Russia, Timati told Reuters. Alshaya did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“We won the tender – there were a lot of participants – acquired it and made our own brand,” he said.
The deal mirrors a wider trend among Western brands, which has been changing the country’s retail and corporate landscapes as the conflict in Ukraine enters its sixth month.
Renault sold its majority stake in carmaker Avtovaz to a Russian player for just one rouble, while McDonald’s Corp, whose restaurants have now become Vkusno & tochka, did not disclose a figure.
Both of those deals included buyback options, but Pinskiy said that didn’t apply to Starbucks due to the franchise model it operated under in Russia.
He declined to disclose figures concerning the deal with Alshaya. “We have invested as much as we paid them,” Pinskiy said. “This is (an) expensive pleasure.”
The pair said they were interested in more acquisitions, but gave no further details.
While the partnership may appear unlikely, Timati, one of Russia’s most famous rappers, co-founded the Black Star Burger chain in Russia, which sells a “Timati Burger”.
He is also known for his support of the Kremlin and in 2015 released a track containing the lyrics “President Putin is my best friend”.
Pinskiy, who earlier this month told Russian reporter and political activist Ksenia Sobchak that he had never tried coffee in his life, has a string of restaurants in his portfolio, including a joint project with Timati, REDBOX, which serves Pan-Asian cuisine.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Josephine Mason and David Holmes)