Man tries to visit every Starbucks on planet
Detroit — If visiting every Starbucks on the planet sounds like a tall order, consider the lot of a man named Winter.
He is trying to go to all 30,000 stores despite being berated by baristas, harangued by the police and delayed by driving dolts.
The more he visits, the further he falls behind, as Starbucks, being Starbucks, opens new locations faster than he spies the old ones.
Then there’s the taste of the coffee. He said he hates it.
“I want to crawl into the corner and cry,” he said.
Despite the challenges, Winter, which is his legal name, continues his 22-year quest. He passed through Michigan last weekend, visiting Store No. 15,118.
Why, man named Winter, why do you persevere so? And why undertake such a quixotic quest in the first place?
He said it was a lark, that he just wanted to see if it was possible. As he proceeded, he liked that he was doing something nobody else had tried, something that made him stand out, something that made him feel special.
“I’m the one person identified as visiting more Starbucks than anybody else,” he said. “On a planet of 7½ billion people, how hard is it to have a global identity?”
He said the pursuit has nothing to do with Starbucks, that the company is just his vehicle on the road to distinction.
But it’s a fitting choice. Starbucks is named after the chief mate in “Moby-Dick,” and Winter is nothing if not Ahab chasing his whale.
The driven Winter, 47, is a freelance computer programmer working for a defense contractor in Rochester, N.Y.
'I'm an acquired taste'
Born Rafael Antonio Lozano Jr., he has legally changed his name three times. He settled on Winter because it’s distinctive.
He lives out of his car, though that’s more to save money than be different.
“I didn’t think volunteer homelessness was a thing,” said Matthew O’Connor, 21, of Syracuse, N.Y. “It’s cool to be unique.”
O’Connor became friends with Winter after playing against him at a Scrabble tournament in 2007, when Winter was 35 and O’Connor 8.
Winter doesn’t like to sit, preferring to stand while eating, watching movies in theaters or waiting at doctors’ offices.
He’s constantly on his phone, listening or watching podcasts, talk shows and television dramas at double-speed as he’s walking.
He seems to revel in his eccentricities, showing little interest in what society expects of him.
“I’m an acquired taste,” he said. “I’m not like other people. I don’t relate to people. I don’t feel like other people.”
Winter is single, has few friends and isn’t close to his sister or parents. He said he values goals over relationships. He doesn’t smile a lot.
His mom said she wants him to settle down, get married and have kids. Georgina Lozano, a retired nurse, worries he’s wasting his potential.
She has asked him several times to give up the Starbucks pursuit but, after two decades, has given up. She refuses to call him Winter.
“He’s not crazy,” she said. “You have a good family, good education, went to college, and you have chosen to go to Starbucks?”
Winter has a singular focus that can be jarring.
He visited 29 Starbucks in one day in southern California, he said. Another time, he paid $1,400 to fly from Wisconsin to British Columbia to see a store before it closed the next day.
During a trip to Hawaii, the only time he saw a beach was when he drove from the airport to a Starbucks on the Big Island, he said.
His quest has brought him to 55 countries, including Qatar, Turkey, Egypt, El Salvador and Lebanon.
“Who goes to Kuwait? I don’t know anyone else in life who just goes to Kuwait,” said Michelle Marcoccia, 44, of San Antonio, Texas.
Marcoccia briefly dated Winter in the 1990s and has remained friendly since. She said he is always on the go, running out to restaurants, movies, museums. As his girlfriend, it was a little overwhelming, she said.
This solitary man on a solitary mission got an early start on his Michigan visit by sleeping in his Honda Fit near the Cass Corridor in Detroit.
Waking on a brisk Saturday morning, he walked into a new Starbucks next to the Fox Theatre at 7:30. He asked to see the manager, giving his preamble quickly.
“Hello, my name is Winter and I’m the world’s foremost Starbucks enthusiast,” he said. “My goal in life is to drink coffee from every Starbucks.”
He then asked for a sample of their drip coffee — sugar, no cream.
At several Metro Detroit stores, he supplied a stained, four-ounce Starbucks cup. When several supervisors failed to fill it to the top, he had them add more.
Winter, who seems to have rules for everything, has several for what qualifies as one of his official Starbucks visits. It must be a company-owned store, he has to receive a full sample, and he must take photos, which he posts on his website, starbuckseverywhere.net.
After his spiel, a few Michigan managers looked at him quizzically, as if they weren’t sure he was serious.
In the past, some supervisors have responded to the scruffy, slightly manic stranger asking for free coffee by calling the cops.
But Megan Barsotti, the shift manager at the Detroit store, said she supported Winter’s dream.
“I never heard of that. That’s wild,” she said.
Origins of the quest
The idea came in 1997.
Working as a computer programmer in Irving, Texas, Winter hung out at a nearby Starbucks for hours at a time.
He read the coffee company was growing quickly through the United States and wondered if it would be possible to visit every one of its stores.
The goal seemed doable, sort of. This was during the chain’s pre-behemoth days, when it had 1,400 stores.
“So much was new and fresh: the menu items, the cities, the highways,” he said.
Winter was relentless, driving or flying several hundred miles every weekend. Between contracting jobs, he would take off for three months to crisscross the country.
He estimated he has spent $150,000 on travel and twice that in forgone wages as he chose Starbucks over working.
By 2003, he had amassed $70,000 in debt from 12 credit cards and filed for bankruptcy, according to court records.
The costly pursuit eventually slowed as he became interested in other things. He’s an avid runner, got a serious girlfriend and is a world-class Scrabble player, once playing in tournaments around the United States on 53 consecutive weekends.
“Things change. I was 25 when I got this idea,” he said.
Winter once enjoyed Starbucks coffee but now prefers the lighter brews of independent shops. He considers Starbucks too dark and bitter.
A German protégé
Winter is tickled whenever a Starbucks manager recognizes him from his website or social media.
He has fans and even a protégé, a German man trying to replicate his feat. The man, Sebastian Birr, has visited 3,500 Starbucks since 2009.
When Winter visits an area for the first time, his Facebook followers sometimes ask to meet him. Baristas want to take selfies.
Steve Grob, a Scrabble player from Rose Township near Fenton, said people may be drawn to Winter by his passion.
“He’s a good soul. He’s someone who likes to always be doing something,” said Grob. “He’s Don Quixote chasing the windmill.”
As Starbucks proliferated around the globe in the 2000s, Winter realized the folly of his goal.
He’s not crazy, after all. But, sometimes, people wonder, like the host of a Toronto radio program.
In October Winter appeared on the Evan Solomon Show. When he explained his quest, the host was incredulous.
“Are you bonkers?” asked Solomon, laughing. “Are you kidding me? At one point don’t you say, why am I doing this? Aren’t there other things to do?”
Winter replied he uses the project as a reason to travel and explore new cities.
“Here’s the secret to Starbucking," he said. "It is not about Starbucks, and it is not about the destination. It's the journey."
As for how Starbucks feels about Winter’s exploits, it wrote to him in 2002, thanking him for his attention. It included two mugs and a signed copy of then-Chairman Howard Schultz’s book, “Pour Your Heart Into It.”
The chain has steered clear of him since.
Asked how the company felt about Winter, spokeswoman Megan Adams said the firm has 80 markets, is visited by customers 100 million times a week and, in its half-century, has borne witness to first dates, marriage proposals, job interviews and old friends being reunited.
What Adams didn’t say was how the company felt about Winter.
“We love to hear stories about Starbucks customers and partners and how they engage with us,” she said.
Starbucks 'integral' to life
Despite the cold shoulder from Starbucks, the impertinent radio show hosts and the long odds of achieving his goal, Winter trudges on.
He’ll never give up his quest, he said. It has become part of his identity. He likes being the Starbucks guy.
“If there’s one thing in my mind that’s inconceivable, it’s giving up Starbucks,” he said. “It’s such an integral part of my life. I can’t imagine wanting to give that up.”
In September, Winter received a VIP pass to a Vampire Weekend concert at Madison Square Garden in New York.
He had gotten to know the band’s frontman, Ezra Koenig, by appearing on his radio talk show several times.
After the concert, Winter milled backstage and chatted with members of the band and other rock groups. He also posed for a selfie with Koenig, which he posted on his Facebook page.
“In two decades of Starbucking, I've been mocked, called an idiot, told that my goal is pointless,” he wrote. “Yet Starbucking just gave me the best night ever. Follow your dreams, always.”
In the picture, a somber-looking Winter stood beside Koenig, who was smiling and slightly slouched. Their roles seemed reversed with Koenig looking like the fanboy and Winter the celebrity.
The Starbucks guy looked like he was exactly where he belonged.