Today, I’m getting back to my roots. I’m writing about a Seattle café chain from the first Korean branch of another Seattle café chain. I’m sitting in a café called Evansville. “Wait!” I hear all you astute Seattleites exclaim. “Dude, there’s no Seattle café chain called ‘Evansville’.” Good point! There isn’t. But they claim to be Caffé Vita of Korea (at least according to my attempted conversation in Korean), and use their logo, beans, and imagery all around the café. There are lots of shoutouts to Seattle too, including pictures and a traditional (green and yellow 1975-1995 logo) Seattle SuperSonics cap. But a Korean friend with connections to Seattle implied that they are using the Vita name illegally. Well, maybe not illegally because it’s a different country, but certainly without permission. I’ll try to find out more before I do the full review.
But today’s post is about Tully’s Coffee! Ah yes, Tully’s, the sad and difficult story of Tully’s. Tully’s, founded in Seattle around the time that Starbucks was booming there, desperately and unabashedly wanted to be the next Starbucks. Back in the mid-90’s, actually, I remember often hearing about Starbucks and Tully’s in the same sentence. Starbucks and Tully’s were very often seen across the street from each other all around town, a deliberate attempt by Tully’s to throw the gauntlet in the competition game, and also take advantage of Starbucks’s excellent choices for café locations. But, of course, we all know what happened to Tully’s Coffee’s aspirations. Obviously, Tully’s is not ubiquitous. If you’re from Seattle, you know of their recent woes and decline, including bankruptcy and recent salvation. If you’re not from Seattle, it’s not very likely you’ve ever heard of Tully’s unless you’re from Tokyo. And if you’re from Seoul, you might have seen Tully’s here or there, but you might have forgotten about it by now as their decline affected their Korean presence too. But here they once were, and to Tully’s I went, and so, therefore, here is my review.
I first saw a Tully’s here in Korea in November 2010. I was surprised, pleased, and pretty happy for them, as I thought this might herald an imminent expansion in a coffee-loving market. It was also in quite a good location, the trendy, traditional, and cute Samcheong-dong.
And it was 4 stories! What a bold statement, and what confidence to open such a large store here. But, do you see the roof of the house to the right of the Tully’s? It’s not as square and bold and big as the Tully’s, is it. Nope, it’s a traditional style building, and that’s what most places in Samcheong-dong look(ed) like. So, my positive feelings were tempered by disappointment in seeing Tully’s impose something out of place and out of character for the neighborhood. That’s not the way we do things in Seattle!
Well, to be honest, it was my first time in Samcheong-dong. I had been trying to get to the hidden neighborhood of Buamdong but went the wrong way. I went east of Gyeongbokgung instead of west, lol. But it was a very pleasant experience of getting lost, as I discovered such a great neighborhood and also saw this Tully’s. So, since it was my first time in the area, I don’t really know if Tully’s built that building. But the building looks new enough that they probably did, or they were the first tenant there. Over the next few visits to Samcheong-dong, a lot of new buildings started to go up. Developers had realized that Samcheong-dong had become trendy, and they wanted to capitalize on its recent increase in popularity and visitors. A lot of traditional style houses and hanoks still abound, but a lot of newer buildings that stick out abound these days too. A neighborhood can change a lot in three years in Korea.
Anyway, I didn’t order anything at Tully’s this time except for some sort of snack. I asked how many Tully’s there were in Korea, and the barista said this was the eighth one. Since Samcheong-dong was a little far for me to visit, I didn’t return for a long time.
In the meantime, before the next visit to this Samcheong-dong Tully’s, I went to Japan!
[And now, dear readers, it’s suddenly four days later, and I’m not in Evansville anymore. Phew, that would have been a long stay. Anyway the story continues…]
I went to Japan in January 2011 as part of a school teachers’ trip. Now, Koreans, when they travel, really like their package tours. Me, not so much. I like to wander and explore and be random and experience a country like someone who lives there, if possible. But obviously, with a large group, a package tour makes sense. But even Korean couples or individuals tend to join package tours in much greater percentages than US or other travelers. Someone once told me that this is because the concept of traveling outside the country is still fairly new to Korea, as hardly anyone had the money to do it before, so most Koreans don’t really know how to travel alone well, and feel safer in a group with their compatriots and a Korean tour guide. I guess this makes sense, and in any case, this is changing as more younger Koreans travel. Anyway, this school trip went to Shizuoka, Tokyo, and Hakone. During the Tokyo portion of the trip, we had one free day, so I met up with an old friend before heading to Koreatown (Shinokubo) to find a place to watch a “friendly” soccer match between South Korea and Japan! Along the way, I saw a Tully’s, one of many in Tokyo, so I decided to stop there. Since I’d had coffee with my friend, I only ordered ice cream there. But still, it was nice to visit, and the store had a mural of a map of Downtown Seattle. And under this map happened to be two friendly Korean girls who were members of the Korean soccer team fan club! So they took me to the restaurant where we all watched the game together, me and a group of over 10 others dressed in red. It was a tense game (they always are between these two teams) that went into overtime and ended 2-2. So it went to penalty kicks, where Japan was victorious. Oh well. It was a memorable night, though.
Unfortunately, even though this trip was very memorable, I somehow lost my camera on the bus back home from Incheon. So no pictures of Tully’s (or Japan) from this trip. Fortunately other teachers pitched in with their own. 🙂
So, back in Korea, I finally returned to the Samcheong-dong Tully’s in July with a friend. I don’t remember what we drank but I did take the requisite picture:
But… that’s it! That’s all the information I have, all the pictures I took, all the visits I had, to Tully’s in Korea. Not much to make a thorough and accurate review, is it? But, like Starbucks, the Tully’s experience is very similar from shop to shop, café to café, all around the world. The architecture might be different, but the coffee and the imagery is usually the same. I of course returned to Samcheong-dong a few more times, but I preferred trying the independent shops in this cool neighborhood, while silently waving to Tully’s as I passed by.
But, I do have more pictures to share with you, from, once again, Tully’s in Japan! As I inferred in my introduction, there are many in Tokyo. And I returned to Tokyo in October 2011, partially to recapture the lost experiences from my lost camera, and partially to support Japan (even if in a very tiny way) after the terrible earthquake in March. During this trip, I truly realized how popular Tully’s is there. Maybe it was just coincidence, but I think, during my extensive walking, that I ran into more Tully’s than Starbucks. That’s a hard feat to accomplish! Here, then, are all my pictures of various Tully’s from that short trip.
I visited Tokyo once again earlier this year, so here’s one more Tully’s: ^^
By this time, Tully’s had gone into bankruptcy and was being saved by Dr. McDreamy of Grey’s Anatomy. No joke! So as the caption to my picture implies, I was happy to see them still prospering in Tokyo as many locales had been shuttered in Seattle and around the US.
So why did Tully’s go into bankruptcy? I’ve heard many people claim that Tully’s Coffee’s coffee is superior to Starbucks, especially because it’s not burnt (i.e. “Charbucks”). So it should have easily prospered, no? Well, I’m not going to go into bankruptcy analysis here, don’t worry. But from my perspective, I always enjoyed their drinks and the atmosphere inside their shops. They were often more cozy than Starbucks. Maybe it’s just the fact they were #2 and playing catch-up in Seattle and beyond. If Starbucks hadn’t existed, could it have been a giant green neon T instead of the giant Farbucks cup that the Gingerbread Man reached for? Might GoRemy have rapped “and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s and the Tully’s!”? What nickname would Koreans come up with instead of 별다방 (byeol dabang – star traditional café)? Who knows… but Tully’s now has the time and the money to recover, and I hope they do well. I don’t know their plans for Korea. The Samcheong-dong location has become The Body Shop now. According to their website (as of September 2013), there are only three locations left. Hopefully their recovery helps them here too.
Before the conclusion, to make up for not having many pictures from Korea, here are a few of my pictures of Tully’s in Seattle! All the drinks you see below were really good. However, my final rating reflects my limited experiences in Korea and Japan.
Korean name: 털리스
US website 1: http://www.tullys.com
US website 2: http://www.tullyscoffeeshops.com
Korean website: http://www.tullyscoffeekorea.co.kr [not active as of this posting]
Final verdict: ***