Businessweek has just published a story I’ve long wanted to do: on why Starbucks has never come to Italy.

If it weren’t for Italy, Starbucks might not exist. After all, it was on a business trip to Milan in 1983 that Howard Schultz had the revelation on which he built his global empire. At the time, Starbucks was a coffee roaster—it didn’t own a single cafe—and Schultz was its marketing director. In a book published after the company had become an international behemoth, Schultz described how he set out one morning, sipping espressos at the cafes near his hotel. By afternoon he had sampled his way to the Piazza del Duomo, home to Milan’s famous Gothic cathedral. The large square was “almost literally lined” with coffee shops, he wrote. The air was alive with the sound of opera and the smell of roasting chestnuts. Schultz noted “the light banter of political debate and the chatter of kids in school uniforms” and watched as retirees and mothers with children made small talk with the baristas behind the counters.

It was at this point that Schultz, no doubt heavily caffeinated, was seized by inspiration. Most Americans were still drinking their coffee at diners, in restaurants, or at the kitchen table; Italians had made cafes part of their community. Coffee didn’t have to be just a drink, he realized. It could be an experience. The opportunity was enormous, and Starbucks, by limiting itself to roasting, was in danger of missing it. “It was like an epiphany,” Schultz recalled in his book. “It was so immediate and physical that I was shaking.”

Read the rest.