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    Stew Leonard's to Fill Starbucks Gap with Free Joe

    NORWALK, Conn. -- Since Starbucks said it plans to close all 7,100 of its company-owned stores between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 to instruct over 135,000 employees in "a renewed focus on espresso standards," Stew Leonard's here said it plans to meet local residents' coffee needs during that time by providing free cups of its own coffee, cappuccino, or espresso at its four locations.

    NORWALK, Conn. -- Since Starbucks said it plans to close all 7,100 of its company-owned stores between 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 26 to instruct over 135,000 employees in "a renewed focus on espresso standards," Stew Leonard's here said it plans to meet local residents' coffee needs during that time by providing free cups of its own coffee, cappuccino, or espresso at its four locations.

    The grocery retailer roasts 20 varieties of coffee fresh in-house, right in front of customers, and brews over 2,000 pounds of beans daily.

    "We know what it's like when you need your java jolt, so while Starbucks is turning customers away, we'll be welcoming them with open arms and a free cup," said c.e.o. Stew Leonard Jr. in a statement. "We actually got this idea from Mike Perry, owner of Coffee Klatch Roasting in Southern California, who was visiting our stores the other day. His coffee shops have been recognized as serving the 'Best Espresso in the World' at the 2007 World Barista Championship in Tokyo."

    Stew Leonard's first opened coffee shops in 1992 at its Norwalk and Danbury, Conn. stores, sourcing coffee beans from plantations around the globe. The Yonkers, N.Y. and Newington, Conn. locations, which opened in 1999 and 2007, respectively, also feature full-service coffee bars and in-house coffee roasters. The retailer additionally prepares authentic espresso and cappuccino drinks on traditional machines.

    "Coffee is as perishable as lettuce," notes Leonard. "When it is exposed to air and stored at room temperature, it can become stale within 10 days. That's why we decided to roast our own beans throughout the day, seven days a week."

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