The man who made Seattle a brew town

Gordon Bowker, retired founder of Starbucks and Red Hook, avoids the stress of full-time work because, for him at least, "creativity requires idleness."
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Idleness: the secret to Gordon Bowker's success.

Gordon Bowker, retired founder of Starbucks and Red Hook, avoids the stress of full-time work because, for him at least, "creativity requires idleness."

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from Ron Holden's new book, Home Grown Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink.

Who are the half-dozen people who embody and represent Seattle food? Pasqualina Verdi, the welcoming earth mother, arms outstretched behind a table of produce, or Victor Steinbrueck, the architect whose Market Sketchbook galvanized the city to save the Pike Place Market? Victor Rosellini, the courtly restaurateur who launched the city's fine dining? Mark and Brian Canlis, who reinvented their grandfather's restaurant for the 21st Century? Tom Douglas? Ethan Stowell? The puckish Ivar Haglund? Howard Schultz, who sits astride the Starbucks colossus? Jon Rowley, who preaches the gospel of perfect oysters, Copper River salmon, and ideal peaches? All of them, certainly, would be on the short list. But there is one person who stands out.

If Seattle is known in the world as more than a rainy, medium-sized fishing port, if it is known today for its coffee, its beer, its wine, its cornucopia of fresh food and its inventive restaurants (not to mention its airplanes, computers, and online shopping), that reputation is due to one man above all. His name is Gordon Bowker.

He is the creator of two iconic Seattle brands—Starbucks and Red Hook—but, modest and shy, he shuns the spotlight.


The Starbucks story begins with a defining moment, not widely told. Bowker had grown up in Ballard, graduated from O'Dea, enrolled at the University of San Francisco, dropped out. He bummed around Europe, where he acquired a taste for English beer and, it turned out, Italian espresso.

The year was 1962 and Bowker was in Italy. In Rome one afternoon, he took a seat at a caffè around the corner from the Trevi Fountain; the tourists were studying guidebooks like Baedecker, Frommer and Michelin, the locals were reading La Stampa and La Corriere della Sera. Bowker began reading his copy of the Rome Daily American. He ordered a cappuccino from the waiter and began catching up on the news: a new Pope (who would soon convene Vatican II), nuclear tests in the South Pacific, civil rights demonstrations in the American South, discontent in Algeria, strife in Vietnam, revolution in Cuba. In Liverpool, England, a little-known band called the Beatles hired a new drummer, a genial fellow named Ringo.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).