Starbucks in Portugal


On Friday, Luisa flew from Zambia to Portugal to see her family before coming back home. She hasn't been there since 2012 and the kids and I haven't been since 2011. Our travel budget was the first thing to go when I quit my job to write and our inability to get back to Portugal is one of the many things that weigh on me. So, I was thrilled that Luisa had the chance to go back even though it added to the time she was away from us. When she arrived, she texted me, "There is a Starbucks at the airport." I was surprised but I have to be honest--I was a tiny bit excited. I knew I shouldn't be because I'm not blind to the fact that corporate chains are taking over the world and forcing out smaller businesses. I did stop to wonder about the Portuguese coffee shops in the airport where you could get espresso, coffee or a galão (a mix of coffee and steamed milk). Are they gone? Will they survive? But Starbucks in my one big chain weakness and I couldn't help but imagine myself getting a grande nonfat latte right before boarding the plane to fly back to the U.S.

Then, this morning, she texted me again and said, "There is a Starbucks in Belém."

Belém is one of my favorites parts of Lisbon. There are several monuments to visit but, more than that, I love the Belém Cultural Center and the little shops and, of course, Pastéis de Belém. Several years ago, a McDonald's opened in Belém, right across from Pastéis de Belem and right on the park. I was horrified. Even our kids were horrified. It seemed out of place, a blight on a beautiful part of this old city.

But when Luisa texted me this morning, I simply asked, "Oh my. By McDonald's?" and she replied immediately, "No. Where Pão Pão Queijo Queijo was."


And then my heart broke.

Pão Pão Queijo Queijo (literally translated means "Bread Bread Cheese Cheese") was my favorite place to grab lunch in Belém. It was a two story sandwich shop and the sandwiches were served on fresh, crusty baguettes. I didn't eat a lot of seafood growing up in landlocked Kansas so, when in Portugal for extended periods of time, I sometimes need a break from all the fish and sea creatures and Pão Pão Queijo Queijo always gave me that. It was a place of comfort food for me, a place to grab a simple sandwich. And even though it wasn't like sandwiches from home (because the Portuguese have a strange love affair with shredded carrots), it somehow felt familiar. I ate there when I was pregnant with Zeca to calm my stomach. We took our kids there each time we visited because it was cheap and easy.

And now it's gone.

This is the reality of big business and I understand that I can't simultaneously extol the virtues of my Starbucks app and then be shocked and saddened when Starbucks takes over the space of my favorite sandwich shop a continent away. There is, of course, a connection there but we don't always want to see it.