Did you hear the news? Publix just opened its first in-store Starbucks in North Carolina — in Charlotte — Jan. 20. As if enough wasn’t already happening on inauguration day.

This bright new coffee cafe is tucked into the Ballantyne Publix at 11222 Providence Road West, with another replacing the in-house cafe at the South End Publix in February.

This “higher-scale addition” is meant to “be a great enhancement to the shopping experience.” Oh the hype! I had to go.

I had a grocery list in hand on Sunday, so, as any typical Dilworth-ian/SouthEnd-er would do, I tucked myself into my car, drove right past my neighborhood Publix and eased onto I-77 for the 21-minute drive to Ballantyne. I mean, Starbucks IS on track to top McDonald’s as the world’s most valuable restaurant chain.

I got out of my car in the Ballantyne parking lot and there it was: The Starbucks mermaid peeking out at me from the fancy stone-and-vine-entwined exterior of Publix. A sign outside the door hospitably beckoned me as I drew closer: “We’re open. And looking forward to meeting you.”

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I walked through the automatic doors and turned to the right and there it was. North Carolina’s first Starbucks cafe in a Publix. There was no seating and multiple shelves blocked my path to the counter.

But holy wow! Those shelves were elegantly arranged with shiny bags of whole-bean Arabica coffee underneath thoughtful, hand-painted signs. The labels on the coffee bean bags were emblazoned with heroic tales of the treasured Antigua Valley of Guatemala and its 100-year-old farms and its nutrient-rich volcanic soil.

More shelves held coffee mugs from Starbucks’ “You Are Here” collection, with merchandise featuring “exclusive” Charlotte and North Carolina inspired designs to highlight “some of the best places you’ve been — in person or in spirit.”

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Still another set of shelves was lavished with gift options, from Starbucks K-cups, to pour overs and French presses, to mugs with the sweetest, most lovely little hearts. And then there were the bags of extravagant snackies — “naturally crunchy” Moon Cheese, Butter Gourmet Popcorn, blackberry hibiscus Gummy Pandas and beyond!

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A moment of honesty.

I hate Starbucks. I hate its burnt-bean taste in my my mouth. I hate its lack of individualistic ambiance. I hate its mainstream zombie-fication of the coffee experience, with people crawling in day after day for their grande-iced-sugar-free-vanilla lattes with soy milk. I hate the way it distracts from local coffee craftsmanship from the likes of HEX Coffee, Hyde Brewing and Not Just Coffee.

I hate the way local Target stores became infested with it, too. I really like Target.

My turn in line had come. So I ignored the newly advertised cascara latte and ordered a tall blonde roast, no room for cream. I thought I had that terminology down pat and it’s the only Starbucks menu item I can stomach.

I tended to my shopping list. And even though the Starbucks cup didn’t properly fit in the shopping-cart cup holder and sloshed all over the place, it was a fine Publix experience. It was nice to hold something hot in my hand while I mulled over the onions, while I lamented the discovery that the organic basil was out of stock and while I concluded which paper towels would best suit my kitchen.

But maybe I should have tried the Moon Cheese.

Photos: Katie Toussaint

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