Starbucks CEO saw no summer weakness

By Lisa Baertlein

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Starbucks Corp's <SBUX.O> business is "still very strong" despite months of economic turmoil that has weakened sales at other major restaurant chains, Chief Executive Howard Schultz told Reuters on Thursday.

"Starbucks is having its best year and our business remains strong," he said in a telephone interview.

The comments from the founder and CEO of the world's biggest coffee chain came a day after Darden Restaurants Inc <DRI.N> said diners at its restaurants, which include Olive Garden, Red Lobster and LongHorn Steakhouse, ordered fewer appetizers, drinks and desserts during its fiscal first quarter ended August 28.

Darden also said it expected its diners' more frugal behavior to continue for the balance of the company's fiscal year, but at a slightly more moderate level.

When asked if Starbucks has seen its customers respond in similar ways, Schultz said: "We have not."

Starbucks was hit hard by the U.S. housing crisis that dragged the economy into recession. It shuttered nearly 1,000 stores around the world and slashed costs in a painful, but successful restructuring.

Its shares, which fell below $8 in November 2008, closed at $38.17 on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Bernard Orr)