During his youth Schultz was ashamed of his family "working poor" status. He escaped the hot Brooklyn summer one year to attend camp, but would not return when he discovered that it was funded with government money for low-income families. When he began dating, he feared that his girlfriends' fathers would ask where he lived. He turned to sports as an escape: competitive by nature, he marshaled that drive into succeeding on his high school's football , baseball, and basketball teams. He was awarded an athletic scholarship to Northern Michigan University, and earned a degree in business administration in 1975, which made him the first person in his family to graduate from college.
The inspiration for his phenomenal coffee business was a 1983 visit to Milan, Italy. Schultz perceived a new American way of life in the city's 1, 700 coffee bars, and he sought to recreate such forums for people to start their days or visit with friends. Schultz later described the coffee bar as "an extension of people's front porch" in the New York Times.