Breaking down walls at Starbucks…REALLY???

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By Kenneth Justice

~ There he was, covered into tattoo’s and piercings, looking so completely different from the business man in the three piece suit at his table; yet they were equals ~

Last week shortly after my return from Costa Rica I got caught in the midst of a blizzard while driving home from work so I stopped into a Starbucks in the afternoon to take a break from the intense driving conditions. The city I was in, Oak Park is a suburb of Detroit and according to the city website, “The diversity in Oak Park’s population makes it a very interesting place to live and visit. The strong Jewish, African-American, Chaldean, and Arab populations provide an eclectic mix of race, culture, and religion in a relatively small land area” and despite the economic woes that the city of Detroit has suffered in recent years; the city of Southfield has been thriving in the midst of it all.

Sitting next to me was a young 20ish looking guy covered in tattoos and looking the part of the typical young person who wants to disconnect from suburban corporate America..…but looks can be deceiving.

For thirty minutes or so as we sat there a steady stream of customers stopped by his table to chat. At least twenty to thirty various men and women all said hello and asked this young man how his weekend had gone;

—-) A Suburban mom with her two little ankle biters in-tow stopped to talk to the young man

—-) A business man in a sharp looking Gucci suit and shiny black shoes stopped to talk to the young man

—-) A Rabbi stopped by his table to chat for a few minutes

Apparently I was sitting next to Mr. Popular at the coffee shop and I eventually turned to him and said as much, “Dude, either you are a barista here or you’re simply some kind of celebrity at this Starbucks” I said

The young man laughed, “right on the first count” he said, “I usually get to work an hour or so before my shift starts because I like to interact with the customers

After I explained to him that I’m in the middle of a yearlong trip across the United States and other parts of the world in my quest to visit 100 coffee shops, I asked him what the best thing about working at Starbucks is and his answer came before I could finish the question,

The people” he said, “I don’t even have to think about the question; I love opportunity to interact with customers….with people from all walks of life. A lot of the people I consider to be my close friends are people that I’ve met working here at Starbucks and I’ve made so many different contacts with people who’ve helped me in so many ways; a guy from here fixed my car, another dude helped me find an apartment, and those are just a couple examples

Clearly, what impressed me the most was that even though on the surface of his appearance you would think he would have nothing in common with the high-flying business crowd, suburban soccer moms, or the priests and rabbis who come in; yet this young man was able to connect with people from so many different walks of life. Starbucks for this guy is the great equalizer; it helps put him on the same footing, or ‘level’ as the poor, the middle class, and the rich.

It’s easy to find things to complain about in Western Culture, especially when it comes to income inequality and the way so many of the wealthy people in the country appear to be entirely disconnected from the people of the lower class. But at least at this particular coffee shop that I stopped in; it was refreshing to see a community of people that were much less concerned with how you look, or what you do for a living; and cared more about the simple things in life such as sharing a few friendly words with the familiar faces at the coffee shop.

I think what impressed me the most was how many of the business men (who clearly came from high-paying jobs) not only interacted with the young barista; but I noticed that a few of them invited him to hang out later in the week….clearly these people were not merely ‘customers’ but also considered each other friends.

Even more notable was that why the young man said he came to work an hour early, “I love interacting with the customers and since it can get pretty busy during my shift I can’t really have any in-depth interaction while I’m behind the coffee bar” and so he comes an hour early; even though he’s not getting paid…..merely to connect with these people from his community.

Maybe I’m overemphasizing the significance of what I observed last week; yet when so many people over the course of the year tell me how much they hate their job, how they feel they are underpaid, underappreciated, and overwhelmed……it is really refreshing to meet a ‘simple’ coffee barista who loves his job.

There are too many places in society where we segregate ourselves as people based on class, income, or race…..and as a Christian I often get discouraged by the simple reality; Sunday morning is often the most segregated hour of the United States.

So I’m thankful for that brief window in time where I was able to observe people in a community who are actively working towards breaking down the walls that separate us.

For now, I think it’s time for my morning coffee,

Kenneth

If you haven’t heard I’m currently on a national and worldwide tour of 100 coffee houses, meeting with readers, bloggers, and everyone else in-between….. go to the Homepage on my website for more info. In March I’ll be in Atlanta, Chicago, and Pittsburgh



Categories: Culture & Society

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61 replies

  1. Hey KJ – dinna get discouraged!

    Getting discouraged is when a two volume book arrives and the delivery guy can’t get it through the letterbox (David Martin Lloyd Jones)! That is either discouraged or “WOW” it must be even fuller of good stuff than I expected!! 🙂

  2. Come to the Philippines. Starbucks is seen as a status symbol because the fact remains that one US dollar equals P45.00 or so. Therefore, a frapuccino costs $4 or P180, which the greater majority would rather spend on one decent family dinner. People want to go, not because of coffee or people, but because it makes them feel good about themselves, that they’re able to afford something that others cannot. Others go because they want to be seen. It’s unfortunate but it’s true for 50 percent of the Filipino Starbucks crowd, and they will deny this, but you have to immerse in our culture to see how true my words are.

    • Holy cow! Now that is definitely a different environment than here in the United States……i’m keeping my fingers crossed but if my drinking in the culture tour goes well this year I’m hoping to put together an Asian tour in either 2015 or 2016 🙂

    • I’d look forward to that. 🙂

  3. Just as you had observed…people want to connect. This guy obviously cares about people and is genuinely interested in their lives. They respond in return. It truly is that simple…remove the hate propaganda, treat others nicely and the world becomes a better place.

    Great post!

  4. While you are traveling, look for two people talking and reading books. Starbucks and other coffee houses have become a convenient meeting place for all kinds of study pairs.In our neighborhood this leads to acceptance, through getting to know people. Where once many would shun these people, today they know them as friends.

  5. Hello KJ nice challenge! Being a coffee junky myself and loving to observe people’s interactions, I think the idea is wonderful! This post is refreshing indeed. May I reblog? God bless you!

  6. Your coffee shop stories are always refreshing, it is heart warming that people want to connect, we spend too much time in our little bubbles. Thank you and I will admit that I envy you a little, but then again I should not, nothing is stopping me from reaching out and living my own adventures. Now that is a thought. Tks

    • Pepaul,

      Exactly, no reason to envy me just take an extra moment sometime in the next month and you’ll find you can meet the most interesting people 🙂 thank you for the kind words

  7. Mutual love and respect makes the chain of life that builds up success and happy connection.
    Barista looks like a happy dude, good humor that interaction makes his day and his living.
    Disliking your job it’s like a slavery.
    I must admit that the best part going to work it’s coming back home at the end of the day.. Sometimes .. Connecting with people feeds my knowledge and keeps me going.
    Keep exploring and discovering the nucleus of human life 😊

  8. Gainesville is 5 hours from Atlanta, you must come here, to Coffee Culture on 13th Street!!!!!

  9. Loved this story! So yesterday…picture this:
    “Umm, Ms. Audrey? Do you have a minute?”
    “Sure, Ms. Parent and CCE teacher/important church parishioner. ”
    “Why does my child have to walk by all the homeless people in the hallway waiting for the food pantry?”
    “Well, as you know it is the only hallway that leads to this part of the school.”
    “Yes, but you don’t know if it is safe.”
    “I recognize the same faces every week, Ma’am. They enjoy saying hello to the children. Your child is safe.”
    “Can’t they change the hours?”
    “I’d hate to put a time on your hunger…”

    I can’t go into all of it but you get the idea…pots of coffee needed. ..pots.

  10. I don’t have much to say, except that I love everything about your post. Thank you for sharing. 🙂

  11. Reblogged this on Gr8ful Bugger and commented:
    This story makes me smile! I love what Kenneth Justice is doing as part of his Journey. I love hearing about this employee from Starbucks. If I could be an even small % of what he is, I’d be very proud. I hope to think I am 🙂

  12. This is great. I’ve really been enjoying reading about your coffee shop adventures. Keep it up, and good luck with the rest of your trip!

  13. One of my favorite preachers, Alistair Begg, echoed your sentiment recently:
    “There is nothing as horrible as a Christian snob. And there is a lot of snobbery in evangelicalism. And of that I, we – need to repent…intellectual snobbery, social snobbery, theological snobbery, racial snobbery, financial snobbery; evangelical Christianity in America is horribly bourgeois.”

    Great post today. Not to get terribly philosophical, but this is the beauty of tribalism and the free market. We can’t fix everybody’s car, but we can fix the guy’s car that makes my coffee every morning. Market cooperation is a beautiful thing.

  14. Thanks for liking my recent post on neuro-genesis! I love that it brought me here – I know I should be commenting on your “about” page, but I couldn’t figure it out – I will definitely be stopping by here – this blog – It inspires me to find other irreverent people of faith – hope you get what I mean by that. May grace continue to surprise you at every stop! (looks like you’re on a roll!) amy

  15. As a French native I like coffee places. I must say that the people who work at Starbucks top any others working at other places. They have always been so good at understanding me, even though I have a French accent, and more importantly curious about my life in the States and from before in France. So I’m not too surprised by your experience since it matches mine throughout the entire United States. I love your coffee houses experience too, BTW.

    • Evelyn,

      I think the corporate side of Starbucks puts a lot of people off, but ultimately there are a lot of good things about the company and customer service is one of them 🙂

    • I would prefer a word with small coffee shops, in the same way I prefer small bookshops and restaurants. Totally agree. That said the customer service in “A Few” big corporate places is pretty well done.

  16. Well who knows, you probably had to go out of your comfort zone or from where you do most of your observations to appreciate what is right before your eyes all along:) we folks get like that sometimes.

  17. It’s quite amazing how a specific “thing” can bring so many together, regardless of their respective backgrounds. For example, music, it allows a connection regardless of your sexual orientation, religious belief, gender, etc. This guy was able to hold connections to people, many others on the outside looking in, would never be able to understand without asking questions. Nice post.

  18. I’ve always thought working at a Starbucks or a similar place would be awesome for this reason. I’m not sure I’d know all the lingo well enough, though.

    This reads like a happy news story. Yay for people who could care less about tattoos or money when it comes to making friends.

    • TK, ME TOO!!! Ha ha I always tell people that if all else fails maybe I would work at Starbucks 😉

      And I’m glad someone noticed that this sounded like a happy news story cuz that is EXACTLY what I was shooting for. I suffer in web traffic and comments when I write happy stories but I feel like I’ve got to write them occasionally or else my writing will become so overwhelmed with the negative I might hit myself in the head with a waffle ball bat

  19. It really does make you stop and think doesn’t it. When I phone a client after their session to follow up I am not doing it because that is my job, I am doing it because I am genuinely interested in how they are doing and I actually want to talk to them again. All of my close friends these days started out as clients. That was my dream when I left the corporate world – to never ‘work’ again.

    Great story and I love how observant you are, inspiring others to stop, think and appreciate 🙂 We are such beautiful creatures aren’t we?!

    • Live, that is a trend I’m noticing in our culture; some of people’s best friends started out as clients, customers, etch….

      Thank you for the kind words 🙂

  20. Go somewhere warm! Also, how does one afford to travel across the U.S. to write at 100 different coffee shops? Very cool btw.

    • Shannie,

      Well I just got back from Costa Rica ;). And how does one do it? Hmmm…..i dunno 😉 But it definitely takes some skillful ticket buying for sure. Over the weekend I bought a round trip airline ticket to Denver for $117 and two weeks ago I booked a bus ticket to Pittsburgh for $3 round trip! Right now I’m trying to get a ticket to San Francisco for under $200….my friend doesn’t think I can do it but I did find one for $250 so I’m getting closer!

  21. Brilliant. I’d like to meet that guy.
    =)

  22. Love coffee and your coffee tour sounds awesome, I’ll be following your tour! Thanks for the detour and stopping by my blog.

  23. I think a job where there is contact is more fun as well. to much does happen through apps, phones etc. It might be why we seek those places where we can have a human contact no matter how brief. and still we cannot get together with a friend without asking our agenda

  24. Great post! You reminded me of a great quote I learnt this week “Where you stand determines what you see”. There are so many barriers that can be broken down through everyday interactions, and a person’s perspective can often be so skewed just because they don’t allow themselves to get close enough to another human being, who might not look the same as them. Coffee truly is the social drink for the masses!

  25. I love the term “Looks can be deceptive” & yet it’s the first judgement we make, usually long before we take time to get to know the person … which is a big mistake!
    Great post.

  26. I truly believe in this type of fellowship…much more Christ-like than picketing or sectarian behavior or other forms of judgementalism. Good for you, K.

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