Posted on by Barista Life Guest Writer

This post was written by Steph Munden, a Starbucks Partner from Colorado Springs, Colorado. She currently writes a personal blog at stephpitt.wordpress.com and is also working on a fiction book, as well as a book on mentorship and another shorter writing about women's roles in society. Steph writes small group curriculum for her church and in the past, has written several talks for different youth events, and in three weeks.  She is speaking at a Camp in Como, Colorado for students at a weekend retreat and loves writing! Check her out on Instagram!
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The Transformation of a Barista Team

Transformation of a Barista Team

Being a barista is more than just a job to me. For myself and many of my diverse co-workers, our barista team is not just our team, but a family. We spend holidays together, have dinner together after a hard day at work, and genuinely like each other. Becoming a barista often means joining a family. A really stinking awesome family that loves to make lattes and finds time to talk about how they’re actually doing while whisking mocha that smells like fudge or wiping down trash cans: an obvious favorite of baristas everywhere. (In case my sarcasm isn’t translating, it’s the not the worst cleaning task, but it is definitely not the best.)

Recently, however, we’ve had to have quite a few “family meetings”. One was about dating syrups, dried fruit, and chai correctly, which I am proud to say that we are doing a FANTASTIC job these days! (My team calls me the day-dot queen... or nazi... depending on how kind they are feeling that day.) Another meeting was about launching Starbucks Evenings; an incredible program to give people in our community a “third place” to meet up with their friends after work and have a delicious glass of red or white wine while enjoying a small plate. We baristas often enjoy small plates (of Truffle Mac and Cheese) for our food markouts for the day. If you don’t have Evenings, I am so sorry that you are missing out. Find the nearest Starbucks Evenings store and try it RIGHT NOW! However, the most recent meeting was quite different from a typical team conversation at our little coffee shop in the mountains.

Our manager approached a few other partners and me to bring up a “serious issue”. Family meeting time, for sure. He started with a hesitant, “I’m not sure how we’re going to do this...” and, “I’m think it will work but...” and lots of other disclaimers, so we figured that we had done something pretty bad, but didn’t have a clue what it could possibly be.

He danced around the issue for a few more seconds, and then stopped and looked up at us and said, “Guys. I think I’d like to hire Kirston.”

Kirston had been a loyal customer of ours for a long time, and had applied to Starbucks recently. Our manager wasn’t hesitant because Kirston was mean when she came into our store, or even worried that she wasn’t well equipped for the job. In fact, in the interactions that we had all had with her over the last several months, she was one of the most patient and kind customers we had, and was very intelligent as well! Kirston was detail-oriented and had a great attitude about life in general. Our manager was excited to hire Kirston and had even interviewed her and she did exceptionally well.

But when he said that he wanted to hire Kirston, we all knew what that meant.

We knew we would have to decide as a team; as a family.

Because Kirston is deaf.

When a team gets a new barista, teaching them how to react kindly in all situations and training them to defend the brand of your company is the just the tip of the iceberg. You also need to make sure they know the shelf life of your products and how to run a register. They must be trustworthy and responsible, and show up to work READY to work. The team MUST decide to join together to help integrate this new barista into the coffee shop life, and teach them the way. But we’re not just a barista team. We’re a family.

So we had a family meeting. Not because we had any say about whether Kirston would get hired, but because our manager had to know that we would support Kirston even when our language barrier was miles wider than with a “hearing” hire. Our boss needed to know that, as a family, we would take her in and help her learn in the best way possible. Even though two of our partners (a fellow shift supervisor and I) studied sign language in college and Kirston could read lips most of the time, we didn’t know how everyone would communicate because the rest of our team consists of “hearing” people. This was taking a huge risk, but we decided as a team - as a family - to do whatever we could to help her achieve her goals at Starbucks.

I have never seen a barista family love so well.

Kirston started working as a partner at our store about 2 months ago, and between training on bar and learning customer support, she would study drink recipes and ask questions that helped her grow exponentially. Our team impressively rose to the challenge as well. Most of our partners could tell you that they have been learning sign language so that it is easier for them to communicate, and everyone is thrilled when Kirston works because she brings a light to our team that is unbelievable. She shows up  to work, and no matter how the day has gone, it’s almost as if we get a fresh start.

We practice ASL (American Sign Language) on our breaks and we have learned all the bad words so that we don’t accidentally say them. (One morning, a fellow partner was trying to sign “Good Morning” but ended up signing a few curse words. It really caught our new, gentle, and precious partner who is deaf off guard. Ha!)

Kirston has become an incredible part of our team - asking questions when she needs help, and working her butt off whenever she’s got it figured out. When I asked Kirston if I could write about her joining our team, she said, “Yes! Tell as many people as you can. That way, anyone who is deaf or who knows sign language can come to our store. I want people to know that Starbucks is deaf-friendly.” (Great. Now I’m tearing up a little.)

Kirston has changed the way that we will forever view our jobs at our little coffee shop in the mountains. I cannot hear someone order a Bacon Gouda sandwich without involuntarily signing “BACON-G” (as we call it). I have learned to face people when I’m talking to them instead of assuming they hear me. We have been transformed from a team of baristas living separate lives and just going about our day each time we show up to work, to a family who loves and cherishes the time that we get to spend together.

And all because we chose to take a risk, and it turned out to be exactly what our “family” needed.