The barista, the customer, and Starbucks: far beyond a simple cup of coffee

December 17, 2014

In 1971, a simple coffeehouse opened its doors in the touristy Pike Place district of Seattle. In 1987, Howard Schultz purchased the growing, but not yet successful corporation, hoping to bring the essence of Italian coffee shops to the North American continent. In 2000, an idea sparked by two teachers and a writer, all of whom were in debt at the time, became the largest coffee company in the world. In 2014, Starbucks Coffee stands as more than just a coffee shop. With over 21,000 stores in 65 countries worldwide, Starbucks offers a unique experience for each customer, some unexpected, but all worth uncovering.

Inspired by his exploration of traditional European coffeehouses, Schultz intended for his acquired coffee houses to promote friendliness and relationships. He wanted to give people a place to come together, share their stories, and make connections. The CEO illustrates his logic by stating, “Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee.” Schultz would find satisfaction in the untold stories of an admirable employee, doing everything possible to make ends meet, and a seemingly ordinary customer, doing much more than satisfying his daily caffeine craving.

The Barista

Walking into a Starbucks typically entails observing an array of employees, some cheerful, others apathetic. Most see their job as just that: a job. But walking into the Starbucks on Barrett Parkway in Kennesaw will likely result in a jubilant greeting from Morgan Harding, a barista who intends to brighten everyone’s day.

Regular customers look forward to Harding’s friendly attitude when they order their coffee. But most fail to notice the dark circles under her eyes, resulting from countless hours spent finalizing assignments and working as an intern at Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.

Nobody expects their parents to call them up one day and say they can’t afford nursing school anymore.”

— Morgan Harding, barista

Harding attends Kennesaw State University as a nursing student. She works two jobs, lives in a shabby apartment complex, and eats scrambled eggs for dinner… every night. The 21-year-old averages three hours of sleep, but encounters many nights when she receives no sleep at all. Harding finds the most difficulty staying focused and resisting the urge to go out with friends, but somehow finds a way. She envies the students living in luxe dorms on campus and driving fancy cars, likely received as graduation gifts from their wealthy parents. Nonetheless, Harding remains optimistic, looking forward to the satisfaction of finishing school and knowing she painstakingly earned it herself.

“Life is rough as a college student. All of the long essays due at midnight and the exhausting classes can really get to people. But nobody expects their parents to call them up one day and say they can’t afford nursing school anymore. I knew that I wanted to be in the medical field, because it’s always been my passion. I had gotten so far already, so I had no choice but to find a way to make everything work,” Harding said.

So she applied at Starbucks, among about fifteen other restaurants and retail stores. In addition to harboring several student loans, Harding now works at Red Lobster and the famous coffee chain, attempting to pay off her classes. But Starbucks never fails to provide comfort and joy in hard times.

“It’s something about the atmosphere of that Starbucks. Maybe it’s the strong coffee aroma that keeps me going, but probably not. It’s my co-workers and the incredible people I get to meet every day that make life a little less stressful. Most of them don’t even realize how much a simple smile can get me through the day… that’s what’s so beautiful about my job,” Harding said.

Harding plans to complete her studies and internships this spring, graduating with honors and a Bachelor’s degree in nursing. She wants to pursue a career working with patients in the emergency room or intensive care unit of a hospital. Helping others remains her ultimate goal and basis for the irreplaceable motivation she exhibits, despite the adversity she faces everyday.

“I guess you could call me a people-person… I get that a lot. But, I don’t see it that way. Customers walk into Starbucks and expect average coffee and average service. Why not give them more? Why not make a little extra effort to improve their day, as so many of them have done for me? It’s kind of like giving back I guess. It makes me feel good,” Harding said.

The Customer

Starbucks stands as home to a variety of coffee enthusiasts, but few live up to the kindness of Arthur Malloye. Few also realize the impact he has on their day or the amount of time he spends just sitting and observing. The older gentleman takes credit for at least one person’s smile everyday, but usually more. How does he do it? Arthur Malloye simply buys them a coffee.

“It all started when I was a young adult living in Virginia. I was such a busy man, always running here and there to accomplish my impossible daily tasks. My job was becoming more demanding by the day… I was at my breaking point,” Malloye said.

I have made it a challenge to myself to pay it forward every day in some way….coffee drinkers are the most in need of a little pick-me-up.”

— Arthur Malloye, customer

That was the morning he walked into a busy Starbucks, hoping to snatch a triple espresso latte before rushing off to work. Before he could reach into his pocket to grab his wallet though, the cashier informed the young businessman that his drink had been payed for. His curiosity stood meagerly satisfied by a small hand-written note given to him alongside his latte… It read: “Have a great day, make someone smile.”

“It seems so easy, maybe even meaningless to some. But in that moment, everything came into perspective. Pay it forward has become awfully popular now-a-days, which is amazing, but I didn’t know anything about it 40 years ago… and it changed my life,” Malloye said.

The retired engineer, inspired by that simple act of kindness, now spends every morning at Starbucks. Malloye sits and watches customer’s reactions as they find out their order has been paid for as he reads the morning paper and sips on a cup of coffee himself. Sometimes he pays for multiple orders, but he always makes sure to pay for one. Malloye also enjoys driving to different Starbucks’, hoping to impact a broad variety of people.

“I have made it a challenge to myself to pay it forward everyday in some way, but I prefer to buy people a nice strong Starbucks coffee. Because after all, coffee drinkers are the most in need of a little pick-me-up,” Malloye said.

To this day, the 72-year-old man claims that few have realized that he is the man behind the kindness. He argues that giving away your identity spoils the generous act. Regardless, Malloye loves the idea that his behavior will likely improve someone’s day, but he hopes it may also change someone’s life, just as it did for him.

But the story refuses to end there. Since its opening, Starbucks serves as a gathering place for people and their ideas, many of which stand untold. Upon entering one of the many small coffee shops coined Starbucks worldwide, one might observe a young woman frantically pouring coffee or a man sipping a triple espresso latte. But when we look a little deeper, we may discover something more. We may see Howard Schultz’s vision becoming a reality.

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