Where did you grow up?
“I was born and raised in central Pennsylvania, and…it’s awesome. Just kidding.
My hometown is like, really, really rural, so it’s a lot of people with like, camo and kids on their trucks and Confederate flags. There are more people in that town than there are teeth and that’s not a joke.
The kids in that town want to grow up to work on the gas line or want to do welding. It’s very trade-oriented so I don’t come from the most educated group I guess. Then, you come to State College where the university is and there’s so much more diversity and so many people who are very well-educated or working on their degree and trying to make something of themselves. They want to be engineers and doctors and stuff like that.
I didn’t really realize how much of a difference it makes being around people who are more like-minded. The people that I used to hang out with went hunting. The first day of buck season was a bigger holiday than Christmas. To see these people who want to, sort of, make an impact on the world really is one of the reasons that I started working at Starbucks. You meet so many different types of people here. It’s kind of awesome.”
When did you realize that you didn’t want to stay in your hometown forever?
“I moved from this area [State College] down to my hometown when I was in fifth grade and I knew immediately that it was different.
The kids that I grew up with were raised with manners in elementary school. We all kind of looked out for each other and we were kind of like family. Down towards Lock Haven, it’s kind of like every kid for himself. I was like, ‘I gotta get out of here. I’m going to go to school. I’m going to try and make something of myself.’
The people that I graduate with, the girls either go into teaching or nursing and the men work on the gas lines. It’s very stuck in 1963. Everyone’s racist; they don’t like people who don’t look like them or act like them. They’re very xenophobic and to me, it makes me mad because we’re all people. I don’t understand why you have to attack someone for going to the grocery store because they’re from a different country than you are.
We have a little bit of diversity down there [Lock Haven] but it’s nothing like what you see at Penn State’s campus. When I went to school and started working up in State College, it really opened my eyes. The people that I worked with here at Starbucks are also really diverse.
One girl was from Bangladesh. She was super smart, super funny and I learned a lot about her family’s culture. That’s something I never would have learned had I never would have worked at Starbucks.
What was the transition like when you first started at Starbucks compared to other customer service jobs?
“I worked retail and Sheetz is kind of close but it’s [working at Starbucks] a lot to remember. The customer interaction is basically the same any job where you work in customer service. You want to make sure the customer leaves happy but all of the different kinds of coffees are hard to remember. You’re like, ‘Oh no. Which one’s medium roast and which one’s a dark roast?’ It’s super overwhelming when you first start, especially if you don’t work a lot.
If they [the customers] had a lot of questions, I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ And I would always have to ask someone. I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to ask for help. I want to figure it out on my own.
Here, I think that was one of the biggest opportunities that I had, was that I had to ask for help. I didn’t have the time to train with my availability. Learning how to ask for help has not only helped me at Starbucks but it’s also transitioned into my every day life. It’s OK to ask for help. Now I know that. It helped me mature into being a grown-up.”
How do you feel that you’ve changed compared from when you first started at Starbucks?
“When I first started here, I was 19 years old. I was fresh out of high school, I was still working on my degree and thought, ‘Oh, I’m so busy. I’m so great. I’m going to do great things with my life.’
I mean, Starbucks has been a very humbling experience because there are a lot of people with degrees who are extremely capable that still work at Starbucks because it just pays better than any other job that you can get right out of college in your field.
While it’s supposed to be a stepping stone, a lot of companies don’t offer the same benefits that we do. I think that’s something that other companies should realize. It’s not always about the pay rate, it’s a lot about the benefits. A lot of people don’t have health insurance who work good jobs.
I have an amazing benefits package at Starbucks. I have built so many lasting relationships, not only with my customers, but also with my co-workers. I have learned a lot about my work ethic and I’ve learned a lot about myself as a person.
I think self-awareness is very important. You see the way that you interact with customers and how you try to make it better for them. If you can be that highlight of their day by giving them a nice smile and a ‘thank you’ and a compliment, that can make their whole day. I think that’s something that’s important and I’ve had customers tell me that I made their day and they were having a really hard day. That’s an amazing feeling to be able to impact people, not only at Starbucks but also in every day life.
Even at the grocery store, telling someone, ‘I really like your jacket.’ That could change their whole day. That could be someone’s saving grace. Most people have the blinders on. They’re very focused. They’re not noticing all of the other people around them and I think that’s a huge problem in the world that we live in today is the disconnect.
We’re so wrapped up in our own little bubble that we don’t take time to even smile at each other. That’s a problem. We’re a social species. We need to be social. Starbucks has taught me how to do that better. The interaction that I do with strangers for eight hours every single day has definitely translated over into every day life. I’m thankful for Starbucks for that.”
How would you describe how you get to connect with people at Starbucks?
“I’ve worked with people from Washington who have transferred up here to work at Penn State. They’ve opened up my eyes to a different way of seeing society because out West, the culture is very different. It’s a lot more open, it’s a lot more relaxed and it’s a lot more accepting of other people.
You get to see these people every day [customers], you talk to them. You really build a relationship that’s more than just clerk/customer.
There were these two psychology students who were twins and they were Egyptian and they opened my mind to the Egyptian culture. There was another guy from Barbados and I would have never gotten to talk to him or learn about him if I hadn’t worked at Starbucks.
You build these relationships over time. It’s funny because you see these people every day and make their coffee. You talk to them and you learn a lot about them. But if you’re not in your uniform and you see them at a grocery store, they have no idea who you are. I think that’s hilarious because it is the green apron that binds us and makes us a family.”
You had mentioned how much waste is accumulated from your observations from working at Starbucks and Old Navy. Could you elaborate on that?
“At Starbucks, we throw out at least three huge garbage bags full of food from that day, which I think is outrageous. You could feed at least two homeless shelters with the amount of food that we throw out every single day.
If you look at that on a larger scale, that’s just my store. If you take into account the thousands of stores worldwide, how much waste they’re throwing out and the same goes for Old Navy.
We open up plastic bags just to put them in a giant plastic trash bag. We open up thousands of them, twice a week, every single week. We throw out about probably anywhere from 30-50 huge bags filled with just plastic bags. And again, that’s just at my store. They go to the dumpster and they go to the landfill.
That’s something that I feel CEOs and corporations really need to pay more attention to: the effect that we are leaving behind for our planet. I know it sounds corny and I know it sounds like I’m a tree hugger but you’ve got to think about that on a global scale. That’s just my store and we only get shipments twice a week. There are stores getting shipments every single day.
If you look at that to scale, that is millions upon millions of plastic bags that are just going into a hole in the ground or going out into the ocean. I read an article the other day that said trash in the ocean is going to outnumber fish in the next five years, like three-to-one pieces of trash to fish. That’s only in the past 50 years. That’s not very long for as long as we’ve been here.
We cannot sustain anything that we’re doing right now. We are cutting down too many trees that don’t have time to regrow. We are not using biodegradable products. There was a picture that went viral of a Yoplait plastic container from 40 years ago that was found washed up on a beach. That’s why plastic is a problem and we need to consider other ways.
I mean, we recycle, but some of the stuff can’t be recycled. Our customers don’t always recycle our plastic cups. Our plastic cups go right in the garbage. We’re a busy store but we’re not the busiest store.
You have to figure, if we are serving just to make it easy, 1,000 people and they each order on average one drink, that’s 1,000 cups a day. So, that’s 7,000 cups a week, four weeks in a month, that’s what? 28,000 cups a month. At one store. That’s ridiculous. That’s not sustainable and that’s something that I feel CEOs need to be more aware of and they need to care more about because making more recyclable products cut down on cost.
Our plastic cups are made from some recyclable materials but we’re not recycling that back. We need to keep the cycle going and try to find a happy balance. I know it’s a lot easier to say than it is to do but it’s something that people definitely need to be aware of for sure.”