Barista Magazine

JUN-JUL 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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AS THE KEYNOTE SPEAKER at the Allegra World Coffee Portal CEO Forum in New York City in October 2017, Cliff Burrows opened with an example of impact at scale. Cliff, who is the group president of Siren Retail Global Coffee for Starbucks, recounted using Star- bucks' 26,000 stores in 75 countries as "using scale for good." From the audience, I was expecting the usual sustainability pledge of landfi ll diversion, or discussion on the latest recyclable to-go cups. But Cliff went in an unexpected direction. "Our Opportunity Youth Program asks for a commitment from store managers to cut some slack," he began. "For the fi rst 90 days, consider [Opportunity Youth partners] part of your family. Late? Ask why. No dress code? Buy it for them." Now I was listening more closely. My career prior to coffee was as a public high-school teacher in the alternative district of New York City, where teachers attempted to operate according to similar principles of nurturing students with support rather than punitive consequences. Could coffee businesses, as a major national category of employers, play a role in mentoring first- time employees for work in a way that neither public school nor other sectors did? Cliff continued, citing that Starbucks' partners include "40,000 Opportunity Youth, [as part of] a consortium to hire youth ages 16–24 to address the problem in the U.S. of that demographic not being involved in full-time education." This was not a standard hiring model, but I know this demographic well. These were the students I had taught, students whose fi rst jobs were almost exclusively in fast food, where the products they prepped and served also constituted most of their meals, and where they were treated as interchangeable shift-fi llers, making it nearly impossible to balance school's regular schedule with their job's inconsistent one. Starbucks can leverage its scale to launch a program impacting tens of thousands of students, but how can smaller coffee businesses do the same? How can we train the next generation of coffee professionals while also mentoring them in what it means to work as part of a team, be accountable to standards, and grow professionally? Since opening in 2013 in New York City, COFFEED has made a commitment to hiring young adults who might not pass the average job interview. COFFEED, which describes itself as a locally sourced, charity-minded café and specialty-coffee company, is dedicated to training young adults for work in cafés, both front-of-house coffee service and back-of-house kitchen—while integrating mentorship to employees. As the manager at COFFEED's Chelsea location in Manhattan, Attiyah Mei-Woods treats her staff the way she would want to be treated. "We take into consideration that you have a family life here at COFFEED," she says. "I recently switched my shift with the opening barista's to accommodate the number of hours she needed without making her run late to pick her son up from school." Attiyah has found that being fl exible in the things that matter to her staff makes her team more responsive to trainings that might be tedious, or learning new tasks that may be intimidating. "When I teach steaming milk, I guide my hand right over theirs," Attiyah explains. "Yes, it's uncomfortable, but I tell everyone to take that discomfort and know that you're not going to burn yourself because there's another hand on this pitcher." Attiyah also takes on all the same tasks she asks her staff to do, from making coffee to wash- ing dishes to prepping sandwich ingredients. "Not only does it uplift the team when you're willing to step out of areas that are traditionally assigned to [the manager], it shows that you can lead but you're also fl exible enough to get your hands dirty, and that's where the respect comes from." COFFEED's founder, Frank Turtle Raffaele, notes that while COFFEED serves great coffee and delicious food, "the business is about people. Our staff and managers are our lifeblood." COFFEED is willing to train employees in work-readiness skills when they fi nd younger applicants "who love the product, are optimistic, positive, and have a love for hospitality." Frank says he's proud of the company's diverse staff and hiring practices, "which extend to populations that were formally underemployed—for example, adults with developmen- tal disabilities and young adults aging out of foster care. Our employ- ees make us the company that we are." There are myriad interpretations of and methods for mentoring in an effort to teach excellence while providing jobs to the local community. For the past four years, Birch Coffee in Queens, N.Y., has partnered with the culinary program at nearby Long Island City High School. So far, 20 students have completed a full year of the weekly after-school program that "complements their culinary classroom learning by correlating to the process of sourcing, roasting, and brewing coffee," says Paul Schlader, Birch's co-owner. Several of the students who completed the program have gone on to work for Birch, either directly or through internships, though it's important to not rely solely on the diploma as an indicator of readi- ness. "What we quickly realized was that just because someone went through coffee training didn't mean they were ready to be working behind the counter of a coffee shop. We will absolutely bring them on, but they have to go through the same training as any other employee," says co-owner Jeremy Lyman. The distinction between education and training is an important one. Birch's after-school program offers students additional language, skills, and perspectives for their culinary education program, which is part of a high-school diploma-granting curriculum—but the work doesn't end there. "Anyone working in a café has to be not just good at understanding coffee, but also have a good understanding of customer T H E A C T O F M E N T O R S H I P W I L L C O M E N ATU R A L LY T O M A N Y O F T H O S E W O R K I N G I N C O F F E E B E C A U S E O U R C O M M U N I T Y E M B R A C E S E D U C AT I O N T O S U C H A N E X T E N S I V E D E G R E E . 72 barista magazine

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