Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Extradordinary Service in an Ordinary Cafe

A Coffee Maven Plaudit

As readers of this blog know, the entire enterprise is a celebration of local, independent coffee shops (and to some extent diners of the same ilk). Most of the reviews are by students in my Secret Life of Coffee seminar, who are prohibited from reviewing chain shops for their class assignments.

This is because -- to a significant degree -- each chain is an archipelago of uniformity. In order to buy coffee in large volumes, the bigger chains develop very rigorous taste profiles that can be met by varying the relative proportions of different coffees each crop year. In order to reinforce their brand identity, the chains enforce -- again, to varying degrees -- uniform standards for decor and uniform protocols for customer interaction.

I find that most students have had little experience in non-chain cafes, and tend to gain a lot from the experience of visiting one for the purpose of a classroom presentation and online review. I do not wish to imply, however, that the chain stores are necessarily devoid of humanity or placedness. After all, they are staffed by humans (the best efforts of upper management notwithstanding and operate in specific places.

A reminder that even global companies have local stories comes from Leesburg, Virginia -- a town where I spent a lot of my childhood exploring my great-aunt's farm -- decades before I ever heard of Starbucks. But it was a Leesburg Starbucks that barista Krystal Payne provided extraordinary customer service in a unique way.
Even chain stores have regular customers, and Payne had noticed that Ibby Paracha communicated his orders entirely through hand-written notes. Parcha was taken aback -- in a good way -- when Payne addressed him in American Sign Language, which she had learned specifically to make him feel more welcome in the shop. All the more surprising, Payne was a new employee who embarked on this learning after serving coffee to Paracha just one time.

The article has a Leesburg dateline, but is vague about the exact location of the shop; at this writing a quick search reveals three shops in Leesburg itself and more than a dozen within a short drive.

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