Standing tall as the centerpiece of a thriving strip mall on Route 35 in Sea Girt, NJ is a Starbucks that is busy, non-stop, from the time that it opens its doors before sunrise until it’s time to say goodnight. The Starbucks enterprise is a cultural phenomenon, with worldwide franchises providing a uniform experience to its patrons as well as its baristas. Barista owes its origin to the Italian word for bartender, and although Howard Schultz has been rumored to be contemplating alcoholic beverages for his baby, the franchise has stayed true to its primary elixir caffeine. The proprietary nature of the drinks at Starbucks are legendary, from the intriguing names of the drinks to the cup sizes that all neophytes find confusing.
Short is the 8 oz. or smallest size Starbucks offers, but you’ll only get this size if you ask for it by name. Ask for a small and you’ll get a tall, which is the smallest size for which prices are posted. Think Dr. Seuss is confused? Only hot drinks can be served in the short size, so the 12 oz is what you’ll get, that’s all, if you ask for a small. Grande is the 16 oz. or medium size, and Venti is 20 oz. Well, kind of. If you order a hot beverage that is. If it’s an iced venti you’re ordering, it’s 24 oz. That’s nothing compared to the names of the beverages. Foam lattes are served with a fluffy foamed milk on top. You can ask for more or less foam, or no foam at all. Cappuccinos are made with much more foam than lattes, normally half milk and half foam. A dry cappuccino has more foam and a wet cappuccino has less. There is a fine line of difference between a very wet cappuccino and an extra-foam latte. Patrons can get pretty creative with their orders, such as: “I’ll have a triple pump grande no-foam upside down non-fat latte.” Once you get the hang of it, it’s a grammar and language all it’s own and you’ll personalize your favorite. “I’ll have an iced grande two pump skinny vanilla”. Or forget the intro, and just announce “A grande 200 degree nonfat chai tea latte.” Kind of like the Starbucks equivalent of the playground game of HORSE, where the patron calls out her shots, and the barista sees if she can duplicate it. Have no fear if you are too timid to order with the big boys. The word is that Rosetta Stone is coming out with a Starbucks course this Winter, just in time for Christmas.
While the beverages have a uniform lingo, and their accents may differ in various locations, what really makes each Starbucks hum are the mix of patrons and baristas. Route 35 Sea Girt can go toe to toe with the best of them. First, there are the dogs who wait patiently in the vehicles the patrons drive to 35. I’ve never seen such well behaved best friends. Must have something to do with the aroma of the coffee. The four-legged friends barking outside of Dunkin’ Donuts and Wawa simply don’t have the same savoir faire when it comes to indulging their owners’ morning fix. Whether they’re as well-behaved for Starbucks junkies making afternoon or evening rounds, I can’t tell you.
Then there are the regulars who frequent the early mornings with me on my protracted weekends. Roger is the Early Riser and Doug is the Easy Rider, while John & Bunny are the dean of patrons. Most others are known to me and me to them only as nameless faces. Of course, if you order a bar drink everyone knows your name when the barista calls it out, one reason why I’m only known as the tall bold with a blueberry scone heated up for here (on a plate, please). Among my favorites are Steve and Tony. Steve knows me in passing banter, and Tony probably wouldn’t know me from Adam. But the 7 day-a-week locals all seem to know Tony, a true gentleman by my observation. Lately Tony has taken to getting in shape by walking the mall, and I’ve meant to tell him how much I admire his determination. He has so much character, with his bevvy of baseball caps, horn-rimmed glasses, and polo shirt with the upturned collar peeking out of his sleeveless argyle sweater transcending the seasons. I hope that I’m not embarrassing him, particularly because we’ve never spoken – my fault more than his.
I’ve lost track of how many years I’ve been coming to Starbucks 35, but I find its pulse such a wonderful blend of morning inspiration. Usually immersed in reading a book that I bring, the conversation quietly envelops me. The people are genuinely nice, be it the camouflaged military personnel or the local artisans. Perhaps best of all are the baristas themselves. As with the changing face of regulars over time, the baristas have changed. Some will rotate to different locations and others will be fixtures for longer periods of time. Some will return to college and others will return to their families.
While there aren’t goals or guides for patrons there are for baristas. Starbucks professes to be the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world, maintaining uncompromising principles in growth. They are clear that their success depends heavily on the people they hire, and they call each other ‘partners.’ They look for people who are adaptable, self-motivated, passionate, creative team players, and one easily sees this emphasis on respect in how the Route 35 baristas treat their patrons and each other.
It was in this spirit, not long after the store was redesigned a few years ago streamlining its entrance and exit, that I complimented the store’s manager Toni, and her able assistant Christine. Actually I don’t know Christine’s title, but that’s part of my point. The team at 35 really does function as a team, and while it’s easy to romanticize a job from the other side of the counter, I told them that I was so impressed with way in which they seem to have mastered teamwork among the employees.
Last winter I was struck by a book they had on display for patrons to purchase. Entitled “One”, created exclusively for Starbucks, its cover posed the question: “How many people does it take to make a difference?” The inside frontispiece bore the following message:
“One of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself or anyone else is inspiration. Inspiration to get in touch with your dreams. Inspiration to seek out your deepest passions. Inspiration to make a difference in the world, a difference that only you can make. This is not a book about making a living; it’s a book about making a life. It’s not about fame or acclaim; it’s about contribution and service. Instead of asking, ‘What can I get from life?’, watch what happens when you ask, ‘What can I give?‘ “.
I was very moved by that book, and bought a number of copies for my office staff. It is a challenging message to internalize, but if you want to see it in action, go to Starbucks 35. They practice it every day, and it shows.