Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Starbucks”

In the Shadow of Giants

Unwanted Heroes was much longer before my editor got his hands on it. A number of chapters were cut because they do not directly move the plot along. They seem to have something in common – my desire to show the many facets of San Francisco. I would like to share then with you over the next few weeks.

There is nothing here that spoils anything in the book – which probably vindicates the editor’s decision.

Heroes Low Res Finished Cover 11.18

In the Shadows of Giants

            The Daily Grind survives in the shadow of giants. Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks rule the roost. I believe there are eight of them within the half-mile radius that defines the boundaries of San Francisco’s Financial District. As an independent coffee shop employee, I should have nurtured a healthy hatred for these monoliths of corporate America, who have turned the little guy into an endangered species.

The truth is, I have read Howard Shultz’s Building Starbucks One Cup at a Time, and I have to admit I harbor a grudging admiration. He and his colleagues are true connoisseurs who stood up for something they truly believed in: Coffea Arabica.

Every investor, market analyst and beverage manager doomed them to failure. The American nation was incarcerated by the instant coffee powder, addicted to the milk, the sweetness, the insanely cheap coffee and, of course, the instant powder. Why wait? Why grind? Why the extra roast?

But these men embraced a common vision, believed in the people’s finer taste buds and held a zero tolerance for compromise. They raised the bar and the people voted, with their travel mugs. There are those who blame these corporate monoliths for the scarcity of the local corner coffee shop. But the little guy can survive, only he must commit to two holy tenets: top quality coffee and kick-ass service.

And this is why, even the corner coffee shop has its barista and he, or she, must make it work. I put considerable effort into trying to make every customer welcome – an honored guest. I have a good memory for names or odd details; I throw out liberally, letting them know that I remember them and that they are individuals.

We all want to be remembered. We go into a restaurant, a shop we frequent, the gym and hope that there is acknowledgement on behalf of the maitre d’, the shop owner or the gym receptionist.

It allows us to stand out from among the masses. It reinforces that we are each unique, individuals with our own life, our own destiny. The swamp of urban anonymity has not swallowed us. We live another day as individuals. And it keeps us returning to the same shop, restaurant or gym. It creates brand loyalty that is different from a great product, an image or a good price. It fills a need in each and every one of us; we are members of the tribe. In this case the Coffea Arabica tribe. Here, every morning, for a few minutes, we belong. We feel validated.

There is one woman who frequents our coffee shop every weekday morning at 8.20am, orders the drip of the day and sits in the same seat where she can easily look out the window or survey the coffee shop with equal ease. At 8.55am, she tosses her coffee cup into the garbage can by the door, and leaves.

She is, I guess, in her mid-thirties, always impeccably dressed. She is attractive, not centerfold beautiful, but in a genuine, deeper sense. Her clothes, though business attire, reveal a full, well-maintained body and her hair is always tied back in a tight bun. She would pass for one of a thousand who frequent our coffee shop, if it wasn’t for her eyes…and her silence.

She never speaks; she doesn’t have to order as I have her coffee poured as soon as I see her. The change from the two dollar bills is dropped automatically into the tips glass and she retreats to her seat.

Her eyes haunt me. They seem…empty. I realize she is somewhere else as she stares out of the window. Her elbow is on the table, her chin cupped in a hand that boasts elegant fingers, notably devoid of a wedding ring.

I always look for an excuse to get closer to her. I pick garbage off the floor, wipe tables; whatever is necessary to sneak a view of her. I wonder if she suspects and, if so, whether she even cares?

Yesterday, we heard of yet another Starbucks opening in our area. That makes six within walking radius and there are two Peets’ and two Tully’s. The boss constantly frets, though The Daily Grind has held its own for several years.

The talk among the staff focuses on the new Starbucks. People worry about their jobs; many are students, or high school dropouts. Others like me are artists; none of us have employment skills that will make finding another job easy. Our boss is tough but fair and he cares about us, though he would never want to admit it.

A customer, who is sitting at the next table to the woman I have just mentioned, asks me if I am concerned about the new competition in our crowded neighborhood. I crack a joke, something about Starbucks just wanting to ensure that they have at least one store standing after the next big earthquake thereby ensuring they maintain a monopoly on the survivors.

He laughs and, as the businesswoman glances over at me, I see a crack in the frown. I jump at the opportunity.

“Why do you come here every day instead of Starbucks or Peets?”

She hesitates. Is she deciding why or whether she wants to even tell me?

“Because of you,” she replies, quiet but confidant. “The coffee is good, but I come because of you.”

I swallow, uncharacteristically lost for words. Thankfully she continues. “For a few brief minutes of the day I belong. You know me; know what I want to drink. You respect my boundaries, though you hover around cleaning and such. I feel comfortable,” she hesitates again. I see her swallow. When she continues, I can hear the emotion in her voice. “Over the past few years you have been my most consistent friend. Sad isn’t it.”           

“At the chain coffee shops, that is what I am: just another link in the chain. Still I’ve been wanting to tell you something for the last month.” She rises and throws her cup in the garbage can. Then she turns around and smiles. “I love that you have my drink drawn by the time I am at the counter, but I’d like to try the mocha one morning.”

With an uncharacteristic bounce in her walk, she leaves the coffee shop. I don’t need to check the time.  It is 8.55am.

—————————————————————————————————–

Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

 

Advertisements

50 Shades of Discreet

About a month ago, I sat in a coffee shop writing early in the morning, when I glanced at the screen of the man sitting next to me. He had a website with very scantily dressed women on it. I was taken aback, not by the content, but the fact he was willing to do this in a cramped coffee shop.

Boundaries dude?

Now here is a confession. I am reading 50 Shades of Grey by E. L. James, the first in a trilogy that at the time of writing are #1, #2, and #3 on Amazon’s Bestseller List. I share this fact to point out that I am probably not the only one reading it. 

I have the novel on my kindle and, well, it has served as bedtime reading. Last week, I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri, home of the Arc, the Cardinals and Budweiser. It also has a terrific children’s museum with a shark pool that you can toss your child in with ease. 

My journey home was long and arduous, and I soon finished my magazines, exhausted my laptop battery and turned to my kindle. In the growing darkness, I curled up against the window and read 50 Shades of Grey.

On the second flight, I sat next to a young (female) lawyer who was reading litigation books and (I suspect) not happy to sit between two middle-aged guys, one of whom was trying to make conversation (the other guy, btw). On the third flight, I was placed next to two women who were discussing their church. I was self-conscious.

There is nowhere to hide your laptop screen but a kindle has only words. It occurred to me that with the advent of eReaders, people cannot discern what you are reading. There is no visible book cover. You are in your own world, anonymous and unaccountable.

That Spreadsheet Looks Good!

I share this because I have recently read about a growing and flourishing erotic book business, spurred by short stories sold at $0.99 for the eBook. I wonder whether this has been because people are searching for more channels to explore their sexuality or because there is now a medium to read anonymously.

What excites me (bear with me) about this is the possibility that people will read books that are more risky politically. Perhaps someone growing up in a Christian family will dare to read about evolution, a gay teenager can find material to guide him/her through a turbulent journey, or an addict read a self-help support book on the train. We have seen how Twitter has played its part to overthrow oppressive regimes, how about the eReader?

But while the Internet and eReader can help push the boundaries of personal and political exploration, looking at erotic photos at Starbucks remains off limits.

Have a great weekend.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Starbucks Stand Their Grounds

From the MoveOn.org website (I have added the pictures):

Starbucks stuck their neck out to publicly support the right of all people to marry, regardless of the gender of their partner.

Now it is under attack by the ironically named, ultra-conservative “National Organization for Marriage”. Already over 10,000 NOM members have pledged to boycott Starbucks. We don’t want to just criticize corporations when they do bad. We want to encourage them when they do good. So we’re going to blow the opposition out of the water by getting more than ten times as many people to thank Starbucks for standing up for gay marriage.

Show your support for Starbucks by signing our giant Thank You card.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to Starbucks.

Here are a couple of blogs that I have written about Starbucks or coffee in the past – in case you are looking for something to read with your low-fat, extra-whip, slightly agitated…oh never mind!:

Occupy Starbucks

Coffee I Couldn’t Resist

Have a great weekend!

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Occupy Starbucks

I know I am going to get into trouble for this post. Most people reading Left Coast Voices are more likely to drink their daily sin under a Starbucked notice than the green mermaid (or whoever she is). Yes I have stuck up for Starbucks in the past, but I have also been critical where I believe it apt.

And yes,I know it is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but a lot of the discussions around my family table were political and depressing. So let’s give a shout out for something positive, whoever is behind it.

Today, I want to highlight the positive. Many have commented on this blog that they want to see more concrete steps coming out of the Occupy Movement, steps that will impact the 1% or help the 99%. Bank Transfer Day was a great example (and its not too late!).

Starbucks have seeded money for a project called Create Jobs for USA. Starbucks have teamed up with Opportunity Finance Network® which is a group of community lending institutions who will help to finance jobs within the community. 

When we buy a wristband at Starbucks stores or online for a minimum of $5, these institutions will generate 7x the amount. In other words for every $5 we donate, $35 will be generated and invested in small business, affordable housing, commercial real estate, micro-enterprises, and non-profits.

Yes, those of us seriously Starbucked can find a way of being cynical, of showing how this is a sophisticated marketing move by the company. But right now there are thousands of people without jobs who are losing their dignity and their hope for a better life. 9.1% of the labor force, translates into 13.1% of the Hispanic community, and 16.7% of the African-American community. I am sure the numbers are worse when analyzed by geographical dispersion.

Let’s put our differences aside. Let’s ally with Starbucks and the Opportunity Finance Network® and help people get back to work in meaningful community businesses. On the bracelet is the word Indivisible. The logo has the word on an US flag. 

We don’t need to wait for government. The American people are strongest when we work together…when we are indivisible.

Happy Thanksgiving.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Street Protests – Both Sides of the Streets.

So I understand why big business and government (if they even are separate entities) are worried when the masses hit the streets in protest as we are witnessing with the Occupy movement. And I can see why the democrats and other liberals see the threat of the rising Tea Party.

Where I am stuck is the criticisms being leveled by Tea Party or Occupy activists at each other. Now to disagree about policy or ideology is a vital ingredient in a democracy, but it surprises me to hear criticism being leveled at tactics. After seeing a bevy of Tea Party activists denigrating the  Occupy people for err…mass protests. I shared their audacity with two (separately) friends who proceeded to level the same criticisms about the Tea Party people.

One side of the street

Now I don’t expect every Tea Partier or Occupier to meet each other, occupy a Starbucks or independent cafe, and discuss matters over a cup of tea. But thinking people on both sides must be aware that they share some things in common.

– They are angry, dissatisfied and frustrated.

– They have taken to the streets because it seems the only way they will be listened to.

– They believe in grassroots organization.

– They have lost faith in the stagnation of government.

...and the other.

Something awesome is happening. The generally stupefied, apathetic masses are stirring. Whether they head for one side of the street to protest or the other, something has galvanized them into action. I don’t believe there are many of us in the middle, but that doesn’t matter. Let’s keep protesting, keep fighting for change, keep hoisting our signs…

But let’s stop for one moment and acknowledge that we are all in favor of democracy and freedom. Let’s celebrate living in a society where we can protest and debate. Let’s even be proud that we are drawing people away from mind-numbing reality shows and soaps. It is a healthy sign that people are lining up on both sides of the streets.

Then let’s get back to debating the issues.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Steve Jobs 2

Following on from last Friday’s post, I have been wondering how much a company can really be sustainable if it leans so heavily on its CEO. The way some people talked about Steve Jobs stepping down at Apple had me worried that my iPod and MacBook would self destruct in five seconds.

But there are certain companies where the CEO seems to take on legendary proportions. Apple is of them, but there is also Walmart, Microsoft and most recently Starbucks.  Howard Shultz wrote the book on building a company based on values and a dynamic business model. He literally wrote the book – Pour Your Heart Into It.

A Great Read.

When Howard Shultz left Starbucks the company experienced its first downfall. I’m not sure this is attributed to his departure, it is hard to spend $4 on a cup of coffee when you lose your job and your house is foreclosed, but tellingly, Shultz was lured back and Starbucks repositioned. I am sure this is all recorded in the uber-CEO’s latest book, Onward, and I will review it soon as it rises up to the top of my To Read book pile.

I  wonder if it shouldn’t be a benchmark of a good CEO that s/he brings through a line of highly trained personnel from which one could be groomed as a successor? Was it a failure of Howard Shultz that  he had to make a comeback? I wonder whether the mood within Apple was as preoccupied as it was played out in the media.

And this brings me to another top-heavy organization – the government. At the risk of endangering my desire to become a US citizen, I wonder whether there isn’t too much emphasis on the President for governance and policy. Shouldn’t there be a bigger emphasis and accountability on those who sit on the House and Senate to fix our problems and lead us forward?

Perhaps we learn from the successful company models in restructuring our governments.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Starbucks Redeemed

So it seems my accusation about Starbucks being anti-trade union is apparently groundless. In May 2004, an organization called the Starbucks Workers Union was formed in New York. The union now includes Latin American workers and has successfully advocated for better conditions and for the purchase of Fair Trade coffee.

I am not convinced that Starbucks has laid down a red carpet for a trade union and there probably has been threats with at least one firing of a worker who was trying to organize. In fairness this barista, Erik Foreman, was reinstated to his job.

More about the Union’s actions can be found here, And I guess we can keep enjoying Starbucks.

Though if you do live in the Bay Area, here are some great independent coffee shops. Please check them out.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Starbucked

Okay, since we are on the subject of Starbucks,  I simply can’t resist this one.

A man walks into a (Berkeley) Starbucks (no, this is not a joke) and buys not one, but two espresso machines. They don’t work, or he doesn’t like them and takes them back. He finds none of the famous Starbucks customer-first philosophy and feels so humiliated that he launches a campaign against Starbucks, spending probably 10 times the money that the espresso machines cost.

Check out his website here which includes a time-line and explanation.

I have two things to say on the topic.

Mr. Dorosin – what really happened that made you so mad, so willing to invest so much time, money and negative energy? Surely it is not the first time you have been stonewalled by caveman customer relations?

Starbucks – ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! Might I suggest you read the following two books, proudly written by YOUR leaders;

Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built A Company One Cup At A Time – Howard Schultz

It’s Not About The Coffee – Howard Behar


——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Starbucks Not So Starry?

This week, Starbucks are celebrating their 40-year anniversary.

There are a lot of people out there who really have it in for Starbucks. Just google anti-Starbucks search words and see for yourself. I have to say that while I am not particularly expecting the company to be perfect, I am far from joining the protesters, despite having repeatedly written about the multinationals having too much power. I prefer to go to a local coffee shop, not because I dislike Starbucks, but because I want to support local traders.

But here’s the deal. The coffee must be good, the ambiance conducive and comfortable to write, the bathrooms clean and the staff happy and interactive. If I go to a local coffee shop and find this, I will stay loyal. In Berkeley we take our coffee seriously, and so do the local coffee shops. But when challenged in certain areas of San Francisco and on the road, I often turn to the green goddess of Starbucks or the solid, reliable Peets coffee.

I have read several books about the special Starbucks mentality and embraced it in training my own staff and as a model for creating an environment and service to our students. I have written here positively on several occasions about Starbucks. I have defended their Fair Trade policy and complimented their coffee grounds for compost initiative.

But there are a lot of people out there who hate, yes I said hate, Starbucks. Try this website (you really only need to read its name) or the You Tube video below.

I was surprised to see the allegations about Starbucks heavy-handedness against attempts for a workers union. In The Accidental Activist, the multinational is the bad guy and my heroes admonish them for exactly what is being claimed here.

Starbucks supporters: what do you say about the company being anti-trade union? I need to hear that they are wrong. It will be easier than changing my drinking habits.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/

 

 

Are Starbucks Free Trade?

Starbucks work hard to be a huge successful business and maintain the ideological tenants that guided them in the early years. They heard their customers call for Free Trade coffee and answered the call.

Or did they? Others say they merely made a symbolic gesture to fool us that their coffee is Fair Trade.

Now independent coffee shop owners such as Joe Cesa, who owns Joe Coffee Bar in Philadelphia, is hardly going to be objective, given that his little cafe is probably surrounded by several Starbucks.

 

But I do wonder what the truth is? If you know any more, please let us know in the comments below.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: