Over the past few days, a terrible scene unfolded in Sydney, Australia. A gunman walked into a café, took the baristas and customers hostage, and began a standoff that lasted for sixteen hours. Two people were killed: Katrina Dawson, a customer who apparently died protecting her friend, and Tori Johnson, the café’s manager, who, according to reports died trying to wrest a gun from the attacker.
This news struck close to home for me, since I spent many years as a café manager myself. It’s one of the invisible professions within specialty coffee, the café manager: we celebrate baristas for their culinary artistry, we celebrate producers for their foundational role in the coffee story, we celebrate coffee buyers’ dogged pursuit of coffee, but we rarely celebrate those who manage the space where the performance of specialty of coffee happens. This role of manager includes a responsibility to keep the environment safe, so that the coffeehouse can function as a social space – a critical part of what specialty coffee is.
It seems to me that Mr. Johnson took this role as caretaker of the coffee space and of the people that occupy it incredibly seriously. We’ll never know whether his sense of professional responsibility affected his decision to risk his life to protect his staff and customers, but the fact is he was on the job when the attack happened. In this sense, Johnson’s act of heroism deserves that we take pause and contemplate what we do, and how it is essentially a human activity, designed to bring people together in a safe and pluralistic environment.
It seems to me that we should take this moment to reflect on our colleagues throughout the chain of specialty coffee, and know that there are heroes unsung and untapped out there. And we should meditate on our role as caretakers of safe space and social interaction. And finally, we should reflect on Tori Johnson’s amazing act of personal and professional heroism, and honor one of our fallen comrades of the coffee trade.