Voices Of Baristas In The Time Of Coronavirus

Voices Of Baristas In The Time Of Coronavirus

San Francisco's Wrecking Ball Coffee take-out window

San Francisco’s Wrecking Ball Coffee (Photo by Nicholas Cho)

This is an updating feature on Sprudge. Check back for updates. 

“The new normal is wild,” writes Sprudge contributor Jenn Chen elsewhere on the site. “It’s turbulent and unexpected and is going to test the strength of many around the world.” And she’s right—we are more or less through the looking glass here as a coffee industry and a society. COVID-19’s impacts are about much more now than changes of plans or uncertain travel: livelihoods and ways of life are at stake.

We’re fast approaching waking up to a day without cafes in America, and the impacts of that reality are deeply felt across our entire. Those on the very front lines are the baristas, service workers, cafe managers, and kitchen staff who make our international coffee culture so very special. In this updating feature on Sprudge, we are giving primacy and amplification to their voices, taking quotes and offering links back to their social media so you can follow their voices in real-time in the days and months to come.

We’re all in this together. When one of us hurts, all of us hurt. This story is for their voices, but it’s for all of us.

—Sprudge Media Network 

Dandy Anderson, Stumptown Coffee, NYC

I’ve invested my entire adult life into the coffee industry because I believe in what we do. This past week has been nothing short of devastating. I lead a team of people and with every decision I must make, their wellbeing—both physical and financial—is at the front of my mind. I am lucky to work for and with people I believe in and know those making decisions for my company have also been trying their very best to make thoughtful and compassionate decisions. There has not been a day I have not sobbed wishing the best for my colleagues and my peers as we watch our industry crumble. I’ve also been inspired by how those who have come together. If I had any wish it would be that we realize that we have to be in this together to get to the other side. Be thoughtful and considerate. Many may not make it to the other side and we have to have their backs.

Laura Clark, PT’s Coffee, Kansas City

This last week has been really interesting, especially in Kansas City. Within a week, we as a community watch our mayor prohibit events with 1,000 people, 250 people, 100 people, 50 people, and now 10 people. Almost mandating closures of bars as well as carry out, and delivery only for restaurants. All this while I had slowly been preparing by taking my tips and buying food after each shift for the possibility of extreme quarantine. Yesterday, the cafe I work for shut down for at least until the restaurant ban has been lifted, which as of right now is April 1st. At least for me I know that I’ll most likely have a job after this, but I’m waiting it out. Maybe I’ll be picking up some commission projects for art, and reorganizing my loft for more creative projects as well as probably working on my swing dancing moves.

But I’ve also put my Venmo and CashApp in my bio in case anyone feels led to help. Right now here in Kansas City, there are a few people that have put together a virtual tip pool for the baristas of KC, Missouri, and Kansas. It’s @baristakc and they’ve already collected $3,000 for the 120 baristas who have signed up for help. Their goal is to send out $50 a week to each barista that needs it.

Kristina Hollie, Intelligentsia, Boston

Generally, I’ve been alright. We were serving coffee in the shops right up until Monday evening and all of my guests have been in good spirits. For now, I’m essentially working remotely, which is something I do as part of my job anyway, but for only a couple of hours a week. It makes you realize how much you depend on that human interaction, on that energy for motivation.

The hardest part has been being physically away from my coworkers. I’m an introvert. I like being home. But I rely on them for inspiration, for energy quite a bit. It makes me so sad to see them down. That’s why we have to support each other emotionally. For me, I have to be really careful about when I leave the house. I am immunocompromised. But I still want to be active so I’m trying to stay creative and keep routines. It’s so easy to spiral into anxiety.

I think while financials are being figured out, while we wait out this mess, we need to stay in contact with each other. Support where you can. I’ve tried to Venmo my friends a little cash where I can. Call and text them to check-in. I’m making coffee at home every day and try to be very intentional about it. If there are shops still open, buy a gift card. Buy beans online. Every little bit helps!

It’s hard to say what’s next for me. I really don’t know. I’d rather focus on staying engaged in the moment.

Cole Werfelman, Collaboration Chocolate Cafe, Portland OR

Leading up to the closure of bars and restaurants I was worried I would be out of a job but my cafe decided to stay open for the neighborhood. I am happy to be here and help people with their coffee needs as long as I am able to with taking all the extra precautions. I have hand sanitizer for customers and we’re doing everything in a to-go cup. Having a job right now lifts a bit of weight off my shoulders with all of this. These are dark and difficult times, I just want everyone to be safe and healthy and do their part.

Kevin Minniewether, Deadstock Coffee, Portland OR

Think of it like this! We’re all overworked and unbelievably busy / tired. Let’s take this time to rest and work on some self-care! That’s what I’m doing while on lockdown. And when we come out on the other side, we’ll go back to whippin lattes for y’all! Just don’t forget about us baristas!

Eric J. Grimm, Joe Coffee, New York City

In ten days my department went from having a record year to zero business. Every day, I was emailing baristas with new cancellations and before it became clear that social distancing was what needed to happen, we were frantically reaching out to local clients with discounts just to keep baristas working. Last Wednesday, we had four events and then the last remaining events for March and April were cancelled and that was it. I was laid off yesterday and it honestly was a relief after waiting and dreading it. My health insurance is done at the end of April, which is terrifying.

For customers who are still working, there are so many digital tip jars for them to help out baristas who are collecting just their base pay or have been laid off. For coffee professionals who have been laid off, engage with your worldwide community. I personally plan on singing and dancing on Instagram stories and making everyone laugh as long as we’re living in these wild times.

This feature is updating. Lend your voice here and check back for more voices. 


  1. Jo, Portland, OR

    23 March

    My partner and I are both in the coffee industry. We have about a month cushion after some recent, unrelated expenses last month. Both of our cafes closed indefinitely a week ago and we were laid off. After filing for UI we are anticipating 3-6 weeks wait for approval. We are fortunate to have food in the pantry and a safe home, but we are deeply concerned for our fellows who do not have such comforts and may need assistance more quickly. We are seeking to assist by researching and sharing resources for aid. I am finding silver linings in snuggles with my cat and dog, and playing music on the porch, reminding myself to be grateful for things I usually take for granted.

  2. Alyssa

    20 March

    This week has been the most bizarre week of my coffee career.
    We went from being a bustling gathering spot to curbside pick up only in a matter of days. Sales are definitely decreasing but our neighborhood has been so supportive. People have been buying merchandise and coffee bags to keep us alive and it has been so moving to see it.

    I just worry a lot about where this will take us. Sure everyone is being generous now but what happens when the stalled economy reaches them? How are is business going to survive when all industries have to halt because of this? What happens if all my staff gets sick? Just so much questioning and no way of knowing where it will go.

    I try to give out stickers on cups and to families I know have small children. Just a moment of thinking about something else. For better or worst, our job is to try to bring a little joy to someone even if the world is on fire and a sink is overflowing in the back. Still trying to bring what little joy I can knowing it wont change anything. Knowing tomorrow they could tell us were non-essential and shut everything down. But hey doesn’t that lemon sticker look perfect with their yellow dress?

  3. Keaton Crane

    19 March

    Keaton Crane, Sugar Browns Coffee, Lubbock TX

    Honestly, we didn’t start seeing the effects of everything until this week. We’ve been having a record breaking year and this has really shaken us. Lubbock is the home of Texas Tech and as such, most of our guests are college students. With spring break beginning, we can always anticipate a drop in business to a certain degree, but we’ve never seen anything like this.

    We recently launched a mobile app a month ago and have been encouraging people to use it. All of our products are being served in to-go containers but the inside of the cafes are still open for the time being. We’ve come up with strategies for each new protocol and are hoping to combat this as best as we can. Our shop hours have been cut and tips, needless to say, have been abysmal at best most shifts.

    As the coffee director and the only employee who has been with the company since the start, it’s been really hard to watch. We had just started the buildout of location three and knowing the amount of money we’ve already put into it before this is heartbreaking and scary. I talked with our owner and we’re doing as much as we can to stay open as long as possible. We’re looking into delivery options through the app, curbside pickup, and are launching our online retail coffee and merchandise store next week (a month earlier than we planned) in hopes to keep some cash flow going. I’ll even be delivering the coffee I roast to locals for as long as we’re allowed and really just hoping for the best.

    Stay strong y’all!

  4. Talia

    19 March

    Talia – Dose Coffee, Red Deer, AB, Canada. I’ve been working as a barista at Dose for almost two years now and it is the best job and so rewarding. As a small business with only two locations, I’ve really gotten the chance to get to know almost every person who walks through the door, and those same people, who are able during this time, continue to walk through the door and support the hell out of us. I have people reaching out over instagram asking about our gift cards and about our retail coffee because they’re getting their friends to put orders in so they can come and get it for them and to support us as a small, local business. We have people coming in telling us that our shop is a place of safety and security for them at this time. We have people coming in who continue to shower us with positivity and love and it is the best feeling. This time we’re all in is so uncertain. Next week Dose could be closed due to government issued requirements, and my coworkers (who also happen to be some of my closest friends) would be on EI; but despite all of those fears, I am above all so grateful for the people who continue to show up. I am grateful for the people who continue to support. I am grateful for the people who let us know that we are a valuable part of their community, because they are such a valuable part ours and we couldn’t get through this without them.

  5. Marshall

    18 March

    This is heartbreaking.

  6. V Cox

    18 March

    V. Cox – Velocity, Port Townsend, WA

    What a strange time, and surreal energy in the air. I have been away from work since Sunday. Been in contact with my boss and it is probable we will close by the weekend. But from what I hear about work, our dedicated regulars, owners and workers have kept a smile on their faces and are still enjoying the community that’s created around a simple cup of coffee.
    As an individual I have been struggling with the decision to stay home or go into work. Financially I should be fine for a month, two months would be tight and if a shut down goes on longer that, well, I am just not sure. Physically I am worried about contracting this virus because of my ‘smoker’ lungs. However mostly I am worried about the other people, both in my immediate life and outside of that, that could be affected by my being in the age group of the ‘carriers’.
    For now I am staying home. Doing what I can to support the businesses in my community from a far. And taking much needed time for introspection, healing, and communing with the nature around me.
    All I want to really say is, don’t forget your community. When this is all over, or at the very least contained, I can’t wait for the outpouring of joy in the simplest things. Hugs, laughter, love. May all you fellow baristas out there find your way through this. I am here, though not ‘there’…with you.

  7. Alexa Sandidge

    18 March

    Our shop is currently staying open with everything happening. Do I nag everything we can to safely provide people their daily cup. We have made so many changes from cleaning routines, offering more ways for people to buy beans and brew at home, bean delivery, and curbside pickup. But even with all these changes and pushes, we have still had to cut out seven 8 hour shifts. Some people in our shop support their families on their income alone and we have all been pushing to support each other and giving up our personal shifts to make sure they stay afloat. Some of us now only work one shift.

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