Today’s jobtalk is with veteran barista and trainer at Princeton’s Small World Coffee (SWC). He knows just about every regular’s drink of choice and has trained every barista who’s been hired at SWC for the past 16 years.
Tuc’s the type of guy who can turn any disgruntled customer into a happy one – not that SWC gets many of them. If you have questions about giving all-star service and creating training programs for retail service jobs, he’s your man. He can also answer questions about coffee!
Education: B.A. Social Work Antioch College 1991
What brought you to Small World Coffee?
I was living in Princeton. I had just spent three years working 60-80 hours a week for a social service agency, and I burned out on the bureaucracy, and took up landscaping. I needed a job for the winter and my friend who was working at SWC suggested I apply. I didn’t get hired the first time I applied, but I tried again a few months later and was accepted.
You’ve been working at Small World Coffee for 17 number years? How do you keep yourself challenged?
Every transaction is a challenge to create a win/win situation. The business has gone though several phases over the years which has added depth to my experience.
What do you love about training new employees?
I have been training at SWC for around 16 years. I love watching the progression of Worldlings – what we call people who work here – from newbies to line crunching baristas.
If you weren’t working at Small World Coffee, where would you be working?
While I don’t have a specific idea I know it would involve interacting with people and being physically active. The past jobs I’ve had where I’ve felt a semblance of actualization were when I was a baker and a peer education/logistics coordinator.
What was one of your worst on-the-job mistakes? And what did you learn from it?
Fortunately most mistakes are easily corrected and inconsequential, so I can’t recall I big “worst” mistake. I suppose the biggest mistake I’ve made is not asking for help when things get stressful. It is surprising how helpful co-workers can be when asked.
What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?
At work I mostly am focused on situational awareness – what’s going on in the cafe and how customers and employees are interacting. I’m noting faces, identifying patterns, and taking notes on what creates a great experience or what has caused a sub-optimal transaction.
When I’m not at work, I think about life, the universe, and everything else. I imagine the daily existence of the folks I interact with everyday.
When you’re not wearing a red apron, what do you do?
I read, play board games with several groups of friends, and design t-shirts. I also love cooking.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is teaching each generation of Worldlings – employees at SWC. I really enjoy making folks happy through the medium of coffee.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
The most challenging part of the job is managing the information/culture drift within the business. While there are many systems and procedures for how to perform the job, individual interpretations can be quite interesting.
Also, as with any service industry there is the public. Ninety-nine percent of people are wonderful, but 1% seems to be looking for something besides coffee, which usually involves conflict.
If you could project yourself back in time, what would you tell yourself?
If I could time travel, I would tell myself to buy restaurant clogs sooner. I ruined a lot of sneakers before figuring this out.
How have you seen the coffee house/coffee industry develop over the past 17 years?
‘Specialty coffee’ used to be rare. Increasingly the public is coming in with a better idea of what types of drinks a coffee house can make.
What’s your favorite caffeinated beverage?
For those people who don’t know, can you explain what a soy NOLA is?
A soy NOLA is Small World Coffee’s New Orleans-style iced coffee made with soy milk instead of dairy.
What’s one talent you wish you had?
I wish I were a farmer. I grew up around farmers in Hunterdon County, and their self-reliance (and terrific produce) always intrigued me. Unfortunately, growing plants and vegetables is not a set of skills I have developed enough beyond the ability to kill anything I bring home from the nursery.