Bad Batch: Lindsay Turberville
Lindsay Turberville has worked at Starbucks for a decade. They are a coffee master and leader at their shop in Austin, TX. Living in Virginia, Oklahoma, and now Texas, they have always found a safe space and home at Starbucks. We made acquaintances during a SheBrews event and kept in touch via Instagram. I love Instagram. Anyways...we snagged some pour-overs before the April Thursday Night Throwdown and chatted about coming out, being a leader, and what it's like to work at Starbucks...and absolutely love it.
Tell us your coffee story: how did you get your start, how long have you been in the industry, and how are you involved now?
This is my favorite story to tell. I started drinking coffee when I was three. My mom would put it in my sippy cup to take me to daycare. It was real coffee, no cream or sugar. It wasn’t good coffee. That was my first taste! Every morning, we had coffee before school. It was ingrained in how I was raised. After I got out of school I worked at a wing restaurant. I would go to Starbucks every day. It was the only coffee shop in my town. One of the managers at the store had on a black apron. This was so long ago— 11 years I think. I was really intrigued by it. I asked him why he was special. He offered me a Kona coffee they didn’t normally have in stock. He showed me the process of tasting coffee: smelling, slurping, and assessing it. At that moment, I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I wanted to be him. That was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my entire life. I’m still friends with that guy to this day. His name is Dale Hood. He still works for Starbucks. He changed my life and the way I thought about coffee. It could be so much more than a source of caffeine, it could be a source of flavor and excitement. He taught me that there is a theater involved in the process of making coffee. From that moment, I realized that this is what I want to do. I could elevate coffee to a level that is exciting for the average person.
Let’s de-mystify the Black Apron. What does it mean, and how do you get one?
A black apron-wearing barista is referred to as a Coffee Master. Getting a black apron is a process of education and a lot of coffee drinking. To be eligible to become a coffee master, you have to finish what’s called a “coffee passport”. The passport holds every coffee Starbucks currently offers. You not only taste that coffee, you share it with other partners. So, it’s not a singular journey. You’re bringing other people along for the ride, which is one of my favorite things to do. Dale did that for me 10 years ago.
There are 1,042 Starbucks in Texas. Which do you work at, and what do you do there?
I work at the Starbucks located on Oltforf and Interstate 35. I’m a High-Performing Shift Supervisor. So, I am somewhere in-between a Store Manager and Shift Supervisor. Altogether, I’m in charge of 25 people, and about 8 baristas per shift.
How do you motivate your team and create a company culture within your store?
We have something different from a lot of larger companies. A program called Northstar rolled out about a year ago. Northstar sat everyone down and said “you know our mission and values, but here’s how we can simplify them. Here’s how you can involve not only your customers but your partners as well.” Northstar brought us back to the basics. They challenged us to inspire and delight our customers but also do the same with the partners that we work with every day. I ask myself: how can I make my partner’s day better? Otherwise, we simply make 1,000 lattes a day. It creates a space where people feel more free and open to critique each other in a positive way. It gives them a space to be more generous with their time, and how they treat each other. If you’re not having a good time, then why are you here? Making people feel elevated, important, and like I care about them is important to me, because I genuinely do. It can get monotonous. It’s like groundhog day. Our customers get the same thing at the same time every single day. I never want people to feel like they are being overworked. We are a team. As long as there is an equal distribution of labor at the same time, we are all just having a good time. It’s ok to be a real person at work. It’s ok to have a good time. It’s ok to have feelings. I love feelings.
You recently came out as a trans/ non-binary, how was your experience?
I came out when I moved to Austin a year ago, mostly, because I didn’t feel safe before. I lived in Oklahoma and Virginia, and it didn’t feel like a safe environment. I knew other people in the area who were trans and they weren’t being treated with humanity and respect. I didn’t want that to be me. At the same time, I was there to stand up for them. I was always in their corner. I wasn’t lying to myself, because I knew who I was. I wasn’t out because I wasn’t being honest and open to everyone, about who I was. I regret not coming out sooner because I feel like I could have been a better advocate for my friends. Ultimately, everyone’s coming out story is unique and it belongs to them. People should come out on their own time. They shouldn’t let what happens to other people necessarily affect how or when they come out. It’s a catch 22. I feel bad because I could have been a better friend, but at the same time, I was doing the best that I could in a situation in which I felt cornered. At work, I have counter situations where people sometimes don’t know what trans/non-binary means. This provides an opportunity for me to educate people. Most of the time it’s been very rewarding. I can relate this to the Northstar ideals. Northstar’s program consists of five pillars. One of them is: include me and what does that mean? How do we include people of different ethnicities, gender backgrounds, and sexual orientations? How do we include people? It’s so wild to think that’s now a pillar of our company. Being out at my workplace makes me feel at home and safe.
Your pronouns are they/them, how can we de-gender customer service on our side of the counter?
It takes time for people to change how they think. The only time it really bothers me is when I tell somebody my pronouns are they/them and they continue to use gendered language. They justify it with the excuses “oh I always hang out with these types of these people” or “I use this language all the time” and feel ok with that. They’re being considerate to those types of people, but what about me? I’m a real-life actual human person. When I’m addressing a customer, I like to use “buddy” because it doesn’t make people feel offended. No one gets angry at being called buddy. Everyone is equal, everyone is on a level playing field, so buddy works just fine. Most of the time, older people will be ok with Sir or Ma’am, but they don’t mind buddy.
(Also, Barista Magazine published an amazing article that every barista should read)
You just got back from the 2018 U.S. Coffee Expo. Thousands of people attend this event annually. Was there diverse representation? Did you feel represented?
I actually don’t. I see a lot of lesbian and gay people that are out in the industry. I don’t see a lot of trans representation, and I’d like to see more of it. I met quite a few people who are trans/non-binary that are involved in specialty coffee but not necessarily represented. When I registered for the event, the form asked for my gender, and there was no category for me. I thought to myself “I guess I just have to pick one and not make anyone nervous,” and selected female. At Starbucks, one thing that makes me feel really included…which is so minuscule…are non-gendered bathrooms. There are lots of Starbucks in Austin who have gender-neutral stalls, but the newer Starbucks I went to had entirely gender-neutral bathrooms. I didn’t have to choose between male or female and that made me feel very comfortable. When I’m traveling I have to have a dialogue with myself: Am I feminine enough to go to this restroom or am I masculine enough to go this restroom? Where do I go? Where’s the line? Am I going to make somebody feel uncomfortable (which I don’t want to do)? At the same time: I really have to pee!
Starbucks has a stigma for not being “specialty” amongst others in the industry. How do you feel about that? You’ve worked for Starbucks for 10 years. Why do you like working there?
I’m going to be honest with you, at the last latte art competition I attended, I heard a boo in the crowd when the emcees announced my name and my company. I thought to myself: ok…and then I got three rounds in and the booing stopped. I think the defining line between specialty coffee and Starbucks is mental. Baristas are good at what they do and passionate about their craft, but the same thing can lie within a Starbucks barista. Just because there are automatic espresso machines doesn’t mean they are any less passionate about what they do. There’s a place for everyone to become passionate about something and carry it into a career. There’s a space for everyone in this community and you just have to find your own space in it. Working for Starbucks is something I am proud to do. I’m proud to be a partner because it is a place where I feel most comfortable. It is the beginning of my journey, and I’m sure it won’t be the end. There’s only room for me to grow from here.