Undercover Sociologist: Stanford Barista Reveals the Brighter Side of Dark Roast

by ABCrane, Stanford employee and Sociologist

It’s seven in the morning and the line is already out the door! Welcome to Stanford’s Med Cafe in the gorgeous new Li Ka Shing building. As medical students, researchers, and the rest of Stanford’s scientific community line up for their morning caffeine infusion, Stanford’s blue collar counterpart churn the wheels of the great immobile food cart of Stanford Hospitality & Dining Enterprises.   Chefs, dishwashers, food preparers—all behind the scenes—grind the daily cleaver to present an amazingly delicious gourmet medley of soups, sandwiches, salads and hot entries. In the front of the house, baristas steam lattes, brew coffees, mix the mocha, and ring up orders at rapid speeds while maintaining a pleasant smile and cheery ambience.

But behind the smiley faces and friendly “have a nice days”, what is truly brewing? Two years ago, I took a job as a barista at Med Cafe. But, having just published my book, Project Integrity International: Philosophy & Plan for a New Economy, why take such a position so seemingly far removed from my intellectual pursuits?

Experience! I needed the experience of working in a cafe so as to one day open my own. While my book spells out my vision for a  novel international franchise model—designed to organize and accelerate the global green business movement—my prototype is a green juice bar and cafe that provides nutrition awareness and business classes during an after-school “teen time.”

The original management team that hired me was very laissez faire. It was left up to our supervisor and our barista selves to design a method of deployment, set up an opening and closing schedule, and envision attractive shelving and product displays. I loved the opportunity to, not only serve the coffee, but play a more integrated role in the creative process of cafe design! It was just the right experience I needed to one day soon launch my own.

A year later, our laissez faire leader went on to open his own French restaurant and a new management team took over. Under the new management, the hot food menu was divinely improved, and our net literally doubled in less than four months.

Given our rapid success, we were grossly understaffed and over worked. Without an adequate substitute system built into the staffing schemata, we would work grueling days with one less team member.  Whether fully staffed or not, we skipped breaks on a daily bases. Further curdling the milk, we were soon told that 25% of our time would be working in another department—catering events—leaving us further drained.

More than once, three to four managers would come to observe us. As though part of the research community themselves, they stood and stared at us like specimens under a microscope. But little did they know, I was staring back through the eyes of an undercover sociologist, analyzing the dynamics between the rungs of the hierarchy  that so limited our innate power to connect on truly common grounds.

But hold on to your cups! The purpose of this article is not to lay blame on management, but conversely, to invite management to adopt staffing strategies that simultaneously promote employee respect and maintaining the Great Bottom Line—maximization of profit.

This can be easily accomplished, with say, the formation of a cross-staffing liaison with Starbucks, Pete’s and even some of Palo Alto’s finest mom ‘n pops cafe establishments.

But beyond the small beans, there brews the entire pot of coffee.  Integrative, positive solutions like these are just the beginning. While Stanford Hospitality can very proudly boast its commitment to sustainable restaurant practices, such as using compostable containers and organic produce, we must all move a step further in the direction of our environmental health and personal happiness.  We must form many, many more of these micro- and macro- relationships. And together begin to brew a large vat of green businesses!

It simply isn’t enough to write one article—we must scratch out volumes! It is not nearly enough to hold one green event a year, but to launch thousands of actual green businesses! My book, Project Integrity International, spells out such a plan. And so I invite you to play a part. PII welcomes Stanford! PII welcomes all!

A Bachelor’s degree in Sociology taught Crane how to better analyze the problems of the world.  A double major in Creative Writing taught her how to imagine, innovate, invent—and write!—about solutions to those problems. Her continued self-education includes areas such as holistic nutrition, green business, progressive education,  and social activism, as well as her successful completion of a course in business offered by a wonderful non-profit organization, Women’s Initiative. Residing in Sunnyvale, CA, Crane is preparing to launch an innovative  internet cafe that will provide teens with an exciting real world after-school alternative and public meeting place  to call their own. 

related website, books by the author:


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One thought on “Undercover Sociologist: Stanford Barista Reveals the Brighter Side of Dark Roast

  1. Anonymous says:

    Great insights! I am sure your Med Cafe coworkers saw that having to skip breaks, being moved from one department to another, and being overly scrutinized by management was counterproductive to feeling that their work was respected. It’s unfortunate that it takes a trained sociologist to make these concerns heard.

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