Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Please make eye contact and speak in complete sentences.
Name: City Grave
Occupation: Barista at Konditori
City: Bronx, NY
After she locks up at the Brooklyn coffee shop where she’s been working for about six months, City Grave doesn’t necessarily have somewhere to go. “Right now, I’m just kind of bouncing around,” she says. “Hopefully I’ll get an apartment in the next couple of months.” She shuttles between friends’ apartments in the Bronx—where she grew up—and Brooklyn. She has bags of stuff at each place so she has clothes to wear to work. She’s trying to be frugal and save up. She currently nets $10 an hour and hopes to make more. “Experienced baristas get $15, plus tips,” she says. She chatted with CityLab while brewing a fresh pot of dark roast.
How did you become a barista?
I spent a lot of time at this place and asked one of the baristas, “How hard is it to find a job here?” So I applied, and got it. I went to community college for about four days and then I dropped out. I have really bad anxiety, and I didn’t know what I was doing. Someday, I think I’ll go back and study marketing so I can open my own coffee shop with my best friend.
What’s hard about this job?
I’m annoyed about half of the day. People will try to open cookie jars and help themselves—that’s a health violation, and I don’t want to get in trouble. People also sometimes talk like they’re all high and mighty, just walking in and barking, “Iced coffee.” One guy slammed his credit card down on the counter. I looked at it and paused for a second. He said, “What, did I do something to upset you?” I didn’t say anything, holding my tongue. Then I finished his transaction and put the card back in his hand. He said, “I only tip nice people; no tip for you.”
What’s a misconception people have about this gig?
People often think that those of us in the food industry are here because we don’t have any other options. A lot of us love what we do. This is a craft. Do you know how hard it is to do latte art? My skills aren’t the best right now. I really want to learn how to make two hearts out of foam.
What are some ways customers could make your job easier?
If you see a trash can, throw out your garbage. And if you are going to tip, don’t leave us pennies! If you have quarters, great. If you have nickels, dimes, or pennies, just don’t tip. We can’t switch the coins for bills in the registers, so we’d just be carrying around a bag of change.