A day in the life of a Charlie Brown's Cafe barista

Columnist Olivia Hunt.

From an outside perspective, the beloved Charlie Brown’s Cafe is just a quick stop you make on the way to class in order to ease the agony of sitting through a 4 hour lecture.
Before I was employed there, I would only go inside to get my typical “pesto bagel with two cream cheese” order. I never processed the entirely different perspective of the workers until I was thrown into the line of fire myself.

The amount of dedication, communication and focus that goes into each working day never ceases to amaze me.  The speed and effectiveness wouldn’t be possible without teamwork, or without our manager Victoria Rhodes, aka “Mama Vic,” who begins setting up for the day at 4:30 a.m. Without her incredible leadership and devotion to the venue, nothing would run as smoothly as it does.

Whether you have an opening shift at 6:45 a.m., a closing shift at 8 p.m. or anything in between, the one thing that’s certain is experiencing a “rush.” The typical image of Charlie Brown’s is having a line out the door, but it’s not always like this. Usually, we brace ourselves for an influx of caffeine-fiending students at hours such as 9 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. These are the common times one would want to avoid. Everyone has their designated station whether it’s the cashier, grill, smoothie or barista. Overdrive mode kicks in, and within minutes, there’s a line of cups piling up, and three plates of sandwiches waiting to be microwaved and grilled.

Cashiers struggle to hear customers over the deafening sound of the blenders, get irritated when the sharpie to write on the salads is dry and run back and forth from the pastry case strategically shoving oversized cinnamon buns into small parchment bags.
If we’re lucky enough to have what we call a “runner” on shift, they swiftly maneuver around and fill up cups with scorching hot water and try not to burn themselves while pouring a soup of the day.

Anyone who has the time to run the salads to the back, accepts the fate that their fingers will smell like anchovy dressing for the rest of the day. It’snot uncommon during a rush to look down at your shirt at the end to find it permanently stained with some sort of food residue.

Every employee quickly learns the necessity of yelling “corner” when coming to or from the back toavoid a literal head on collision with whoever happens to be back there. When the last transaction is complete, a row of high fives ensues and a sigh of relief is taken. Once the rush finally ends, our work is far from over. We take a few minutes to gather our bearings, then prepare for the next rush by stocking lids, cups, pastries, the panini case, the drink fridge and cleaning the mountain of blenders left behind. The three R’s: Rush, recuperate and repeat. There’s always something that needs to be tended to, leaving no time for dull moments.

If you think we move fast during open hours, you would be overwhelmed by the concentration that carries on when no one’s watching. At 7 p.m, the doors are locked and it’s go time. Four workers miraculously complete the countless tasks of what should, in actuality, take at least six people to effectively finish. One would assume it wouldn’t be especially painstaking to close down a little cafe. Think again. Everyone has an assigned station to shut down and a list of things which need to be wrapped and stocked. Every surface must be wiped down, every syrupfilled, coffee and teas are drained, washed and polished. Every fridge must be full, every trash bag taken out. We work in teams to efficiently refill chips, cliff bars, candy and suncakes.

The final steps are pulling mats, sweeping thoroughly, mopping and cleaning drains.
These tasks do not seem extremely daunting, yet there have been a handful of times that I have walked away with bleach either in my eye or my mouth. As we cash out the last drawer, turn off the lights and walk sideways on our feet as to not dirty the newly mopped floor, we exit the building — often sweating and hyperventilating — finalizing another successful night.

By experiencing the amount of love and hard work which goes into running the most popular venue on campus,  I am proud to call myself a member of the Charlie Brown’s family.


The Charlie Brown's Cafe staff.

Courtesy // Olivia Hunt