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An Interview with Steph

By August 15, 2019 The Coffee Blog

In our last blog, Frank Battista, Manager of our MWS location, spent some time offering up his thoughts on what hospitality means to him and to Commonplace. In somewhat of a follow-up to that, we thought it would be fun to introduce you to another one of our employees and provide you with an inside look at a wonderful human, who is working together in hospitality each and every time she steps behind the bar to create and build a great guest experience. For this month’s blog, we interviewed long-time employee and manager of our Squirrel Hill shop, Stephanie Ritter.

What first interested you about coffee? What got you started working in coffee?
Coffee was always the first thing my dad did in the morning. Once I tried it, it became part of my routine too. Coffee holds nostalgia for me, whether it’s the instant machine-made cappuccinos my dad would take me to get before school, the Folgers drip my family would drink after a holiday meal, or the instant Nescafe coffee I drank while traveling. In my third year of college, a professor told me about a job opening at a local coffee shop, and I got excited about what could become of good coffee when properly treated.

How long have you been working in coffee? With Commonplace?
I started in coffee in 2013 at The Artists Hand in Indiana, Pennsylvania, and was there for almost a year. I started working with Commonplace in 2014.

Having worked in and managed two different Commonplace locations (both University Square in Indiana and Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh), how can you compare the experiences?
Both locations have highlighted and solidified community for me in different ways. The Indiana location has an incredibly supportive and lively group of regulars. Getting to know people while behind the bar enhanced that small town experience so much. It gave me a great sense of belonging and connection to the place I lived. With the calming flow of that shop, there was an opportunity to overhear and be a part of so many diverse conversations and perspectives. Working in Squirrel Hill has showcased the value of a strong team. The staff is incredibly open and caring, and they made me feel loved and comfortable when I first moved to Pittsburgh and was still insecure about the transition. They have a lot of heart for both customers and each other. I feel incredibly grateful to share my workdays with people who always find ways to add dynamism and fun to a shop that requires so much energy.

What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
I like taking care of people and the general practice of hospitality. Hosting a coffee shop requires a lot of emotional and physical energy, but the positivity that comes out of connection makes it worth it.

As a manager, what do you hope to achieve?
I want to create an open and safe work environment, and I want everyone to know that they have input on daily operations. You can’t have just one perspective controlling everything in a team environment, and I’ve learned many things from the people I work with. We should all be allowed to express emotion, debate, and be creative without fear.

What do you hope people walk away with after visiting Commonplace Coffee — Squirrel Hill?
I hope they get a drink that makes them feel good and the experience with their barista is more than just a transaction.

What does it mean to be a female manager of a specialty coffee shop?
I’ve always felt very supported by Commonplace as a female manager. To be a good fit in this industry, you need to have a blend of care for people as well as the desire to serve excellent drinks. I’ve seen both men and women do this very well. The women I’ve worked with are particularly inspirational, especially considering their accomplishments. Having a role in specialty coffee has the potential to help women follow different passions and interests while holding a position that can continue to grow, provided the job supports them financially. I think the hard part is getting to a place where the barista occupation is seen as a valuable trade and skill. This job is not for everyone; making good coffee in a high-volume setting requires a lot of multi-tasking, attention to detail, anticipation of needs, acting, communication, creativity, self-neglect, and empathy. Too often I’ve been asked, “So you went to college and now you just pour coffee?”  That wears on you after a while.

In addition to managing Commonplace Coffee — Squirrel Hill, biking/cycling is a big part of your life. How do you balance the two? How do they balance you?
The two work really well together. I’m lucky to have a flexible schedule and supportive coworkers who hold the fort down while I’m away from Pittsburgh. It’s definitely taught me time management and prioritizing. Getting everything done before I mentally check out from the shop gives me the space to disconnect and focus on the bike. Taking time each day to do neither of those things has become important too. Working takes a lot of social and emotional energy, and biking takes a lot of physical energy, so finding ways to fill the rest of the time I have with activities that feed my brain and creativity has been my focus lately.  Biking has also given me such a good point of connection with customers over the years, and espresso keeps me energized for my races!

On a lighter note, what is your favorite drink to make? Favorite drink to consume?
I love making honey cinnamon lattes. You can get really beautiful art out of them, and they are so comforting. My favorite drink to consume is an espresso with a piece of chocolate or a cookie on the side.

Final thoughts, words of advice to others in specialty coffee, looking to get into specialty coffee or just a general life quote you love or try to live by?
If you’re trying to get into the world of specialty coffee, make sure you spend a good amount of time as a customer in the shop where you want to work. So much of the fulfillment and happiness you experience at work is in the vibe and flow of the shop as well as the people that fill it.

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