In response to the recent incidents of religious and sexual bias that occurred in its cafe, Starbucks of Pennington hosted an event Monday called “CommUNITY”, which featured a coffee tasting and pastry pairing. The theme was meant to show the universality of coffee itself and to reiterate Starbucks’ commitment to inclusivity and diversity.
Samantha Massey, who serves both as a staff sergeant with the United States Air Force and has managed the Denow Rd. Starbucks in Pennington for a little over a year, hosted the afternoon event. Massey explained that, earlier this year, a newspaper containing handwritten “hateful and threatening” statements targeting various religious beliefs and sexual orientations was left by a visitor to the store.
“There were two incidents that happened here,” said Massey, “After the second incident, I said ‘Enough is enough.’ I had to let people know that I was not going to allow this kind of thing to go on, especially after one of our partners (employees) was targeted specifically.”
Massey went on to explain that one instance of hate-filled messages and symbols scrawled throughout a newspaper was discovered by an eighty-five-year-old customer who later confided to her that he “didn’t feel safe”. That was the last straw for Massey.
Massey explained that, earlier this year, a newspaper containing handwritten “hateful and threatening” statements targeting various religious beliefs and sexual orientations was left by a visitor to the store.
The cafe was filled at 3:30 pm with some who came especially to support their local Starbucks’ stand against hate and division. Other patrons found themselves surprised by the presentation during their afternoon pick-me-up.
Massey told those present: “As a result of these attacks, we have discontinued selling newspapers since late August. I have had to reconfigure our seating to make sure all areas are visible to cameras.”
She followed her account of what led her to schedule the talk with a brief history of coffee, highlighting its beginnings in Africa to market domination as one of the world’s most recognizable staples. Patrons sampled coffees from Sumatra and Guatemalan as well as a new flavor called Siren’s Blend, each paired with a pastry, including pumpkin scone and pain chocolat. She concluded her talk with a comparison of the coffee bean, which may look or taste different depending where it came from, with people.
“But we are all the same people,” she said. “All the same soul.”
“I’m still shocked. Didn’t think that things like this happened here,” stated Susan Veltre, a 15-year resident of Pennington who is originally from Laguna Beach California. “I just can’t believe people still think like that.”
Another patron present, Linda Rogers stated, “I wasn’t surprised. People who are here and have lived here for a while have a hard time accepting inclusion and diversity. These attitudes have no place in the 21st century.”
The recent incidents are not the first that has occurred at this particular Starbucks. In 2016, a patron confronted another customer who was verbally abusing and harassing an African-American man waiting for his coffee. After the exchange, the customer left but not before “flipping off” the defending patron.
Massey wrapped up the coffee tasting by acknowledging some of the issues of diversity and race that Starbucks has contended with in the past. Most infamously, the incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks that made national news and sparked a day-long shut down of many cafes nationwide to address the issues with managers and partners. She also informed those present of the Starbucks efforts worldwide in providing for its farmers and workers in developing nations and their commitment to equity and fair wages across the corporation.
Massey shared, “One of the Starbucks ideals is to create a culture of warmth. I am determined to make sure that everyone who comes here feels welcomed and accepted no matter who they are.”