From Barista to Balladeer: Starbucks Helped Country Star Realize His Dream

Fresh out of college and itching to move ahead with a career in country music, Eric Paslay faced a dilemma. His goal was to find part-time work while he developed his chops as a songwriter, a craft he’d been developing since he was 15. The tall, red-headed Texas native, however, had a particular requirement that severely limited his employment options.

Diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 1 (also known as juvenile diabetes), forgoing healthcare was out of the question. In 2006, when he graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in music business, the Affordable Care Act was still years from enactment. On a practical level, Paslay’s preexisting condition put health insurance out of reach even if he could afford it on his own.

Speaking from his home in Nashville, where he’s at work on a sophomore album, Paslay recalled: “Someone told me, ‘Man, if you work at Starbucks part-time you can get total health insurance.’ I was like, ‘Wow, that means I can write songs part-time and work at Starbucks part-time.’”

Making Melodies and 'a Mean Frappuccino'

And so the burgeoning songsmith became a barista, working six months at a store in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, before transferring to the Hermitage district in metropolitan Nashville. He remained there for another year and a half, penning songs and learning to make “a mean Frappuccino®.”

Over time, Paslay built up a body of work that helped him get his foot in the door in the Nashville music community. He’s parlayed country chart-toppers co-written for Jake Owen, Rascal Flatts, Love and Theft and the Eli Young Band into his own recording deal with EMI Nashville, releasing a self-titled debut in February that peaked at No. 4 on Billboard’s country chart and launched a No. 1 single, “Friday Night.” His current single, "She Don't Love You," has been named one of the best country songs of 2015.

Paslay has yet to compose an ode to Italian Roast, but his stint behind the counter provided plenty of creative insight. “You just get a pulse of what people are all about,” he ventured. “That affects songwriting, because we’re trying to capture our lives in three minutes.”

Back to the Old Stomping Ground

Paslay played more than 220 shows in 2014, so he doesn’t spend as much time in Tennessee as he once did. When he’s home, Paslay passes by his old Hermitage stomping ground on a regular basis and occasionally stops in for a visit with old friends. There he finds himself fighting off an impulse to man his old post.

“Sometimes I want to get behind the bar and get some good crema going,” he laughed. “I always wanted to make it creamy and good.”

Photos courtesy Eric Paslay

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New Starbucks merch collaboration celebrates togetherness and joy in the everyday