Running Away From the Circus to Join Starbucks

Some people daydream about running away to join the circus. Maxime Clabaut ran away from the circus to join Starbucks.

A native of France, Clabaut first caught the attention of Cirque du Soleil when he was just 11, competing in international trampoline competitions. Three years later, he auditioned for the lead in Cirque du Soleil’s “O,” which ran at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. He was cast for that role, but there was an issue.

“My mom didn’t like the thought of sending her 14 year old to live in Sin City, so I couldn’t go,” he recalled.

Clabaut continued to follow his interest in acrobatics, first with a circus school in France and then at The National Circus School of Montreal. One of the people in the audience at his final exam in Montreal was the same Cirque du Soleil casting director who tried to hire him years earlier. This time, when she offered him a role, Clabaut and his trapeze partner accepted.

For a while it was a dream come true. Then, in February 2015, Clabaut found his love for performing waning.

“I was in circus for the love of circus and the love of art,” he said, but over time “it stopped being a passion and started to be a job.” It didn’t help that he was in a traveling show after three years in Vegas, and the time away from his husband was taking its toll.

Clabaut took a break from Cirque du Soleil and looked into going back to school, something he’d wanted to do for years. The cost of college education in the U.S. was intimidating, especially since a university is free in his homeland.

From Performer to Partner

Around this time, Clabaut heard about Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers an opportunity for partners (employees) to complete a bachelor’s degree through Arizona State University with full tuition reimbursement.

“Maybe that’s an option for me,” he recalled thinking as he began researching Starbucks as a company.

Clabaut read Starbucks chairman and ceo Howard Schultz’s book, “Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” and researched the company online. When he heard Schultz voice support for gay marriage at Starbucks 2013 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, Clabaut decided he’d found a company with a good heart.

Not a coffee drinker initially, he began to study coffee and took his resume to Starbucks stores in New York applying for barista positions. He landed a barista role at a store in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens, New York and has been a shift supervisor there for the past three months.

“With the circus, you don’t do it unless you’re 200 percent into it, and I think that is the way I am now with coffee. That’s my personality. I love coffee and I love my customers,” said Clabaut, now 32 years old and a certified Starbucks Coffee Master.

The Theater of Coffee

What started as a diversion from his circus career has become Clabaut’s passion.

“Starbucks is beyond my expectations,” he said, as he alludes to a new goal of performing in a different kind of theater – the theater of coffee known as Starbucks Reserve® Roastery and Tasting Room in Seattle.

He met partners from the Roastery at this year’s coffee festival in New York and was impressed with their coffee knowledge.

“The Starbucks Roastery is the ultimate stage for a coffee master,” he said. “I hope to work there one day.”

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Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas