Meet the Starbucks barista who is learning sign language for a customer

Genuine connections between baristas and customers happen every day in Starbucks stores around the world. One of those moments of connection filled social media feeds and news sites this week as a Starbucks barista’s effort to learn sign language so she can communicate with a Deaf customer captivated many. Here's the story behind the viral story of the week.

It was a chance encounter in her neighborhood that motivated Krystal Payne to expand her American Sign Language (ASL) skills.

On a night out to pick up pizza, Payne noticed a customer who frequently visits the Starbucks store in Leesburg, Virginia, where she’d started working earlier this year. Customer Ibby Piracha, who is Deaf, looked frustrated as he tried to place an order. She didn’t notice a similar problem at Starbucks because Piracha generally places beverage orders by typing them into his phone and showing the barista.  Still, Payne wondered if she could do something else to make his experience at Starbucks more welcoming.

The 24-year-old Pennsylvania native, a recent graduate of Marshall University, went online to learn more sign language words. Payne already knew some basic ASL that she'd learned when she worked as a nanny. After an hour studying You Tube videos and other internet resources, she’d added a number of useful phrases to her vocabulary, beginning with, “Nice to meet you.” She intends to continue to develop her ASL skills.

When Piracha arrived at the store February 19, Payne greeted him with a note she’d quickly wrote that read: “I’ve been learning ASL just so you can have the same experience as everyone else.”

Handwritten note on bar: “I’ve been learning ASL just so you can have the same experience as everyone else.”

Piracha offered a smile of appreciation for Payne, who proceeded to make the beverage he ordered. 

“I was so busy I didn’t even see him leave,” Payne said.

Piracha later posted a picture of the note on his Facebook page, beginning the comment with, “Oh, I gotta love this place.”

The next day, Payne heard about the post – which has been shared more than 5,000 times. Sunday her district manager complimented her, and mentioned she had many interview requests from reporters.

It’s taken Payne a few days to adjust to the fanfare and she still doesn’t quite understand what all the fuss is about.

“My job is to make sure people have the experience they expect and that’s what I gave him," she said.

The two sat down together the next time Piracha visited the Leesburg store, recounting to one another what they’d experienced in the days following their first sign language exchange.

“We talked about how we couldn't believe how the story is all over the globe, and how lucky we are to spread a message of kindness to the world,” Payne said. 

Barista sitting with customer in cafe, holding a notepad and pen.
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