Top 10 Starbucks Partner Stories of 2016

Starbucks humanity shows up year-round, especially in the way the company shares success with its partners (employees) and how they connect with the people and communities they serve. In 2016, the Starbucks Newsroom featured more than 100 stories about partners. Here are some of our favorite stories:

1. Sam the Dancing Barista

A teenager with autism, who became a social media sensation almost a year ago, said he always wanted to work for Starbucks, and now he hopes more employers will give people with special needs an opportunity to succeed. Social media attention began for Sam after a customer in Toronto, Canada, noticed him dancing as he prepared beverages and thought the moment was video-worthy. More than 72 million people agreed. That’s how many have watched the video Carley Fleischmann posted on her social pages and watched spread through Facebook on the Love What Matters page. Sam also appeared on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and recently returned from the trip she surprised him with. We’ll have an update on Sam’s international travel in the next few weeks. Due to its long history of inclusion, Starbucks was also recognized as a “Best Place to Work” in 2016.

2. Baristas Who Communicate with Sign Language

A Starbucks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, looks like many other stores in the region. Baristas are handcrafting beverages with the rich aroma of coffee lingering in the air. However, when customers reach the counter to order a drink, they'll notice something different. Instead of calling out beverage orders, baristas use sign language, as you can see in this video. Starbucks Malaysia, in collaboration with The Society of Interpreters for the Deaf, opened a store dedicated to providing employment opportunities for Deaf partners. Located in the busy Bangsar Village II shopping mall, the store is the first of a kind for Starbucks globally. In the U.S., a store in one of the busiest locations in Houston employs three partners who are Deaf. There store manager Paul Meyer implemented new tools that could enhance the work experience for Deaf and hearing partners alike. Barista Krystal Payne, who works in Leesburg, Virginia, learned American Sign Language so she could better communicate with a customer. These partners also inspired us to share a few coffee-related ASL words.

3. The “Dream Team” of Jamaica, Queens

They range in age from 16 to 36 and they’ve been with Starbucks from just a few weeks to 18 years. Their ultimate career goals include becoming a police detective, a firefighter, a teacher, leaders at Starbucks, and starting their own companies. They’re from Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and the Caribbean island of Jamaica. Different paths in life have brought them together in one place – a Starbucks store in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, New York. They call themselves the Dream Team. Read their bios here and you’ll discover why. The store in New York was the first of 15 Starbucks stores that are part of the company’s effort to support economic development and social change in diverse low- to medium-income communities in the U.S. Read more about special teams in Ferguson, Phoenix and Chicago.

4. Partners Who Are Called “Heroes” by Their Customers

Starbucks shift supervisor Angel Ramos didn’t know if he’d make it to his 24th birthday on August 25th. Ramos and dozens of others were in a Starbucks store at US 35 and State Route 22 in Kokomo, Indiana, when a tornado roared over the building on August 24, 2016, causing it to collapse on August 24, 2016. “It blew over and flattened like a piece of cardboard folding,” an eyewitness reported. Remarkably no one in the store was hurt. Many attributed the safety of the customers to Ramos, who’s been a Starbucks partner for two years and a shift supervisor for only the last six months. Read his story and see a picture of the demolished store that will amaze you. A temporary Starbucks café opened in the community last week, and the company plans to rebuild its store on the same site in the next year.

A Starbucks store manager who delivered coffee, milk and pastries to first responders following an explosion in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood in September doesn’t think he did anything exceptional. But more than 22 million people watched a video of Germaine Zolkos handing food and containers of coffee to a NYPD officer. As you might expect, he does not consider himself to be a hero and was surprised by the reaction. “It was the least I could do. They run to danger, and I wish I could have done more,” said Zolkos, a 14-year Starbucks partner. “What does it say about our society that being nice is a big deal?”

5. Starbucks Dress Code Gets a Makeover

Tattoos, purple hair and stripes. Starbucks dress code got a makeover this summer, inviting more personal expression for baristas in the U.S. and Canada. A range of shirt colors beyond solid black and white are welcome, including gray, navy, dark denim and brown, including patterns. Shorts, skirts, dresses and pants, including dark-wash jeans, are all part of the Starbucks wardrobe, and partners are invited to make a statement with hair color, so long as coloring is permanent or semi-permanent, in keeping with food-safety standards. To cap the look off, beanies, fedoras and other suitable hats are welcome. Take a look at the dress code options here. This summer, Starbucks also invested in the partner experience in other ways:

  • All U.S. store partners received wage increases of 5 percent or greater this year
  • Retail partners who’ve been with the company for two years or more received a one-time bonus
  • All eligible partners also receive stock in the company, and during the 2016 Fiscal Year, Bean Stock delivered more than $221 million in pre-tax gains to partners around the world
  • Beginning in November 2017, Starbucks will double the annual Bean Stock award
  • Starbucks evolved its benefits program and online benefits platform with a cost savings to most partners

6. Benefits Personalized for Partners Around the World

For Zhang Meng, the decision to relocate from Tangshan to Beijing came with plenty of pluses and at least one area of concern. With more than 21 million residents, China’s capital is one of the most populous cities in the world. That high density leads to soaring housing costs and Zhang wondered how she could afford Beijing’s elevated rent. The solution to her dilemma was provided by a new initiative Starbucks announced earlier this year. Under the program, full-time Starbucks baristas and shift supervisors receive a monthly housing subsidy. Around 9,000 China partners have been eligible for the benefit since its launch. The program is designed to cover half of the average housing rent in their home cities. The housing help has allowed Zhang to move from a hotel room where a passing train rattled her windows to a place that feels more like home. The housing initiative in China is one example of the benefits customized to meet partners needs around the world. Read about others here.

7. A Royal Honor from the Prince of Wales

Jaz Rabadia, a Starbucks partner in the UK, ascended the steps of Buckingham Palace in February of this year. Moments later, Charles, Prince of Wales presented her with an award signifying her status as a Member of the Order of the British Empire. In Rabadia's role, she’s focused on influencing the sustainable design of new Starbucks stores and developing environmental engagement tools for existing stores in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. She brings more than nine years of energy experience to Starbucks, after receiving her degree in mechanical engineering from City University London. In her final project prior to graduation, she completed an energy study at a large supermarket chain in the UK. Her work to implement energy-saving initiatives there resulted in her first role in energy management. Learn about Rabadia’s work in the field of energy management that led to recognition by the British Monarchy.

8. Veterans Find a New Mission at Starbucks

A sizable crew of maintenance supervisors, mechanics and technicians at Starbucks roasting and distribution facility outside of Seattle have military backgrounds. Of the 26 mechanics at Kent, 10 have served in the military. Of the 33 partners in the maintenance department as a whole, 15 are former military service members. The team is like the thousands of veterans and active duty military members who’ve found a second home at Starbucks. To honor the service, leadership and citizenship of veterans and their spouses, Starbucks has hired more than 8,000 and is ahead of schedule with its goal of hiring 10,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2018.

9. A Circus Performer Takes the Stage in Starbucks Theater of Coffee

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 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. Clabaut took a break from Cirque du Soleil and looked into going back to school, something he’d wanted to do for years. He landed at Starbucks in order to pursue a degree through the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, which offers full tuition reimbursement to partners. What started as a diversion from his circus career has become Clabaut’s passion. “Starbucks is beyond my expectations,” he said, as he alluded in June to a new goal of performing in a different kind of theater – the theater of coffee known as Starbucks Reserve® Roastery in Seattle. If you’re a fan of happy endings, you’ll be delighted to know that dream came true. Clabaut is now a partner at the Seattle Roastery.

10. Practice, Practice, Practice leads the Starbucks Chorus to Carnegie Hall

The Starbucks Chorus was founded during the 1996 holiday season by partners as a way to give back to Seattle, the company’s hometown community. They’ve gone far beyond a local stage in the years since, and in September had an opportunity to take the stage of New York’s Carnegie Hall as part of a massed choir of 200 singers from Australia and the U.S. performing “Street Requiem,” to support people facing homelessness. Through the years, the Starbucks Chorus, which now has about three dozen members, has raised nearly $500,000 for various causes. Network performances on “Good Morning America” and “The Voice,” as well as annual appearances at Seattle’s Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition fundraiser, have raised the group’s profile.

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How Starbucks made a splash with its new (and blue!) summer drink with popping pearls