A searching veteran’s path to Starbucks

By Steve Stolder / Starbucks Newsroom

Ted Warshaw, a 33-year-old U.S. Air Force veteran, vividly recalls the moment: He’s at a military-themed job fair and all around are recruiters and applicants. He desperately needs work to keep a roof over his family’s head, but he’s overwhelmed and discouraged. He reads the job descriptions but nothing seems to suit his skillset.

“My head was hung low,” Warshaw recalled, “and I had a deer-in-the-headlights look, I imagine.”

That’s when a stranger in a Starbucks apron offered him a cup of coffee. The man approached him a little gingerly, asking if he was having a rough day. He asked if Warshaw liked coffee. I love it, Warshaw answered. Had he ever considered a career in coffee? No, I haven’t, he replied. Warshaw’s skill was firefighting.

The stranger in the green apron was undeterred. Warshaw was introduced to Eric Gonzalez, a Starbucks district manager. Gonzalez, who takes pride in his role in the region that leads Starbucks in hires from the military community, said the 10½-year veteran may have been down on his luck, but he still projected energy and sincerity. Warshaw seemed to be skeptical about opportunities that a coffee company could offer a firefighter, but he engaged in conversation and presented impressive qualifications.

“I don’t think he was making the connection initially,” Gonzalez recalled with a laugh. “I thought he’d walked over for the coffee more than anything else.”

Gonzalez, however, made the case that, as in the military, Starbucks stores are about uniting to achieve a mission. Starbucks had also recently announced an initiative to hire 10,000 service members, veterans and military spouses by 2018. The company hit its initial goal in March 2017 and has set a new target of 25,000 hires by 2025.

‘We went from hotel to hotel, just waiting and hoping’

Growing up in Dodge City, Kansas, Warshaw’s dream was to be a morning drive radio host, just like his uncle. After high school, the garrulous teen enrolled in community college, intending to work toward a degree in broadcasting, with a focus on radio.

“I could talk all day as long as I didn’t have a camera on me,” he said.

But he recognized that he needed more structure than college was providing and decided to join the military in hopes of pursuing a broadcasting program.

He chose the Air Force, but its broadcasting program required a bachelor’s degree, so he needed a new focus.

“Frankly, firefighting just seemed cool,” he said. “At the time, it was a little over a year after 9/11 and I had a lot of respect for firefighters, so I chose firefighting.”

Warshaw served two years in South Korea before transferring to Florida. There he met a student from New York named Serena who was in town assisting a friend with a newborn child. The two began dating, spending hours at a Starbucks in Panama City, Fla., sitting in the sun and losing track of time. They married in 2008 and Warshaw was transferred to Germany a short time later. Their son, Aidin, was born in 2013.

After more than a decade, Warshaw decided to end his active-duty service. Things were looking good. He’d accumulated a healthy nest egg and was optimistic about his employment prospects in the civilian world. The family flew from Germany to Baltimore in July 2014 and embarked on an extended road trip, visiting family and friends in New York, Illinois and Kansas before heading south to San Antonio, where Warshaw would be serving in the Reserves and seeking full-time work.

“The military is very good about certifications,” he said. “I figured emergencies happen every day. Fires happen every day. It’s going to be super easy to get a job once we get settled. I didn’t understand how competitive it could be.”

Weeks went by. Warshaw settled into a pattern of interviewing for jobs and waiting in vain for callbacks. Without proof of a steady income, the family couldn’t rent an apartment. They were living in hotels and – without a kitchen – eating regularly at restaurants. It only took a couple of months for their once-substantial savings to become alarmingly meager.

“We went from hotel to hotel, just waiting and hoping,” he recalled. “It was terrifying.”

While at Lackland Air Force Base, he spotted a flyer for the job fair.

‘I don’t even know what I’d say’

Warshaw may have been going through a period of profound self-doubt, feeling, he said, “like a shadow of my former self,” but Gonzalez saw an accomplished military veteran with a load of potential. He directed Warshaw to apply at the Starbucks store managed by Daniel Nava, a man Gonzalez considers a great judge of talent.

“I wanted to make sure Ted wouldn’t fall through the cracks and that we’d have him with a manager who’d have a connection with him, and that he’d be treated appropriately,” Gonzalez said.

Warshaw showed up for his interview wearing a brand-new $253 suit.

“I had a long conversation with my wife,” he recalled. “We were excited. We were terrified. If I didn’t get this job, I didn’t know what would happen. So, we decided to spend money we did not have to get a suit.”

If Nava thought Warshaw was dressed somewhat formally, he didn’t show it. If he detected that Warshaw’s legs were shaking from nervousness under the table, he kept it to himself. Warshaw reported for work in November 2014 and hasn’t looked back.

“I was blown away from day one,” he said. “I’d never walked into a situation so unfamiliar with anything and having all the people around me be so supportive.

“It was a Reserve™ store, so I got to taste Clover® coffee for the first time in my life, which was a gamechanger. I would come in early and read beverage cards. I absolutely loved it. I was interested in everything.”

Warshaw has moved steadily through the ranks since joining the company. Always a fan of coffee, he’s become a true aficionado, becoming a Starbucks Coffee Master and winning a district Starbucks District Barista Championship, finishing second in the 2016 regional competition. He and his family live in a house they purchased last year, and Warshaw began managing his own store last month.

“Talk about owning it – it feels great to walk in and look around and say, ‘This is my store,’” he said.

Warshaw still thinks about the stranger in the green apron. When he visits Starbucks stores in the San Antonio area, he’ll take a minute to describe the man – about 40 now, red hair, maybe 5 feet 7 inches tall. So far no one has been able to provide a lead.

What would he say to him?

“I don’t even…”

Warshaw pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts.

“Words don’t describe. He was where he needed to be in my life at the right time. Actually, I don’t even know what I’d say to him.”

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How Starbucks partners help create change, one community at a time, with Neighborhood Grants