By Nicholas Serpa / Starbucks Newsroom
When 26-year-old math teacher Adam Khan was growing up, he and his father Ishaq had a tradition: Every week, they’d sit at their favorite Starbucks in Reno, Nev., to catch up. It didn’t matter to Adam that he didn’t enjoy coffee nearly as much as his dad did – he simply loved their conversations.
But everything changed in April 2009, when Ishaq died from a heart attack. It happened barely a week before Adam’s 18th birthday, and a month before his high school graduation.
“It was very, very unexpected,” Adam said. “It was the most devastating news I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
After his death, it was hard to celebrate their father’s birthday, according to Hennah Khan, Adam’s older sister. Then, in 2011, she had an idea that has since become tradition: Every year on Ishaq’s birthday, Adam and Hennah buy Starbucks gift cards in small increments and leave them for others to find at Starbucks stores around the city.
On the back of each card, Adam and Hennah write short notes in memory of their father. Hennah likes to call this tradition “Random Acts of Starbucks.” It’s an appropriate way to honor a man, she says, whose generosity and love for coffee is well-known among friends and family.
“I can't even go to a Starbucks without thinking of my dad, and more often than not, I find myself wanting to buy someone else a coffee on him,” she said.
Ishaq moved to the United States from Pakistan in the 1970s, and lived in Reno when Adam and his siblings were young. After getting divorced, Ishaq moved to San Francisco and worked late nights at a card house. He would drive back to Reno every week to spend time with his kids, despite the distance.
Ishaq often had Mondays and Tuesdays off; on these days, he’d try to return in time to pick up his children from their mother’s house and take them to school. He’d often show up still dressed “in his blacks and whites,” Hennah said, smelling like Old Spice and Carmex.
Sometimes there was time to catch up over breakfast, but it was after school or on weekends when Ishaq and Adam would go to Starbucks just to chat.
Hennah, who is nine years older than Adam, had a similar routine with her father when she was growing up. Every week, they’d go to a nearby Starbucks and bond over games of chess. He began teaching her when she was relatively young; as she got better, Hennah’s father stopped letting her win so easily.
“We definitely had trash talk going on,” she said.
With Ishaq often out of town, Adam would call his dad almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day, just to talk with him. They would discuss anything and everything, from life, to sports, to politics and philosophy.
“He’s still on my phone log,” Adam said. “I can’t change it. He’s still my number one contact.”
Adam thinks Ishaq’s love for Starbucks stemmed from his passion for American culture, a broad interest that included everything from baseball and blue jeans to John Travolta. To this day, Adam still remembers his father’s favorite drink: a Venti Pike Place Roast with six creams and a number of sugars.
“We always joked that he knew every single Starbucks in California and Nevada, and every one on the route, on Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Reno,” Adam said. “Because he would go into any Starbucks, and they would know him.”
While Adam didn’t drink much coffee growing up, Hennah would often try and steal sips of her dad’s beverage, which she says tasted more like “melted ice cream” then coffee.
"I swear that if they had been able to put it on an IV for him, that would have been great," Hennah joked.
Today, Adam drinks a lot more coffee, and he says he knows it’s because of his dad. For him, giving away gift cards on his dad’s birthday is a good way to keep his father’s memory alive.
“When I'm sitting down and drinking my coffee, and writing out these notes, it's like he's sitting there with me.”