Growing up in North Beach, Maryland, Starbucks barista Jen Poteet rode bikes with her friends near the town’s boardwalk and looked for shark teeth on the western shore of Chesapeake Bay. As an only child, however, she also spent a lot of time alone.
“I’ve always been a big reader,” she said. “I started drawing and painting with pen, ink and watercolor at a very young age and learned to entertain myself.”
The books she selected to read were typically illustration-driven.
“One of my favorite books as a child was ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’” said Poteet. "I liked quirky books and anything visually artistic. Things that were creative and whimsical, I’ve always been drawn to that.”
Poteet took this love of books, words and art to create her first children’s book, “A Night Under the Circus Tent,” which is now available on amazon.com. She is both the author and illustrator of the book, which features a cast of characters who have adventures as part of a circus sideshow.
After graduating from high school in 2000, Poteet went to art school. But after one semester of studying and working a part-time job to pay for her expenses, she left school.
“Work kind of always wins when you have to make ends meet,” she said.
After a variety of restaurant jobs, she landed a tattoo apprenticeship at the Red Octopus in Frederick, Md.
“A friend of mine told the owner of the tattoo parlor about my artistic skills,” Poteet said. “There were not a lot of female tattoo artists at the time, so the owner decided to give me a shot.”
Poteet joined Starbucks in 2002 to supplement her income and gain health insurance that the company provides for part-time partners who work at least 20 hours per week. She worked at Starbucks during the day and the tattoo parlor at night, where she also met the love of her life. She married Joe, a tattoo artist, in 2005 and started a family.
Creating a story piece by piece
Poteet cut back on her work at the Red Octopus to spend more time with her three children – now 10, 8 and 6 years old – but she continued to work days at Starbucks.
“When the kids got to be school aged, I really got into painting again because I had more time,” said Poteet. “The book also started coming to me. Little rhymes would come into my head and I would jot them down.”
Because of the volume of art she was creating, Poteet started visiting local galleries, looking for places to hang her work. At the same time, she began researching how to write and publish a book.
Then, Poteet met Suzanne Shelden at one of the art galleries she frequented. Shelden had just started her own publishing company.
“Jen came to me with a stack of illustrations, which with minor arrangements and edits, came together to create ‘A Night Under the Circus Tent.’” said Shelden. “She is so full of great energy. I think she has what it takes to really succeed.”
A positive message for kids
Poteet’s book published in mid-March. “So far, everyone thinks it’s pretty neat. My husband and kids are super excited and think it’s the coolest thing ever,” Poteet said. “What people notice the most are the coffee-stained edges of the book. That was influenced by my work at Starbucks.”
Poteet is grateful for the support she has received at work.
“Having a published author as one of our baristas is just awesome,” said store manager Lyric Underwood. “I couldn’t be more proud of her. It’s not every day you see someone close to you achieve their dreams. It feels really good to be able to support that.”
“Starbucks has allowed me to do everything I want to do in life because it’s such a flexible job,” said Poteet. “I love to work there. I can go on field trips with my kids, write and paint. It lets me have a job, but do everything else too.”