What it means to work at the ‘largest, most beautiful Starbucks in the world’

By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom

SHANGHAI, China – The story of Moon Man’s life is written on her forearm. A tattoo of Chinese characters spells out a blessing of health, protection and courage for Man and her young son. Next to that is a tattoo of a mermaid, representing the siren logo of Starbucks, where she began working four years ago.

Above it is a crescent moon, inspired by the one she saw in the sky lighting her way on a particularly dark night when she was at a crossroads, bringing her peace and hope for the future, and inspiring her to take “Moon” as her English name.

Most recently she added a tattoo of a star and an “R”, the logo of the newly opened Starbucks Reserve and Roastery in Shanghai.

“It’s everything that led me to here,” she said. “They are the marks of my new life.”

As she spoke, she was standing in the 30,000 square-foot Roastery, which opened to acclaim earlier this month. The Shanghai Roastery features a two-story copper roasting cask, or kettle, a ceiling made of 10,000 individually made hexagon tiles, inspired by the locking of an espresso shot on an espresso machine, and copper “symphony” pipes, which carry freshly roasted beans from the cask to silos at the coffee bars.

The Roastery is the first of its kind in Asia, where China is Starbucks’ fastest growing market with 3,000 stores and a new one opening roughly every 15 hours. For Man, and many of the other 270 Starbucks partners at the Roastery, working there is the culmination of dreams. Many moved across the country – or even the world — to be part of the Roastery, leaving behind family and friends and the lives they’d known.

Three of them, including Man, Lincoln Bechard and Toxi Luo, shared with us what it means to them to be part of what’s been called “the largest, most beautiful Starbucks in the world”:

‘It’s time to have a new life’

Earlier this month, camera flashes illuminated the night as Man stood to the right of Howard Schultz, Starbucks executive chairman, as he opened the massive front doors of the Roastery to the world.

“It was a magic moment. A dream come true,” said Man.

It was also light years away from an evening last year when Man took a hard look at herself in the mirror. As she gazed at her reflection, she remembered a time when she felt passion for life and joy. But now, she was in a relationship that wasn’t working. Broken-hearted, she felt that in some ways, she’d lost touch with herself and what she wanted.

“I thought, ‘Is this you? You had a dream and passion before. Where has it gone?’” she remembered. “I thought, can I change something in my life?”

She was also thinking of her son, Eason, now 4, and how she wanted to be a role model for him. “I want to encourage my son to be strong in himself and show him you can follow your dream,” she said.

Not long after that, Man saw an email announcing that the Shanghai Roastery was hiring. It felt like destiny to her. “It was time to have a new life,” she said.

After she got the job, she spent a month in Seattle – her first time outside China – training at the Seattle Roastery, the only other Roastery in the world. Now, as an associate manager at the Shanghai Roastery’s pairing bar, she delights in introducing customers to new tastes as she suggests flavors to pair with coffee, or helps them pick out merchandise only available at the Roastery.

“When we opened, the customers all said ‘Wow’! I can see the light shining in their eyes,” she said. “It makes me feel so good.”

A world apart, but still at home

Lincoln Bechard, 25, dreams in Chinese. He doesn’t speak the language, but he’s so immersed in it that it permeates his sleep. Bechard, who is based at the Seattle Roastery, spent the last few months living and working in Shanghai as a trainer to help the Chinese partners prepare to open the new Roastery. “I love getting to know them, even if we have very few words,” he said. “It’s like the longest game of charades I’ve ever played. It’s been great watching people slowly open up and their personalities come out.”

On a recent day, shortly before the Roastery opened, he was helping a group of Chinese partners practice giving tours in English. Offering tours and conducting tastings is one of the things he does at the Seattle Roastery, but now he had the challenge of helping the Shanghai partners understand how to express themselves in their non-native language. The key to connecting, he knows, is tapping into the heart, finding that which transcends language.

When the group stopped in front of the copper roasting cask, which is adorned with more than a thousand hand-carved tiles bearing ancient Chinese characters that tell the story of Starbucks, he pointed to one and asked for the practice tour guide to discuss it. The tile he chose translated to “partner.” Her face lit up and she lost any self-consciousness about speaking in another language as she talked about what being a Starbucks partner meant to her – it’s the equivalent of finding another family.

Bechard said he’s felt that since he joined Starbucks six years ago as a barista in Spokane, Wash. Later, he worked at the Starbucks at Seattle Children’s Hospital before helping open the Seattle Roastery. All along the way, his community of Starbucks partners have always made him feel connected, he said. “There’s a place for everyone at Starbucks,” he said, something that was especially meaningful when he was first coming out as gay. “I love the people and I love what we do as a company, from ethically sourcing coffee to environmental and social impact. It’s a big company but we look out for each other.”

He’s excited to play a role in bringing the Starbucks Roastery experience to Shanghai. “Coffee in China is about the people. It’s an event, like let’s go out for coffee,” he said. “And this is a breathtaking place for human connection.”

Now with the partners trained and the Roastery open, Bechard is preparing to depart Shanghai and return home to Seattle. “My Roastery is Capitol Hill (in Seattle) and will always be home, but this is the next expression of the Roastery. I will always be connected to this place.”

Following her heart

Toxi Luo was trying to get her courage up to talk to her parents. She had gone to college and earned a degree. Then she started working as a middle school history teacher, something her parents had always wanted her to do.

But along the way, something unexpected had happened. In college, she’d begun working part-time at Starbucks. She loved it so much, she couldn’t give it up. She continued working part-time after she graduated and while teaching. Working at the store was her true passion, she realized, helping customers enjoy themselves and working with partners she loved.

But what her parents wanted for her, she said, was the “normal life” of a teacher. “But there was no excitement for me,” she said. “I wanted to spend my life doing what inspired me.”

One day, she saw a post on WeChat, the popular social media app in China, about the opening of the Roastery. She wanted to apply, but in a society that reveres its elders, she also wanted her parents’ blessing. So, she summoned her courage. “I told them I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore and I wanted to work (at the Roastery) and learn and grow,” said Luo, 26.

Her dad decided to go visit her at her part-time job at Starbucks soon after. What he saw made up his mind. He saw customers who were relaxed and happy. And what’s more, his daughter was happy as she served customers and laughed with them. She had his blessing.

But going to work at the Roastery meant leaving her home town of Xian City for the first time. Anxious, she called her parents. “They told me, ‘Don’t be afraid. You can do it,’” she said.

Now, as a barista at the Roastery’s second floor coffee experience bar — which, at 75-feet long, is Starbucks’ longest bar in the world — she’s found a new family in her fellow partners. Recently, her parents travelled to Shanghai to see her at the Roastery — one of her proudest moments, she said.

“The city has welcomed me,” she said.

Starbucks’ Cat Geng, Cissy Wang and Marianne Duong contributed to this report.

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Artist Damon Brown celebrates Black culture and community in Starbucks latest drinkware collection