During Women’s History Month, we asked women to tell us who inspires them – their friends and family, mentors and heroes. Shannon Haines, a shift supervisor in West Palm Beach, Fla., chose Patti Esbia, a longtime customer who is now like family. We’re sharing their story and hope it encourages you to think about the remarkable women in your life who inspire you.
It started with a venti whole milk bone-dry cappuccino.
Shannon Haines was working as a barista in Palm Beach, Fla., Starbucks when one day, the door opened and customer Patti Esbia walked in, looking “so bougie and so fancy with her little dog,” Haines remembered with a laugh.
But it was her order that really made her stand out.
“I said ‘Oh my goodness, how do you make that?’,” said Haines. “I must have used three pitchers to make this cappuccino. I passed off the drink and she looked at it said ‘Oh my God, awesome! That’s just how I like it.’”
Eleven years later, both women still remember the details of that day. Haines remembers telling Esbia, who she lovingly calls “Ms. Patti,” that she liked the way she was dressed and she liked her dog, a French Bulldog named Speck. Esbia recalls there was something about Haines’ brilliant smile that sparked a connection – a warmth that made her really feel seen.
“Shannon makes me feel like a special person,” she said. “She’s always asking how I’m doing and how I’m feeling and really takes an interest. … She is such a bright light.”
Neither woman knows when exactly it happened, but over the months and years to come, as Haines changed stores and Esbia followed, their relationship shifted from customer and barista, to friends and then to what it is today: family of the heart.
“She’s like the daughter I never had,” said Esbia, 66. “I never wanted children, but if I’d known I could have a daughter like her, I probably would have.”
Haines, 35, whose own mother died last year, said that Esbia is a mother figure to her. “She inspires me – she makes me feel like I can change and be even better than I am.”
After that first visit, as they got to know each other one Starbucks order at a time, they began to share their life stories. They realized they both had known struggle in their early years. Esbia had a challenging childhood and learned to make her own way from a young age. Haines grew up in the Dunbar Village public housing community in West Palm Beach. Her family had an abundance of love but money was tight.
“As I got to know her better,” said Esbia. “I could relate more and more to her story and how she worked hard for everything.”
Today, Esbia is the owner of Patti Esbia Antique & Estate Jewelry, a successful Palm Beach store she describes as high-end and edgy, but when she was just starting out, she worked construction, dealt blackjack for years and sold vintage items at flea markets to make ends meet. Along the way, she found her own distinct style and developed an eye for exquisite vintage jewelry and clothes, an appreciation Haines, who sometimes visits the store, now shares. (“I love Ms. Patti’s style,” Haines said. “She has pizazz.”)
Esbia says she enjoys giving her special pieces of clothes that Haines has admired. “It helps me to be able to care for someone I care about,” she said.
Early in her career, Esbia didn’t always have the support from other women that she wished she did, so she’s especially motivated to support others now, particularly those who have struggled. “It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “Women should always mentor other women to help them gain independence and not have to rely on others.”
Haines said Esbia has helped her build her confidence by believing in her. “We have conversations and she’s very motivating. She encourages me to not give up and to continue to grow. She tells me to keep growing in life and at Starbucks too – there’s more at Starbucks that I can become.”
A year ago Haines was promoted to shift supervisor. A few days after her photo shoot with Esbia she learned she was one of four people chosen in her district to be in Starbucks assistant manager program.
Esbia said one of the things that she hopes that Haines has learned through their friendship is that, “You are not defined by the way you grew up, what counts is the positive things you do for others, big or small,” she said.
It’s a message Haines has taken to heart.
“Every day at Starbucks, I think about how I can impact someone’s life and help them feel like it’s OK,” she said. “When I’m interacting with customers, I want them to feel love and know there’s someone out there who loves you. I think about how just a hug could change someone’s life.”
And, she thinks about how a customer walked into her store one day and changed hers.
“I just love Ms. Patti,” she said.
The feeling is mutual. “I love Shannon,” said Esbia. “She is amazing.”