Starbucks store managers from Uvalde, Highland Park share stories of courage

Colby, Nancy and Howard sitting together in front of Starbucks partners

Following a string of mass shootings, Starbucks ceo Howard Schultz sat down with partners in Seattle to discuss the importance of well-being, community and the evolving Third Place.

On Tuesday afternoon, more than 1,400 Starbucks partners (employees) gathered online and on the 9th floor of the Seattle-based Support Center (SSC) to hear Colby and Nancy share their harrowing experiences managing stores in Uvalde, Texas, and Highland Park, Illinois, following mass shootings that devastated their tight-knit communities.

In his introductory remarks, Howard reflected on the time he had previously spent with the two store managers sitting across from him. Sensing the heavy emotions in the room, he acknowledged that gun violence and partner safety has been top-of-mind throughout the Starbucks community due to a string of “unseemly, horrific” tragedies unfolding across the country that reflect growing concerns over mental health and public safety.

“[We] went to Uvalde and went to Highland Park during the same week,” he said. “I don’t think any of us knew what we were going to experience, but I must tell you that it just takes your breath away to walk the school at Robb Elementary in Uvalde and witness something that just doesn’t seem possible.”

Nancy joined Starbucks three years ago and has since become the manager of the only store in Uvalde. Colby, the Higland Park lead, became store manager in December 2019. Howard described both – and their fellow partners – as “heroes among us” for their actions during and after the shootings in their respective cities. 

During their hour-long fireside chat, the two relived the day their lives changed forever. Visibly emotional, they provided intimate details on where they were when they heard there was an active shooter situation.

In Colby’s case, his instincts as a new father kicked in. He made eye contact with as many people as he could, telling them: “Come inside, you’re safe here.” Panicked baristas and customers took cover in the back room and bathroom of the store for hours. To calm their nerves, he handed out water, coffee passports, and played the Encanto soundtrack for the kids.

Nancy’s vacation plans went out the door when she realized the gravity of the situation, too. She went back to her store and the team immediately activated by making thousands of cups of coffee for their grieving community. The store became a gathering place for customers and the swarm of media from around the world. Partners at other Starbucks locations came in to staff and provide relief to the Uvalde baristas. The team took turns handing out pastries and drinks at the local civic center – and supplying every single one of the victims’ funerals.

Eventually, both stores learned they had lost beloved customers, including children, to the violence. Colby and Nancy knew they also had to support the well-being of their partners and community members. They started the long journey by leaning on mental health resources available through company benefits, including Lyra.

In Uvalde, mental health counseling was extended to the community.

“This customer that I did not know came in and shared with me that her sister-in-law was able to take advantage of being able to have a counseling session – and that actually saved her life,” Nancy recalled. “What we do matters. This is an extreme case, but there is so much connection and things that we can do as partners to make a positive difference.”

On July 11, Howard provided detailed plans for the Reinvention of the company, sharing foundational principles for helping partners thrive, including: creating safe and welcoming stores, investing in advancement and opportunities, ensuring they have a voice and being an active participant in the well-being of themselves, their family and their community. In this moment, the importance of those principles could not have been clearer.

“The first thing we can do is elevate the importance of mental health throughout the country, and for Starbucks to take an active role in trying to be a catalyst for access to mental health,” said Schultz. “My primary concern sitting here today is for the health and safety of every Starbucks partner around the world in 35,000 stores.”

Below is a photo essay highlighting the 60-minute conversation and Q&A session:

Starbucks partners sitting inside Starbucks headquarters listening to Nancy and Colby sharing their story
Connor Surdi

More than 1,400 partners congregated online and at the Starbucks Support Center 9th floor, and after a coffee tasting of Yukon Blend – which started in 1971 as a blend made for a sea captain and original customer – listened to the courageous stories of Nancy, Colby and their partners.

Howard Schultz sitting with Colby and Nancy and listening to them sharing their story
Connor Surdi

“In both cases, I think we left Uvalde and left Highland Park with such a deep level of respect for Nancy and her partners and Colby and his partners,” said Schultz during the 60-minute conversation. “And despite the excruciating pain and suffering that both communities are continuing to go through, the Third Place experience and what Starbucks provides is still providing comfort to those communities.”

Starbucks partner Colby receiving the Starbucks spirit award next to Nancy and Starbucks leaders
Connor Surdi

As part of the fireside chat, both Nancy and Colby received the Spirit of Starbucks award for exemplifying all the qualities that make wearing the green apron so special.

Starbucks partner Nancy standing outside in front of a tree
Connor Surdi

“I love my customers and anybody that comes in,” said Nancy, a three-year partner and store manager for Starbucks in Uvalde. During one of the team’s first donation drop-offs at the civic center on the day of the tragedy, she saw one of their regular customers standing outside with his family, awaiting word of his daughter’s fate. She wasn’t sure how to react. “I tried not to impose in their space, especially in this situation. So, my shift supervisor, who’s young but very wise, said, ‘Are you going tell him hi? Are you going to tell him something?’ I thought, I don’t want to bother him. She reminded me the relationship we have is so much more than him just getting his coffee in the morning or bringing in his family [to the store].” 

Starbucks partner Colby standing outside in front a tree
Connor Surdi

“We talk about one cup a lot, and I knew what that meant,” said Colby, store manager at the Starbucks in Highland Park, IL. “But the next day, when you’re in your lobby and you’re having these really hard conversations and you’re holding a warm cup of coffee, you realize that warmth sometimes really helps you open up and sit down and just be okay, just be comfortable.”