The first thing I notice are his hands.
They move with the dexterity of an acrobat, handling milk, coffee and syrups easily as he chats with a customer. I watch as I wait for my latte, fascinated by the display. Of all the Starbucks I’ve entered, nothing has quite arrested me the way this young man makes the drinks. His mannerisms are not so much matter-of-fact as they are a lilting cadence of motion. It brings to mind scenes of dance and choreography.
This is a day in the life of Nathan Little, making art out of coffee right here in Forest Hills. Tall, his face is smooth ebony graced by an engaging smile and an ever-present cap on his head. There’s a vibe about him that is both gentle and humorous at the same time, as if he’s discovered a profound secret of some sort. I suppose the best word to sum him up is “Zen.” The aura of calm surrounding him shows in his movements; they stand out in clear definition no matter what he does. I'm hardly alone in recognizing his friendly demeanor. Other customers frequently chat him up while they wait.
So I ask him, reporter to employee, why he chose to work for Starbucks. He told me he liked the company, although he wasn’t sure of his chances of getting the job. “But they liked my interview and called me in,” he said as he poured milk for a latte.
Over the course of scattered coffee runs, I learn that he’s nineteen, going into school for web design, and that his middle name is Lazarus. Yet unlike the classic Christian Lazarus, it is he who is giving the gift of caffeinated vitality to each person walking in the door.
What keeps me coming back to this specific location (10712 71st Ave. Continental Avenue) is that Nathan and the rest of the jovial staff actually seem to enjoy making the drinks. I’ve never come in and seen a single one of them upset at anything, despite witnessing irritable customers sometimes giving them a hard time. Not only that, but I’ve yet to find another Starbucks that hits the spot quite like this one in regards to taste.
Under the management of Carlos Musante, the employees move like a finely-tuned engine. The wait for a drink is never long; it fact, I’d be hard pressed to find another place with faster service. The store itself is on the small side; a couple of tables and two counter stools are the extent of the seating. However, it exudes the warmth of a bustling living space filled with calm souls.
I’ve the feeling that even if these employees weren’t working for Starbucks, they’d transform any place of employment they attain just as well. As I finish this, I sincerely hope their company realizes just how much these individuals give to us each and every day. A brand name is nothing without stellar individuals representing it. Nathan Little is one of them. And I thank him as I did Stephen, one of NYC’s homeless, for sharing a day in his life.