The new Starbucks located at the corner of Willow Street and Long Beach Boulevard is serving up coffee with a side of opportunity. Photos: Jason Ruiz
Normally, news of a Starbucks opening in Long Beach wouldn’t warrant much attention but this coffee shop is different. Its unique aim—to employ and develop underserved youth and young adults—and its building design, which includes a transparent community conference room inside the store, sets it apart from the roughly 30 other locations scattered across Long Beach.
The new Starbucks that opened last Friday at the intersection of Willow Street and Long Beach Boulevard is part of a collaborative effort by Starbucks and Pacific Gateway to perk up employment in the city’s Sixth District. The new location extends the coffee giant’s Opportunity Youth program to Long Beach where the hope is that through coffee and coaching, youth can advance their skills and aspirations.
Starbucks originally announced its intentions to open stores in 15 diverse, low-to-medium urban communities in the country in July 2015. The initiative was part of a broader effort by corporations across the county to hire 100,000 youth which now includes some 50 participants like Hyatt, Alaska Airlines, Domino's Pizza, Macy’s and Toms.
The company’s focus is on those 16- to 24-year-old youth who have “faced systemic barriers to meaningful jobs and education” but also to engage with local woman-owned businesses in collaboration with the 15 stores. What originally started as a goal to hire or train 10,000 youth and young adults has since expanded to 100,000.
“What we’re seeing is a solid and strong resiliency and a loyalty and a passion to be successful with these young people because many of them have not been given an opportunity for jobs that come with other rich opportunities and benefits and development,” said Rodney Hines, United States director of social impact for Starbucks. “So, we’re seeing a true value for the business for hiring this population of young people and for growing and increasing that commitment.”
The Long Beach location will be the sixth such store to be opened by Starbucks which now joins other cities like Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri and Jamaica Queens, New York as hubs for the company’s efforts to increase youth employment and job training.
While the store officially opened for business last Friday, an event to commemorate the reopening of the store—a previous store had existed in the same shopping center for 18 years—will be hosted Thursday where elected officials and representatives from both Starbucks and Pacific Gateway will be on hand for the celebration.
The community room inside the new Starbucks.
Hines said that through Pacific Gateway’s hiring fair the company has already hired 15 partners—the term used by the company when referring to its employees eligible for benefits including stock options— to work at the new central Long Beach location which makes for a total of 33 partners in total. For Starbucks, Hines said that the hiring process is just a small piece of its youth program, the majority of the work comes after the youth are on board.
“We will look to develop those partners and the store manager,” Hines said. “We track: are they taking advantage of the college achievement program that we offer up through ASU [Arizona State University] where we cover the cost of earning your degree. I want to see who’s taking advantage of that program. We also want to see who’s taking advantage of our stock options, their retention and we also track their development.”
In keeping tabs on the Ferguson store, Hines said that 16 of the 23 partners hired are still employed at the store with four having been promoted and three having started the process of working toward a degree through its online degree program that is paid in full by the company.
Another success story he referenced from the Ferguson store was that of Natalie Dubose, owner and operator of Natalie’s Cakes & More. Part of the company’s initiative includes partnering with a local, female, minority-owned business to provide food being sold in-store.
Dubose’s business was one of those that sustained major damage in the riots that resulted in a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer that shot and killed an African-American teenager in August 2014.
Hines said that when she was chosen by the company to provide desserts for its Ferguson store she had one storefront and four employees. Since the store opened in 2016 Dubose has expanded her workforce to 22 employees and has her goods available in 30 Starbucks stores across Missouri including two locations in Illinois.
Although the company has yet to decide the small business it will partner with in Long Beach, Hines said they hope to duplicate that success for whichever company lands the opportunity.
When the hiring for the new store was completed in April, it was an emotional affair, said Karla Corona, youth employment coordinator with Pacific Gateway. Of the nearly 50 participants that attended the job fair, 21 gained employment with Starbucks and Corona said that the newly minted partners and their soon-to-be bosses could hardly contain themselves.
“It was amazing just seeing their excitement. Some of them were emotional, we saw tears, big smiles from managers and from our participants as well. Getting paid twelve dollars an hour—it’s a big deal,” Corona said. “All of our programs at Pacific Gateway pay minimum wage, so it was a two dollar increase, and the health benefits.”
Corona said a similar event will take place next month, but this time the outreach will be made to veterans who could also potentially earn employment with the coffee company. The wages, she said, have helped many of their program participants, some of whom are foster youth, acquire the means necessary to achieve a level of financial independence.
“That part of the city is one of the zip codes and neighborhoods that we focus on providing more employment and job training to our youth,” Corona said. “It is one of the underserved communities here in Long Beach so having our youth work there at that store—a lot of our youth are actually residents from that area—it’s helped them get back into the workforce and be more financially stable.”
The conference room will be available to other community entities that wish to reserve it at no cost. The company hopes that it will be viewed as an extension of the community and Hines gave examples of how it's been used for board meetings in other cities and even for “coffee with cops” events in Queens, a city that, like other Starbucks, has had its share of grievances between communities of color and the local police force.
But whether that community resource is used for non-profits in need of office space or just a private room to unwind with a group of friends, perhaps the most valuable service it will provide is a literal window into the working world of which many of this youth have been shut out of.
“Those fifteen people will be working behind our counter and other young people who are being trained by Pacific Gateway come into that store, come into that training space…what I get excited about is how our partners will see themselves as mentors, and we’ve asked them to be mentors, to the young people who will be being trained at this new Pacific Gateway,” Hines said. “And those young people being trained will be able to look out through the glass wall and that training space and see people they know working successfully at Starbucks. So that’s exciting.”