Beyond the Beans: an interview with Stephanie Summerville

Beyond the Beans: Stephanie Summerville

By: Brittany Leslie – Wholesale Account Manager and Educator, Kean Coffee

First working at Diedrich Coffee and then continuing her journey at Kean Coffee, Stephanie Summerville has mastered the flow behind the bar. Stephanie is currently the assistant manager at Kean Coffee, Newport Beach, where she has spent 9 years dialing in espresso to perfection, building lasting relationships with our coffeehouse guests, and being everywhere at once. She explains how she manages the coffeehouse’s busiest times and what she does in her free time.   

What first brought you to the coffee industry and how did you become a barista? Had you heard of Kean Coffee before?

Before working at Kean Coffee, I actually worked at Diedrich Coffee for two years. That’s where I was first introduced to coffee. Once Starbucks came to town, I was actually offered a position there but had to decline as my standards for specialty coffee had become too high. I moved on to working at a high end pet supply, which educated me on animal nutrition, a passion of mine, and also worked at a vet’s office. I had heard about the Kean Coffee location that opened and thought “Oh, I should apply there!”. I really missed working in coffee. I knew of Martin from Diedrich Coffee and had heard that he opened up a coffeehouse named after his son but had never met him. I applied twice and then once I got the job, I have been here ever since.

What kind of coffee do you personally drink often? Which do you enjoy making?

I have drunk enough espresso to last me for three lifetimes. I mostly drink drip coffee. My favorite origins for my palette being Antigua, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador. You can also almost never go wrong with an Ethiopian; they can just be a little fruity. As far as what I enjoy making, it depends on the day. Some days I prefer pulling shots, some days steaming milk, and sometimes I just love being on register. I am usually just where I need to be the most at that time. I love doing it all.

You have been here for years! What is your favorite part of working at Kean?

I came back to coffee because of the personal relationships between the guests and the staff. I’ve gotten to know a lot of our regular guests over the years and work with a lot of really great people. In my time outside of work, I am usually such an introvert, a homebody—this is my social place. Communication has never been my strong suit, so this job has really helped with that. I even majored in Communications to help bring it all together.

Communication is really important in building community. Would you agree that you have witnessed “coffee is community” in action?

Yes, I agree. Unfortunately, not as much due to the pandemic but it’s absolutely prevalent any other time. Coffee is definitely community, whether it be between barista and guest or between guest and guest. Everyone comes here wanting to socialize as they drink their coffee. I really like the fact that we don’t have Wi-Fi because I remember while I worked at Diedrich, everyone would be zeroed in on their laptops working and no one would be talking to each other. Here, everyone is always talking to each other. You can see it from anywhere you stand in the coffeehouse.  

I’ve noticed it gets really busy at the coffeehouse. Kéan Coffee seems to manage really high volumes of guests while maintaining specialty coffee standards—it is truly a testament to the talent and skills of our staff. How are you able to manage the really busy periods of the day? 

My priority during the busier times is for everyone on the team to stay focused and maintain a constant guest mentality, as well as focus on drink times and keeping that under control. It does get really busy and it will take longer to create the perfect cup of coffee. Just know that we are always hustling and appreciate patience because we will never jeopardize our coffee integrity or standards. We will serve you nothing less than our best. Everything has been crafted to the perfect recipe, from our espresso shots to our many loose-leaf teas.  

What are your passions outside of work?

Animal nutrition. I love animal nutrition. I have 5 cats and I can’t have any more animals because I can’t feed anymore cats—they eat better than I do! They eat market priced food. What got me on the animal nutrition path was working at Centinela, an animal retail shop that sells high quality food. They put their staff through a lot of training, learning different topics… they’re like Kean Coffee is to specialty coffee, except in the animal nutrition world. Your choice in pet food can really be as impactful as having a healthy diet for your pets versus eating McDonalds every day. It can really affect their longevity and quality of life. 

How are you keeping busy through these crazy times?

I really love gardening! I have been heavily into gardening for about 4 years now. It really is seasonal, especially since I’m not really that interested in flowers. I love vegetables and peppers. I like to be able to eat what I produce. When I first lived in Long Beach, I planted in a community garden, but now that I own a house, I can grow whatever I want! Right now, I have zucchinis, squash, butternut squash, a bunch of different varieties of tomatoes, and some lettuce. Actually, I have some accidental cantaloupe plants. My friend had given me seeds for cucumbers… and everything about the seed looked like a cucumber, but once the plants actually started growing, I asked my friend, “hey are you sure these are cucumbers? They’re round.” She’s like “oh yeah, they’re lemon cucumbers.” Eventually I cut them open and yeah, they were cantaloupes! My partner and I will use the zucchini and squash for pasta and main dishes. My partner actually makes salsa once a week so it’s really nice to have the jalapenos, tomatillos, and cilantro for that. We make pico de gallo too. Besides gardening, I hang out with the cats, watch Netflix and Hulu, and I’m still unpacking from our move into our new house six months ago!  

Best advice that has ever been given to you?

The first thing that comes to mind is “fake it until you make it”. There have been times when I have been down, either financially or mentally, and I always feel this social obligation to not bring other people down and to project strength. Basically, to me it’s retraining your brain to believe that your goal will come to life. If I am feeling unhappy, I will fake that happiness until it becomes a reality and that has helped me. You can convince your brain to believe what you want, and you make your own reality.

Stephanie with one of her many cats

That reminds me of “failure is not an option.”

You’re right: Failure isn’t an option. (smiles).

Failure is never an option with Stephanie behind the bar. She cares about everyone that comes into the coffeehouse, whether it be staff or a guest. She’s also your best person to ask about your cat troubles or to ask why your quarantine gardening hasn’t been going the way you expected. Thank you so much, Stephanie for sharing your passions with us!

Interview conducted by Brittany Leslie on October 1st, 2020. 

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