What It Feels Like...To Give Texas Tech its Morning Buzz

Lucy Fowler helped open the Barnes and Noble café in the Student Union Building five years ago and has been managing it ever since.

Written by Cory Chandler

Lucy Fowler

Lucy Fowler helped open the Barnes and Noble café in the Student Union Building five years ago and has been managing it ever since. With its eclectic Lubbock music theme, mellow vibe and hot beverages, the café is a common meeting ground for faculty and students looking to talk business, study or just relax.

I try to know people’s names. If I don’t know their names, I know what they get. We have our regulars. They come in and they have their money ready – they already know what they want and exactly how much it costs. In those cases, we typically know what they want as well, and we try to have it ready for them before they even pay.

There is definitely a social aspect that goes along with my job because there are so many people who come into my life each day. I wish that I had more time to sit and really chat with them. There are so many interesting people on campus. It’s such a diverse community, and people get to be themselves when they are in the café. They don’t have to be focused on work. They can sit and relax with their friends, have some coffee.

That’s one thing I enjoy about the Christmas breaks or the Thanksgiving breaks – it gives me a little more time to actually have conversations. I can get to know at least the faculty and staff better.

The Breakfast Club

I begin my morning with the breakfast club – a group of faculty members who meet each morning in the café. They are waiting outside when I unlock the door, and they always want to know about my family, how things are going. They are so sweet to me. They bring me flowers. I give them Valentine candy. When my son was born, they gave me a gift card to Dillard’s. I love those guys; they are a nice beginning to my day.

Beating the Rush

Every hour on the hour we have our regular flow of customers who come through as classes let out. There are a lot of people from the building – music faculty or employees who work upstairs. I have a diagram that shows everyone what to do in those situations.

We can’t fit more than four people behind the counter, but let’s say for example that there are three. If a line were to form, one person would be the cashier, one person would be the barista, and the third person would serve as runner for the barista. The runner gets whatever we need, so he or she would make coffee or replace supplies. They might keep the line moving by skipping ahead and taking orders so all that the cashier has to do is take payments. But they have a lot to do, so when the lines get too long, I try to bring in a second cashier or a second runner.

Learning the Menu

The menu can be overwhelming for some employees. To tell you the truth, in the beginning, I was intimidated by it. Starbucks offers such a wide assortment of products. But in reality, it’s pretty simple – most of the drinks are varieties of flavors based off of lattes, and lattes are really simple to make.

But you do have to know how to steam milk. If you don’t, people will know, and they will come back and tell you. There’s a difference in the flavor. It’s so easy to scald the milk, or you might not make it frothy enough. Maybe you make it too frothy. People will know.

Doing it in My Sleep

I have dreams about people standing in line. Those people are, in a sense, evaluating us. When something goes wrong, we can’t go and hide. That’s one nice thing about the people here: they know that they will probably have to wait in a line, and they’ll go ahead and wait. They’ll understand if something happens. They are never mad – nobody’s mean to us. I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants where people get mad and they turn mean or want something comped. I don’t hear any complaints around here. That makes me feel good. I’ll see people when I’m out and everyone’s just super-sweet. It’s nice to get to know people.

What’s your story? Contact Cory Chandler.

Photo by Artie Limmer.