I'm in a weird situation right now. I was recently hired by a roaster to help them run their very first retail shop, as well as develop their standards and training. The company is amazing, pay is awesome, we get benefits, it's small and they're doing something really unique in the industry. The roasters are two brothers from Colombia who are running a farm there that has been in their family since the early 1900s. There's a huge market for real high-end coffee in Albuquerque (the coffee scene here is stuck in the 90s - there's literally no place in this city that serves truly awesome coffee) and I want them to do well.

I have tons of experience having worked with both Counter Culture and Intelligentsia in their respective hometowns and absolutely know what I'm doing. I'm not saying that I know everything but I was hired with the understanding that I would be developing their standards and training. About three days after we opened this guy walks in, asks for a job, and gets it - he worked for a Stumptown retailer in his hometown which pretty much makes him one the most qualified people in Albuquerque (again, terrible coffee town.)

At first I was really excited about getting someone else on board who had comparable experience to my own. Because the store is new and the owners have no knowledge of running a service location everything is in a state of flux. The owners are very open to ideas and have been amazing at honoring my requests but this guy, Jon, is starting to insert himself into the process without following chain-of-command (I'm a supervisor.) He keeps asking for things that are realistic down-the-line but not a priority. Because I've been actively communicating with the owners I know where they're coming from and what is in their budget for the short term.

For example: the owners bought a teeny-tiny mini fridge for milk under the bar. They thought this would work because they've never run a coffee shop before. If we hit a rush we've been having to run into the back two or three times to grab more from the big fridge so, seeing as this has been a problem, I asked them to get a larger fridge. Jon was there while I was talking to them about this and, for whatever reason, felt it was necessary to interrupt to ask for a new espresso grinder. The one we have now is fine. It's not the best but it's reliable (timed grind, automatic dosing, easy to service.) He's apparently been having problems with his shot and, rather than question his adherence to standards from another roaster, believes the grinder is to fault. The owner politely said he'll "look into it." Later, when I'm demonstrating bad practices I've observed to Jorge, Jon comes over to "correct" me. In the spirit of collaboration I made him aware of this and then asked him to demonstrate his method. I then went over things I do differently and why and, instead of seeing this as an opportunity to have a constructive conversation to help us develop our process he condescendingly tries to school me. He just refuses to let go of what he's been trained to do previously. Jorge sees this but, as Jon's superior, he told me that it's my job to nip it in the bud. I just don't know how to have that sort of conversation. He's a really sweet kid and I feel like the way I've written this makes him sound more patronizing than he was being in the heat of it - he really does mean well and we both want the same thing: to make the best damn coffee in town. I just can't deal with insubordination and have never had to handle this before.

Part of the reason I find this so frustrating is because this guy is almost a decade younger than me and has only been working as a barista for a total of 16 months before coming here. I've literally been working with coffee since I was 16. Yes, some (way too much) of that was with Starbucks but, in terms of customer service and management experience, it's relevant. I've also had serious problems with guys refusing to take me seriously or see me as an authority figure. I don't think this is an intentional bias but he seems to spend a lot of time explaining things to me that I already know while saying nearly nothing to the other (male) supervisor who has 0 manual espresso bar experience (he's the paperwork boss, I'm the people boss.)

Has anyone else had to deal with a situation like this? I would feel more confident in chiding him if it weren't for the fact that everything is in a state of change right now, nothing is set in stone. I'm just worried that his insistence will cause Jorge to acquiesce which would piss me off and embolden Jon. I'm also worried that his insistence is making me disinclined to hear him out. He has some great ideas but I'm reluctant to jump on board. Should I collaborate with him or should I develop processes and standards without him and stick in my heels? What are the risks?

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You have a very ambitious employee. But, he's arrogant. Ok, you say he's a sweet boy, right? Sweet boy's don't go over their superiors. He's probably nice about it to you, feigning sovereignty, but in his mind, he is taking you back to school. He's disrespecting you. So you. You gotta take it back to him, but more in a "if you don't chill out, you're getting the back-door treatment." He's acting childish. So, he needs a spanking. If he takes the discipline well, then that will open up an opportunity for you influence him in kindness, and then you can set up goals for him to follow to be a better team player. 

He may be good leadership down the road. So, he's definitely worth keeping. But, in my experience, the best kind of leaders will always be patient enough to serve underneath someone else. I'm the boss at my store, but I answer to a higher authority. 

There seems to be a lot of variables in play with this situation. He's super ambitious which is good. But he's moving in the worst direction he could point that ambition, which is insubordination. It will kill him. Disciplining him harshly will be doing him a favor.

You also seem to be more in tune with the owners vision. He hired you because he trusts that you can follow through with what he wants and see's for the store. But this boy that you hired, it doesn't seem that he see's the same vision as the owner, at least not in the right order or detail. Help the kid see the progression that the store needs to take. If he can't cool his jets, then let him go on his way and be a lone wolf.

I took over the store from another owner, but I made the mistake of keeping on a lot of the old staff. They where constantly going against things that I wanted them to do. In their minds, I was wrong, and they where right. This is how people "want" it for them. But, it wasn't my vision they where following. They where chasing another former owners dream. An owner, mind you, that was not successful in the business. I sat them down at some point for each of them, and explained why their drink making wasn't profitable for the business. But they where so set in their old ways, that even after I attempted to pound the truth into their brains, they still where convinced that they where right. One of them got so bad, that after I told them no on some changes they asked for, they went around me, an owner, to another owner and asked the same question. In which case, we fired her. Because that's manipulative, and selfish, and not conducive to the team. 

I hope you can figure out a way to salvage this person. But based on my personal experience, the least difficult option is to kick him out and get someone who is way easier to work with. My rule of hiring is, if I want a respectful, punctual, content, and hard-working individual at my store, then I need to find people that have all of those characteristics before I hire them.

I hope I was helpful


I have definitely run into similar situations. My advice, take it with a grain of salt:

-Be up front with him about the situation and your expectations. Everything after that is his decision.

-Be clear that you're open to examining techniques, but that there is a company standard that all baristas should be following on the floor. I have found that the majority of these kinds of problems can be solved by showing very firmly that there ARE standards and a chain of command, and there is a way to work within that system to improve it. He may just feel like he's flailing at a broken or nonexistent system, and will chill out if he sees the outlines better.

-While people with coffee knowledge/passion are fantastic, particularly when you're in an area with a very low specialty quotient, coffee-making skills are the LEAST important prerequisite for a floor employee IMHO. You can teach any bright interested person to make good coffee. If this person can't follow directions and work well with you, serve your customers the way you want, it doesn't matter how into coffee he is. The last thing you need is someone undermining you, possibly spreading negative vibes and their own standards to other employees or your customers.

Remind him that maybe his training and expertise in "Bathroom Cleaning 101" is faulty... and he needs a two week reminder. 

Personally, I'd have fired him. Trust your skills. YOU can always train someone to be a good barista...getting a headstrong barista to un-learn his method is not worth the headache. And, I've gotta say, sixteen months?  He needs to get real.

Welcome to the world of management. First it is your responsibility to make it clear to Jon, or any employee under your supervision, what your and the companies expectations and guideliness are not just in beverage preparation but also information and decision making flow. Sit down one on one and let him know it is not appropriate for him to be correcting something you say or do with another employee. Approaching you in private is one thing, in public quite another. Make it a verbal warning and document it for your records. Let him know the next warning will be in writing. Make it very clear you are his supervisor and he is the subordinate.


We hire all new employees on a 60 day probation basis. I just had to let a similar sounding barista go after 3 weeks. Yes he had very good beverage skills but he was unteachable and did not work well as a team player with our other baristas. Contrast him with another new hire that had zero previous barista experience but seemed to have the "person" qualities we were looking for. One week left on her 60 day probation. She works well with others, has learned manual pour bar quickly, in general fast learner, great with customers, rest of staff enjoy working with her, is getting there learning fast on espresso machine already pulling very good shots and even steaming for very acceptable cappuccinos. It'll still be a goodly spell before she ready to "solo" but we have high standards! We're pretty sure she's a keeper.

Just think of you when you were younger and starting out in the coffee industry. How would you like to be treated and what way would you take it best?

Ah, to be young, barely with a scrap of knowledge and arrogant in the business once again...

Lots of great advice given already. The truth is: I can train any monkey to make decent coffee. What I cannot train is a sense of responsibility, reliability, ownership and empathy for others.  Those are the qualities I'm interested when hiring.

The simplest route is to fire the guy. Cut him loose. The last thing you need in your operations at this early stage is someone mucking up the works. He's young in the business, which is why he's lured by the flash of a "new" espresso grinder. Doesn't understand the dynamics of expense v. revenue.  People with experience can be a boon, but they can also be a burden - especially when they want to bring their own standards to your operations.

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