My Barista Journey to Belonging by Natalie Brendle

If you’ve ever been to college, you may understand the struggle of college debt. Many get to go to college and worry about paying it off later. Others have had to go straight to work once they start classes. I was the latter. I had one semester free from any work, and then, for the rest of college, I had to plan my classes around my work schedule.



During my second semester of college, I became a barista at one of the most popular shops in town. Though I was not the biggest fan nor knowledgeable about coffee at all, I thought being a barista would be fun. I always saw it as a very artistic job, a cool person's job. Never did I know how long I’d work or how much I’d grow to love it. For four months I worked at this shop, learning the art of coffee. It was always busy and it was never a dull moment - from flirtatious rich men, to cranky interesting regulars. It was the dream for me.


Of course, all dreams come to an end. And I had to go back home for summer break...

Naturally, I pursued another coffee job.


I ended up getting a job at one of the local coffee shops in my town. They practically teased me for my lack of knowledge on the art of coffee. At this shop, there was no joking around. Coffee was their trademark. So, I had to learn. I didn’t realize how little my first job educated me - They had more automatic machines that did everything for you except steaming!



Meanwhile, this shop was completely manual. I had to learn dialing every morning, pouring shots, steaming milk, proper pour overs, fresh press, etc. The amount of information was highly overwhelming, but I started to grow in knowledge and skill. Pretty soon, I was making “latte art.”


Looking back now at the designs that I was most proud of, I’m struck by the realization that they no longer seem as impressive as I thought, knowing even more now.

Summer ended, and I returned back to the first coffee shop. Noticing my increased knowledge of the art, they asked me to start training every barista. There would be nights dedicated to getting the perfect milk or practicing art. It was fun, but I did miss the big coffee focus of the other shop.


In the years I worked, at college and at my hometown, things changed.

I helped that first shop open a new location. Although, this company became more about profit than it was about coffee or customer mindset in this second location. Slowly, I eased back to the first original shop I worked at.


At my hometown shop, most people I started with either quit or were fired, so it never felt the same. One of the winters I returned home, my boss who hired me, was fired. The current manager didn’t know me, and didn’t take me back, so I was out of the job.

I decided to go back on the market for a new coffee shop.


I found a shop just outside my hometown that was looking for a shift lead for a time, and asked if I could fill in. This was the 4th shop I’d been able to work at in the 2 years since I began. They were a non-profit, with all the proceeds going to fighting human trafficking.


I loved this mission, and I loved everyone there. The environment was very different from any other I worked at. It was more relaxed, with the focus on great coffee, great community, and a great mission. The only shift leads were myself and one other barista. Everyone else volunteered their time. I made some great connections and great friends. But alas, winter break ended, and I was back at the very first shop that I had started at.


It was fun to be back, but I wished to work somewhere with a focus similar to the last. I didn’t know of any others like it at the time.


I continued working there until I had to intern for a class, and decided to take some time to focus on that. In the meantime, my husband, (at the time my boyfriend), introduced me to Common Grounds. He informed me that there was a need for their new location that was opening. Hearing about their vision and focus got me thrilled.


This was spring of 2020. Of course, as we know, COVID hit.

I was out of every job I had. I didn’t have the internship, the first shop, the second shop, the third shop, the fourth, and now even Common Grounds. I had no work for the first time in years! So, I took this time to relax and focus on school.



A little over five months passed before our school announced that classes would be back in person, but with certain restrictions. I was ready to be back in person. I was ready to go back to work again. It wasn’t too long before I was working in the new Common Grounds shop as well. I worked a full semester before Kelly Olive approached me with an offer. She asked me to help start “1201 Bakeshop and Coffee”, the non-profit expression of Common Grounds.


This is where I’ve stayed. It’s now been over a year and I am beyond happy working here. The vision of creating a place of belonging and connecting and supporting the community through coffee is what I love to be a part of.

Now, I am privileged to be managing the shop as I have seen it grow.



Throughout this year, I’ve seen so many wonderful connections and have met so many amazing people. I’ve also been able to share the knowledge I have learned these past four years and teach it to many who volunteer or work here. I’m excited to teach even more through these blogs and see this place continue to grow.








To follow more of Natalie's journey and see more incredible latte art, follow the @1201BakeshopandCoffee page on Instagram.

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