Cry in Your Coffee but Don't Come Bitchin' to Me
I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Los Angeles, a tidy, minimalist, artsy spot that caters to locals. I quite like the place, despite being more expensive than I am used to by virtue of being in the City of Angels.
A woman just entered, ordered a beverage in Starbucks-Speak* with "double whip."
The woman behind the counter informed this displaced mall shopper that, "We don't have whipped cream."
"We just don't have it. We don't carry it." Which I point out is much nicer than anything that I would have said about it's comparative health value and what it does to the flavor of a properly made coffee.
The patron shuffled her feet and hoo'd and haw'd before asking for her latte extra sweet and with extra foam. (Is that still a latte?) She commented in an uncalled-for tone that they really should have whipped cream because people expect it, that this place would do better if they kept some around.
But, why should they? Why should people expect whipped cream. This isn't a Starbucks or a Caribou or a Seattle's Best. This simply isn't a chain coffee bar and why would anyone expect it to be? The entire point of such places as this, and the very reason that the good ones thrive, is because they are not the cookie-cutter, ergonomically designed bastions of corporate S.O.P. that germinate unbidden from the urban and suburban landscape. Yes, this place serves coffee, but this place is also somewhere else. That is the point.
The painfully conventional wisdom from such people is that success is the product of imitation of what else is successful. This wisdom propagates much too widely, from the Mom&Pop stores that add piddling bric-a-brak to their inventories based on larger establishments' sales numbers to the myriad of second-rate sports bars that seem to be rightly orphaned Applebees to the triple-digit satellite channels that constantly offer low-budget versions of network reality programming.
This lady, with her whipped cream just, didn't get it. She didn't get that most of the people in here came to this spot expressly to get something other than what's offered by Ahab's first mate's namesake. Might this place eek out a few extra nickels each day if they offered blended, sweetened, milk-shake-esque espresso concoctions? They might, but they'd probably also loose their soul and they'd certainly lose the faith of all the people who come here for the coffee and not the whipped cream.
*I've never mastered the language of Starbucks, the vente, skinny, grande, frappe talk. There was a time, though, when I spoke fluent Waffle House and that's good enough for me.