An Ohio-based network for marginalized baristas is changing the local coffee scene.
BY MARK VAN STREEFKERK
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Last June, Bitchy Baristas (BB) founder Holly Birrer was in an undeniably unfair situation. After feeling overworked and burned out at the Cincinnati café and roastery where she worked, Holly decided to apply for a different position with another local roaster. When her employer caught onto this, he promptly fired her. Adding insult to injury, “Not only was I fired for applying for a different job, I didn’t get the job I applied for,” Holly says.
Facing sudden unemployment, Holly’s situation took a turn for the worse. “It was so bad. I essentially lost my apartment. A local nonprofit, they help low-income individuals, they paid my rent for a month. It was such a shitshow. I felt like I had absolutely nobody I could talk to or relate to about it. Everyone in coffee is so (about) the respective brands they work for—they live, breathe, and eat it, and I was immediately kind of alienated from the people at my shop because they all kind of praised the owner,” she says.
After venting on social media, Holly found an outpouring of support, as well as private messages from others who had experienced similar toxic workplaces. “People started messaging me, ‘Hey can I talk to you? I’m having this experience.’ I started meeting one-on-one with people and they were telling me about some people who were sexually assaulted, some people (who) were being paid under minimum wage, some (who) just had really deplorable working conditions. So I got fed up. I’m like, I’m going to make an account on Instagram called Bitchy Baristas. There are these cool people on Instagram called Coffee at Large, maybe I can do something like that here.”
Christina Snyder, a barista and production roaster at Deeper Roots Coffee in Cincinnati, reached out to Holly and quickly got on board as the cofounder and outreach person for BB. Later, Kae Bonaguro “messaged Tina and I, and (said), ‘I just moved here from Indiana. Where’s a safe place for me to work as a queer, nonbinary individual?’ We were like, ‘Well that’s a great question,’” Holly says.
They were able to find Kae employment at just the right place, and then Kae started working with BB as the event coordinator and outreach person. Coffee at Large later reached out to BB, and recognized them as an official Midwest chapter.
Bitchy Baristas functions as an underground support network for queer, nonbinary, and other marginally identified people who often reach out to the group for help getting coffee jobs. Going against the sometimes cliquey Cincinnati coffee scene, BB started meeting and forging relationships independently of the companies they worked for. Holly, Christina, and Kae keep a running list of cafés that are safe places to work for LGBTQ+ and minority baristas, and reach out to companies for more information if they are unsure. If they don’t know of any cafés that are hiring, “We’ll recommend other service-industry places that we know are safe, or that might have a very light coffee program. Then when something else comes along, we’ll message (folks looking for coffee work), ‘Hey this shop is hiring now.’ Most of the time, they get the job,” Holly says.
BB just had a throwdown earlier this month to raise funds for Kae’s registration and expenses for their journey to the U.S. Barista Championship. The throwdown ended up raising almost double the goal amount, and BB was able to donate some of the funds to one of Kae’s fellow barista competitors.
Aside from planning more BB events in the future, Holly is committed more than ever to helping create an inclusive coffee community, the kind she wished she had last summer. “When baristas reach out to us, we immediately let them know, ‘You got a friend in us. If you wanna meet up in person for coffee, talk, whatever,’’ she says. “We have done that, and it’s just been wonderful because these are baristas who have felt completely alienated or alone because of the white ’spro bro culture. They’re like, I’m the only nonbinary, or I’m one of three females on staff, and I feel so alone, and I’m like, ‘No, we got you.’”
Follow Bitchy Barista’s work or reach out on their Instagram account here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Van Streefkerk is Barista Magazine’s social media content developer and a frequent contributor. He is also a freelance writer, social media manager, and novelist based out of Seattle. If Mark isn’t writing, he’s probably biking to his favorite vegan restaurant. Find out more on his website.