Monday, June 9, 2014

The Coffee Shop, Part II

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my favorite coffee shop, where the bagels are fresh and the coffee satisfying, but the service is execrable unless a crew of West African is working the morning shift. There are four of them, three Senegalese from Dakar, and one from Côte d’Ivoire. They speak Kwa or Wolof, and their common language is French, since both countries once were French colonies and that language is still taught in school. They have been toiling several years in the coffee shop, and none has reached a managerial position, a fact that understandably irks them. In the time I’ve been going there after my six a.m. sessions at the gym, I’ve witnessed the franchise owner install two white Americans who did not know how to operate the espresso machine, a largish Mexican whose command of English was marginal at best, a tall Middle-Eastern man who spent the better part of his time arranging loaves of bread by size, and a spectral Romanian who surveyed the queue of customers with a jaundiced eye free of any sympathy for his clients.
Yesterday, the Africans decided not to show up for work, leading to a state of pandemonium rarely witnessed in the fast-food industry. The owner was called in by his panicked staff of two (one of whom, I am persuaded, does not know how to read) to work behind the counter, dispensing sourdough boules and three-cheese baguettes. The two other employees managed to jam the bagel-cutting machine and short-circuit the commercial toaster. The line of disgruntled customers snaked around the shop.  It was, one of the Senegalese later told me, un bordelle complèt, what English speakers call a clusterf*ck.
Today the Africans came back to work. The queue of bagel and java buyers moved at a steady clip, the coffee urns were replenished with alacrity. The regulars got their orders quickly, and even the lady who comes in every Monday, orders two dozen assorted bagels, each either sliced or toasted but not both, left with a smile. Efficiency reigned. The walkout had its desired effect; Mamadou, an Ivorian from Yamoussoukro, was promised a promotion next month to assistant manager. Still, he does not trust the franchise owner who apparently has reneged on his pledges more than once. Mamadou and his co-workers have a plan.
Just a few hundred yards down the street, a new bagel shop will soon be opening. It’s a franchise as well, but one known for its studied productivity and catering prowess. A large sign in the window advertises available positions, and my African friends have already put out feelers.
When they leave--which I’m almost positive they will--they’ll take dozens of customers with them, which is as it should be. I have every intention of being among the deserters.

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