The College of William and Mary is often stereotyped to be the home of many dedicated students who seemingly love to study. While this is a bit of an exaggeration, Earl Gregg Swem Library is still a major campus hotspot. The fuel that keeps it all running is the coffee shop in Swem: Swemromas.
“I really enjoy working Saturday mornings,” Swemromas barista Jenna Chapa ’20 said in an email. “The faces of tired students walking in excited to get coffee makes my day.”
Swemromas barista Malik Obeidallah ’21 enjoys working behind the counter becuase it gives him the opportunity to keep students fueled throughout the day.
“I think that you really begin to enjoy it,” Obeidallah said. “Because you have a sense of purpose and you keep the college going in a way — or caffeinated — and it makes you feel a little better. It can get really intense, but I still love it a lot.”
Swemromas experiences several rushes throughout the day when an onslaught of students who are tired, bored and hungry alike all enter the café at once.
“There are a couple different rushes throughout the day,” Swemromas barista Calvin Kolbe ’20 said. “Pretty much at the end of any class period you’ll get students coming in, especially the most popular ones are right around noon or one, and then the three o’clock rush is the really big one, because that’s right around when students are done with classes for the day, and they’re heading to Swem to start the rest of their day.”
All three baristas described the detailed system that they have had to learn in order to stay organized and on top of orders during these rushes.
“There is someone on ‘back bar’ that makes smoothies, teas, ice coffee and ice tea,” Chapa said in an email. “This person can also prep drinks to help the person on bar. There is someone on ‘bar’ which makes all the espresso drinks and drinks that requires steamed milk. By preparing the drinks a bit early we are able to just pour the shots in the drink, add the steamed milk and stir – it helps move things a little faster. Rushes can get a little hectic, but the students are usually very understanding.”
Teamwork is unavoidable in these situations.
“So, everything has to be in sync to get the drinks going,” Obeidallah said. “Because if one person isn’t doing their job, you can really get backed up.”
However, the baristas don’t regard their dependence on one another as a negative.
“I like working with my coworkers,” Kolbe said. “The experience of having to deal with so many people and always having to be constantly doing something, you solidify bonds pretty quickly. You have to be able to trust that what needs to get done is getting done.”
In fact, the baristas all value the relationships they have formed with their coworkers.
“My favorite part about my job has to be my coworkers,” Chapa said in an email. “They are always so positive and love to make this job not really feel like a job. It’s more about us just hanging out and making coffee.”
Obeidallah said that he and his coworkers take care of each other and bond behind the counter.
“Just how a professor can make you either hate or love the course, I feel like the people you work with, in the same way, can either make you love or hate the job,” Obeidallah said. “And I find that everybody that works there is a family; we all help each other out, we all care for each other and so the people there are definitely the best part of the job.”
Obeidallah has only worked at Swemromas for about one month, but he feels passionately about his work.
“I really enjoy college culture and the culture that builds around coffee and sitting in a coffee shop and doing work,” Obeidallah said. “Personally, in high school, the only place I liked doing my work was in a café. I love coffee, I learned how to appreciate the different blends and the different types of espresso drinks that there are, and I was like ‘Ya know what? If there’s any time that I can be a barista, it’s right now.’ So, I decided to pursue it, and here we are.”
However, the baristas also elaborated on their grueling schedules due to the late hours of Swemromas.
“The one tough thing is that Swemromas — compared to the Grind, which closes like a normal coffee shop, so 5 p.m. — Swemromas being open until midnight can be really hard on employees,” Kolbe said. “We’re able to cover for each other and help each other out when there is a lot of stuff going on, but a midnight shift a couple times a week is tough because we close at 12 [a.m.] and then we are there until 12:30 [a.m.] cleaning up. During finals, we’ll be open until 2 a.m. and it gets kind of hard.”