Bartenders & Baristas: Bill Sandweg at Copper Star Coffee

Notice the short cropped hair, the year-round uniform of board shorts and comfortable sandals. The perfectly tanned skin. The lack of sweat on his brow, even in 100-degree temperatures. Yes, you guessed it. Copper Star Coffee owner and master barista Bill Sandweg is one of those elusive creatures we rarely see in Phoenix -- the Arizona native. Crikey, we finally found one! We stalked Sandweg on his own territory and he shared some adventures from the urban jungle.

Chow Bella: How'd you break into the coffee business? Bill Sandweg: I've been in restaurants for like 20 years. I've done time at T.G.I. Friday's Oregano's, Starbucks, Pizzeria Uno...

CB: Done time? You make it sound like prison. BS: If you knew the T.G.I. Friday's that I worked at, then yes, you'd definitely realize I was doing time.

CB: Tell us about it. BS: This was the T.G.I. Friday's in Marina Del Ray which, thank God, is no longer with us. It was a violent and horrible place. I pepper sprayed a customer once. Some customers walked out without paying their bill and we followed them into the parking lot and said they needed to pay us. The guy clocks my waiter, so I pepper sprayed him. A few minutes later the cops show up and my waiter has a big 'ol slab of steak on his eye.

CB: Have you seen anything like that here at Copper Star? BS: One of the ongoing weird things is seeing customers come in with boyfriends or girlfriends who are not their regular boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse. One time, about a year and a half ago, I go out to the drive-thru and one of our regulars comes up in her car. She and her boyfriend (or maybe husband) always order the same drinks, so I almost brought them out. I go out there and it's 6 a.m. and she's got some other dude in the car with her and they're holding hands. That was awkward. But I learned a long time ago, as a bartender, that I'm just here to make your drinks. Who am I to judge?

CB: So you're a native. I guess the heat doesn't bother you? BS: No, not at all. I had a customer who recently told me "we have the heat to burn off all the idiots." I agree. Because you don't deserve the winters and the spring and the fall if you don't tough out the summer. You've got to pay your dues.

CB: What's your favorite drink? BS: Honestly...drip coffee. I looove coffee, especially French press coffee. I like making cappuccinos, because if you make it right, it's wonderful. That's one of the ways I judge other coffee houses, on how well they make a small cappuccino.

CB: And other weird stories for us? BS: One guy, he's in downtown Tempe. You see him walking around carrying a mop and a bucket. He's smart. I think he does it for fun, as a joke, not because he's unstable or crazy. He comes in to Uno's one day, takes off his hat and asks me if we have a hat rack. I said no, I'm sorry. Next day he comes in carrying a hat rack, sits down and hangs his hat on the hat rack and eats lunch.

Fast forward six or eight months and I'm working at Oregano's in downtown Tempe. Same guy walks by, knocks on the window and waves at us. He holds a brown paper bag up to the window, pulls a Playboy out of it and unfolds the centerfold facing in at us. Obviously not something you want to happen with customers there, but the manager and I were just laughing...

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden