Bartenders & Baristas: Jenifer Stern at Mama Java's

By Wynter Holden

34-year-old Mesa native Jenifer Stern is the kind of woman who can’t sit still for long – so it’s no surprise that she works at a coffee shop. Before settling into life as a barista, Stern did stints as a corporate buyer, photographer, theatrical prop maker, security guard, gallery manager and copy shop girl. At 24, she ditched the Valley for the greener pastures of the Pacific Northwest, then LA, then Tucson, then LA again and – well, you get the picture. We managed to nail her down for a few brief minutes (between phone calls, orders and oddball customer questions) on the job at Mama Java’s Coffeehouse at Indian School & 36th St. in Phoenix.

Chow Bella: How long have you been a barista? Jenifer Stern: Since 2004. I worked at Borders and Gold Bar Espresso, but I’ve been at Mama Java’s almost a year. I went from a terrible corporate job that I made quite a bit more at to here. There I felt like my soul was being sucked out, and here, it’s fed. I love this place. I’d hang out here anyway, so I figured why not make some money doing it?

CB: What drinks do you love to make? JS: Anything that’s an espresso drink. You "dump, dump, dump," put the shots in, and tamp it. I love that whole process! It’s like a song; like a little dance I do. I get sad when someone orders a regular coffee or tea because it’s just pour and done.

CB: What do you order when you get coffee? JS: I always drink the same thing. A soy latte. I don’t like sugar, so today I put cinnamon powder in the bottom and poured hot coffee over it so it melted. It tastes really good.

CB: Mama Java’s is known for great live music and poetry. Any chance we’ll see you on stage here? JS: No! But I do sculpture. I’m planning on having some stuff in here later on, but I have to make something that will fit into this environment, and that nobody will get hurt on. Most sculpture is too big and dangerous.

CB: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen working as a barista? JS: Hmm…not much. It always draws the same type of crowd, and they’re pretty normal.

CB: Come on, don’t make us beg! JS: I’ve got a crazy one where I snapped. But I wasn’t a barista. It was at Subway, when I worked there many, many moons ago. There was this one customer who always came in and was impossible. She was always angry and hated everybody. So one day she came in to order and she asks for a sandwich with Swiss. Well, we’ve never had Swiss cheese, and she knows this. So she starts arguing with us, telling me that other stores have Swiss.

Finally, after a while of this, I ran over and grabbed the hole punch. I came back to the provolone, grabbed it and I went punch, punch, punch, punch, PUNCH! After I punched holes in the cheese, I looked at her and said, “There. It’s Swiss.” I slapped it down on the sandwich and she got really quiet and didn’t argue. She was calm, paid for the sandwich and left. That [incident] changed her. From then on, when she came in she was totally polite!

CB: Wow. We’d better watch out if we order a Venti Mocha Frappacino from you, huh?

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Wynter Holden
Contact: Wynter Holden