DeBeen Espresso is a cozy, local coffee shop in High Point, North Carolina that draws people of various ages and backgrounds to come and work there. Since the ongoing pandemic has changed the roles of first and second spaces- home and work- third spaces, such as coffee shops, have become much needed escapes despite the risk you could be putting yourself in by visiting. I was curious if the pandemic would deter the population as a whole or only certain groups. Additionally, with so many subcultures represented, I was interested in discovering what the shared appeal of the shop is. Ultimately, my research I sought to answer: What motivates people to visit and work at DeBeen Espresso, especially in the midst of a pandemic?
Despite a scattering of chain coffee shops in the area, DeBeen has been a popular local establishment for social purposes as well as working. Research has shown that satisfaction with a particular coffee shop comes from satisfaction with the product, the service, and the social aspects of the space as a whole (Ting & Thurasamy, 2016, para. 39). A shop has to do more than make good coffee. Customers want solitude but not isolation; the shop must still have a sense of community while providing space and privacy (Nautiyal, 2016, p.108). The coffee shop industry is so saturated that a shop has to create brand loyalty in order to succeed. This is often accomplished through allowing for customer interaction with the establishment (Kim & Lee, 2017, p. 733). With so many possible factors contributing to the experience as a whole, what is it in particular that has made DeBeen a well-loved community staple?
Observational Data and Analysis:
I visit DeBeen in the late afternoon of Tuesday, September 29. The coffee shop is the emptiest I have ever seen, yet every table is full. Instead of being a maze of tables and mismatched chairs, DeBeen has ten tables lining the perimeter of its two rooms. Normally time at DeBeen is one of shared solitude, but today it just feels lonely. To feel comfortable here, you have to be okay with being alone.
I approach a local high school student and begin a conversation on why she enjoys visiting the coffee shop. She explains that the coffee at DeBeen is not really her favorite. She prefers the beverages at 83 Custom Coffee, but the atmosphere at DeBeen is much cozier. Her favorite barista knows her order and had begun preparing it as soon as she entered. Because of this, she feels a personal connection with the employees and with the establishment.
DeBeen was not an environment I felt comfortable in with regards to COVID-19. There was a mask policy, but it was not enforced and there was a plethora of high-touch spots that were not being sanitized frequently enough. When I asked my interview subject about why she continued to visit she simply responded that it was better than being at home. People have been stuck at home for months, and some are willing to risk their health for a change of scenery.
Eventually I decided to get a coffee, and as I pay the cashier tells me I get to pick the muffin flavor. At DeBeen, when it is time to make the next batch of muffins, the worker lets the customer at the front of the line decide the next flavor. If they stay long enough, they can have a free muffin. It is a unique way they create brand loyalty and customer excitement.
When I return the next day, Wednesday, September 30, the shop is nearly empty. I ask the barista on duty, Rob, if this is usual. He explains Wednesdays are always the deadest days of the week as the majority of schools in the area are private Christian schools who do not give out homework on Wednesdays to encourage church attendance. Even in this small way, it is clear that the occupancy of DeBeen reflects what is going on in the town.
DeBeen is split into two sections: a large main room and a little room. The little room is known as the quiet room. It is where you go to buckle down and get work done. Currently, there are two middle aged men quickly typing as they sip their coffee. I overhear them talking about finalizing the sale. I am not sure what they’re selling, but no matter what, they must feel comfortable at DeBeen to select it as their location to finalize their sale.
Rob walks past me and places a wet floor sign on a puddle, but he makes no move to clean it. Why would he not just mop it up? Why? The same could be said about a lot around this place. I have never noticed issues before, but suddenly they are all I can see. Yet people keep coming back because DeBeen is more than just a coffee shop. It is a place you can come to feel community. The people there, like Rob, matter more than the puddles.
Rob leaves, and a new barista arrives. He walks to the iPod and changes the music and then begins grinding beans and rinsing coffee dispensers. Before he started his work, he created a space he enjoyed working in. There is a sense of comfort for both the employees and the customers that contributes to the homey and inviting atmosphere of the establishment.
The coffee and the atmosphere at DeBeen are both enjoyable, but it is the people that make it special. It is sense of community created that keeps people coming back even in the midst of COVID-19. While this study cannot be directly applied to all coffee shops, it does establish the importance of personal connection and loyalty to the establishment in creating returning customers. Now more than ever people crave community, and in a small way, DeBeen is able to provide that.
Jaishikha Nautiyal. (2016). Aesthetic and affective experiences in coffee shops: A deweyan
engagement with ordinary affects in ordinary spaces. Education and Culture, 32(2), 99. https://doi.org/10.5703/educationculture.32.2.0099
Kim, S.-H., & Lee, S. (Ally). (2017). Promoting customers’ involvement with service brands:
Evidence from coffee shop customers. Journal of Services Marketing, 31(7), 733–744. https://doi.org/10.1108/JSM-03-2016-0133
Ting, H., & Thurasamy, R. (2016). What matters to infrequent customers: A pragmatic approach
to understanding perceived value and intention to revisit trendy coffee café. SpringerPlus, 5(1), 651. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40064-016-2259-5
Featured Image: Thanyakij, B. (2020). [Person Holding White Ceramic Mug Beside Macbook Pro] Pexels. https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-ceramic-mug-beside-macbook-pro-3787300/