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The People of Kaldi's Coffee: Lupe and Maria

In this blog series, we offer you a glimpse of our team members behind the scenes, and the many unique viewpoints and experiences they bring to our company, our coffee, and the Kaldi’s family.

Our last entry in the series highlighted the experiences of team members that recently joined their cafes. Today, we're doing a 180. Lupe and Maria, aka the Rodriguez sisters, have a collective 45+ years working for Kaldi's Coffee. We were thrilled to sit down with them and tell two stories that are so entwined with the story of Kaldi's itself.

BEGINNINGS

As another summer began to fade into fall, a father, working at Washington University, heard about a nearby job opening from a colleague, and mentioned that one or more of his daughters might be interested. The colleague connected with his friend, an owner of a nearby cafe, and an interview was scheduled.

That interview was a new story waiting to be written. This story could have begun most any summer over the past three decades, but it began in August of 1997, with Angelica and Maria Rodriguez meeting Suzanne Langlois, one of the co-founders of Kaldi’s. Angelica started in the kitchen on DeMun immediately, while Maria kept working at her job in the Galleria until October 3rd, 1997, when she began her first training shift at the DeMun Kaldi’s, joining her sister and starting a family tradition that continues to this day.

Maria baking at the Demun coffee shop in St. Louis, MOMaria baking in the Demun cafe

Back then, everything at Kaldi’s happened under one roof. Howard Lerner (Kaldi’s other co-founder) roasted coffee on the spot, and Suzanne ran the cafe, which itself was much smaller before the storefronts were combined. Cooking and baking happened all at once in the morning, so the sisters worked side by side, in the kitchen and out front as baristas. After two happy years, their third sister, Lupe, joined them.

You might think three sisters in a single cafe could be a challenge, but as Maria recalls, “Angelica and I trained Lupe. It was so fun! Technically, it was all three of us sisters, and three other sisters, the Kirby sisters. So there were six of us! The six sisters of Kaldi’s.” Lupe remembers, “We had good days and bad days, working together so closely, but we helped each other a lot, teaching each other things, working out where we’d all be each day. We’d do all the baking and prep and cooking together.” Maria was always attracted to baking, and would volunteer for it whenever someone didn’t want to bake that day. Lupe, in contrast, “...baked because we all did, but I always loved working on the line, making the food for everyone. I loved that we knew every single customer for years and years.”

The Rodriguez sisters would work together at DeMun for 10 years, altogether.

Lupe serving guests outside of DemunLupe serving guests at Demun

Eight years after starting work at DeMun, Maria took six months off to have her first child, Diego, then, two years later, had her second child, Sophia. When she returned, Tricia Zimmer asked her if she’d be willing to say goodbye to DeMun and head west to the relatively new Kirkwood location, which needed a steady and experienced hand in the bakery.

A part-time, early morning schedule worked perfectly with her husband’s schedule (Mauricio has been Kaldi’s main truck driver for many, many years, but that’s another story), so she happily said yes. Angelica became pregnant a few months later, and decided to remain at home, but after about two years of working part-time, Maria took over Kirkwood’s bakery as it’s full-time baker.  Lupe, of course, has been spreading joy and helping others continuously at DeMun since 1999.

On Why They Love What They Do

Maria: Back in the day, I always would raise my hand to volunteer for baking.  I like baking, which is why I still do it. I never get bored, I have all the recipes memorized. I get to go in early, it’s quiet, I put on my music, get most of my work done, then I get to help the front of house staff out a little, and then I’m done before noon. I love managing my own area and controlling every step of the process. There’s never a time when I don’t have something to do. I can just keep adding to my list throughout the days and the week; I love staying busy!

Lupe: I love the action of the kitchen, the thrill of a rush. I love staying prepared for the next wave. My brain moves really fast and I love it when we’re crazy busy.  I never get scared anymore, because I’ve seen it all, so I like to use my experience to help everyone around me in those hard moments. We have a responsibility to the guests to deliver quality and a responsibility to the company and the environment not to waste things, and I like to instill those ideas into my team.

Bud, Lupe, and Maria togetherLupe and Maria talking to Bud, another longtime team member and Lead Roaster

On What Makes for the Best Memories

When asked to pick a favorite time from their Kaldi’s experiences, the sisters don’t hesitate. Maria says, “I think right now is my favorite time. I divide my time at Kaldi’s between before and after the pandemic. It all starts with a good manager, but we’ve learned so much in the past year, and our team is so strong right now.  Kiersten (Little) showed me the example of a good manager, so respectful, always understanding, always guiding us. Most important is that we teach new hires the importance of the guests, that if we stop pleasing our guests, we won’t have anything left to do. Being in the back, I hear the stories, but I try to get them to understand we all have bad days.” 

“Phebe Hammond, our team lead, started at Kirkwood when she was 16. Now she’s 18, and her generation gives me hope. I’ve seen the worst of that age, but these are the best of that age. Kienan, Cannon, Phebe, they are all these young kids, but these people are now like adults, they take their jobs seriously and work hard, they care for each other, and I admire them. We’ve been through a lot together, and I will always try to help them.”

Lupe answers similarly that “working with good people is always my favorite time. I love that I’m working with Paige right now, and Fiona. I knew them both when they were young children, as they’d come into the cafes after school. It makes me so happy to have seen them growing up, and now to see them in high school and college is just the best." 

On Being New at Kaldi's

"Everyone has a different background, and it’s important to remember that you never know what someone’s going through. We want to make you feel as welcome as a guest. We were new once too! Be patient, be friendly, and we love a good team player. When you’re working with customers, you can never be too friendly."

Quick Q&A:

Favorite Drinks: Soy Carmella (Lupe) and Soy Agave Latte (Maria)

Favorite Season: Spring

Favorite Food: Tacos and Mexican food

Favorite Place to Vacation: Mexico, because there’s no place like home!

GROWTH & CHANGE, BUT ALWAYS GREAT PEOPLE

The sisters have seen so much growth and change in their lives and in the company over the years, from starting in a single, sleepy cul-de-sac, to the Roastery’s beginnings and its later move to our current location, an attempt at commissary baking, full menu evolutions, the rise of third wave coffee, multiple cafes in other cities, and so much more.

Of course, they debate what made Kaldi’s great over the years: Maria insists it's the fresh-roasted coffee, Lupe argues it’s the food. But clearly, we could never overlook the steady, firm, and friendly experience of two great people, who have unwavering eyes for detail and open hearts, who have welcomed so many others through our doors as guests and team members over the years.

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READ NEXT

THE PEOPLE OF KALDI'S COFFEE: NEW TEAM MEMBERS
The People of Kaldi's Coffee: New Team Members | Kaldi's Coffee Blog

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