By Madina Toure
Two Jamaica-raised baristas at the newly opened Starbucks in Jamaica, David Merrick and Nigel Armstrong, who met barely a month ago but have already branded themselves the “dynamic duo,” are excited the store will offer job training for youth in the community.
Starbucks held a preview opening for its new store at 89-02 Sutphin Blvd. Monday, the first of at least 15 stores that will open throughout the United States to hire and train youth in diverse and urban communities. The store officially opened Tuesday at 6 a.m.
The store includes an onsite classroom space available to local nonprofit organizations to provide job training and skills building programs for young people in the area.
It is part of the chain’s goal of hiring 10,000 opportunity youth, 16- to 24-year-old individuals who are not in school and not employed.
Merrick, 23, who volunteers for LIFE Camp founded by Erica Ford, said the initiative will give kids an alternative study spot to the library and keep them occupied.
“Honestly, I feel like it’s a good thing because as a kid, you kind of don’t learn what’s going on at a young age,” he said. “So this is definitely a way to get kids at 16 and 17 off the streets and actually introducing them into the workforce and the work environment.”
For Armstrong, 20, the store will be a “home away from home” for kids in the area.
“I know they’re going to have a lot of youth coming in and out of here, so to make that connection with them is going to be really big,” he said. “I feel like they’re going to be looking to us for guidance. I feel like it’s going to be really big for us and for the youth.”
Alisha Wrencher, the store manager, who has worked for Starbucks for 18 years and was born and raised in Jamaica, handpicked all 17 employees, who range in age from 16 to 36 and hail from Brooklyn, parts of Queens and Jamaica in the Caribbean.
“I know how much this store can do to create a brighter future for our opportunity youth and am honored that Starbucks chose me to lead this new store,” Wrencher said.
Borough President Katz, who has launched the Jamaica Now Action Plan to revitalize Jamaica, praised the selection of the borough as the beta site.
“We understand that this is a prototype for the rest of the nation, but just to be clear: It started in Queens,” Katz said, her words met with applause from the crowd.
Starbucks has partnered with the Queens Community House, Queens Connect’s lead agency, and YMCA’s Y Roads Centers, which will be utilizing a dedicated training space within the store specially created by the Starbucks design studio.
The Jamaica store is the first in a nationwide initiative Starbucks announced last year to deepen investments in at least 15 similar U.S. communities by 2018 by opening stores with the goal of creating new jobs and engaging local women and minority-owned vendors and suppliers. The next location will be in the West Florissant neighborhood of Ferguson, Mo.
“One of the things that we’ve learned over the time is that we can’t do it alone,” said Rodney Hines, director of community investments for Starbucks retail operations.
Candice Cadogan, a Brooklyn-born barista raised in Cambria Heights, and Jermaine Slater, a newly promoted shift superviser who was born in Jamaica in the Caribbean and raised in Jamaica, led a coffee tasting for Guatemala Finca Monte David, one of their small batch Reserve coffees.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour