Baristas Keep Hospital Workers Wired, Awake

Mike Chikko Photo

Mike Chikko serves up coffee at the Starbucks located at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. (Photo by Kristin Rencher)

By Kristin Rencher

Mike Chikko, 25, lays his paper out across the table with his coffee held steady in his right hand. He glances over Chicago Tribune headlines, subtly dragging in the bold aroma of his Starbucks white chocolate mocha before taking a sip.

Like many other hard-working people, he relaxes during his lunch break, except his is at 2 a.m.

Starbucks baristas at Northwestern Memorial Hospital work around the clock, and the midnight shift staff say many exciting stories unfold during the overnight shift.

“It was completely different switching from day shift to night shift,” Nathan Papa, 25, another barista working the overnight shift. “In the morning, at the beginning of the workday, it’s so crowded that chatting with the customers was never an option. But during the midnight shift, it’s the complete opposite.”

Papa added, “Of all the places to work in the city, working in an atmosphere where you have doctors saving patients, or losing patients, family member visiting sick relatives, or people recovering from serious illnesses, this is where you’d really want to get to know your customers.

They have the type of stories that are real tear-jerker’s, or inspirational, and need to be heard.”

Dr. Richard Lee, MD, specializing in cardiac surgery, is one of Nathan’s regulars, “Dr. Richard is my favorite, he always has the best stories. Extracting bullets from patients’ skulls, people coming in with knives still lodged in their body, it’s insane!”

Papa continued, “all of his stories are things I never was able to hear during the day shift simply because their just wasn’t time. I also like to keep track of my customers that are here visiting loved ones, it’s nice to be able to let them talk.”

Papa also said working midnight shifts are the most convenient shift to work.

“I get to avoid traffic, I get free parking downtown because the meters are shut down, and I’m able to attend school during the day,” he added.

Upon returning from his lunch break, Chikko joined the conversation,

“What was really frustrating about working Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., was that if I ever needed to get something done during business hours, I couldn’t… because I was working,” he said. “So now my errands don’t pile up like they used to, making my life a little more stress free.”

Nathan Papa Photo

Nathan Papa finds that working the night shift gives him more time to talk with customers. (Photo by Kristin Rencher)

As a well-groomed group of nurses approached the register to place their order, Papa and Chikko exchange glances with one eyebrow raised. Papa whispered to Chikko, “Do it, just do it.”

While Chikko wrote the coffee selection onto the Starbucks cup for one of the nurses, he added a phone number followed by his name on the cup. His face began to slightly blush as he handed off the cup to the designated recipient.

“Have good day,” he said as he beamed with cautious excitement.

Refocusing their energy back to work, Chikko begins refilling ice while Papa stirs mixtures of mocha for the early morning rush that will begin approximately one hour after their shift ends.

“It’s interesting, that when we come in to work — everything is a mess and we spend our whole shift cleaning it,” Papa said. “We leave this place sparkling, and then, we don’t really get to see what happens during the day. We don’t get to see all of our sparkles slowly drift away, all we see when we re-enter the door is that what once sparkled, is now a pre-school play dough project gone awry.”

“It’s all about having a good time,” Papa said. “During the day everyone is so serious, they might be pleasant – but they’re still serious. Whereas at this hour, everyone is in agreement that it’s ridiculous for us to working, so the sarcastic playful humor thrives, and overpowers any type of seriousness that would typically occupy an average day job.”

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