Being a remarkable barista is about much more than just a passion for good coffee. If you aren’t also passionate about providing excellent service and creating connections with your customers, it doesn’t matter what you put in their cup.
Federico “Fefe” Schillagi’s journey in hospitality is the perfect example of that in action.
He didn’t know how to pour a flat white or the difference between washed and natural coffee before he got his first job in the coffee world. Despite that, he’s gone from rookie barista to store manager in less than a year.
His secret? An outgoing personality, a strong work ethic, and a genuine passion for making people happy.
Hosco recently caught up with Fefe at the coffee shop he manages in the El Clot neighborhood of Barcelona to find out more about his story and what it’s like to work as a barista.
What first interested you about working in hospitality?
Well, I’m from Argentina and I came here to Barcelona a year and a half ago. From the moment I arrived here, I started working in hospitality.
I’m a musician and an artist and back in Argentina, I used to work a nine to five office job to support my lifestyle. When I moved to Barcelona, I decided to get into hospitality because it was a bit easier to approach as a foreigner.
I’ve always enjoyed going to nice restaurants and receiving good service. So, when I started working in hospitality on the other side of things, I noticed I was good at it because I knew how to treat people and provide excellent service.
How do you define excellent service?
Well, it’s all about a personal touch and creating a connection with the guests. You know, being able to chat a little bit with them and create a rapport.
For example, when you ask a waiter for recommendations in a restaurant and they not only tell you what’s good but also what to avoid. Little things like that make a big difference. If they feel like it’s an honest relationship then they will be more likely to return.
Did you work in other F & B jobs in Barcelona before becoming a barista?
When I arrived, I lived in a very touristy neighborhood and I found a job in a restaurant there. I worked as a waiter and it was always full, no matter the day. The constant business was difficult but the hardest part was the working conditions and treatment from the owners.
A lot of work in this city is like that—half of it is on the side, not on your contract. You sign for 20 hours but you work 40, that kind of shady deal. And the tips were like a jungle. I would see waiters just pocketing tips because when we split them at the end of the shift the owner would take a cut. It just wasn’t a good environment.
Also, I worked nights so I never got to spend time with my friends in the evenings. That was harsh because I was new to the city and wanted to be more social. After working in that job for 6 months I started thinking of changing because it was too demanding for me at that time.
Is that when you decided to become a barista?
Well, I was thinking about a switch to working in a brunch place or something like that. Then, one day, I saw a job posting for an opening in a specialty coffee shop.
I actually didn’t know much about coffee or being a barista before the interview so I kind of lied a bit. But, I did say that I love good food and coffee and I’m passionate about providing great service.
So your passion for coffee started after becoming a barista?
Definitely. But now I can speak passionately about coffee because I’ve learned that it’s really interesting and a wide world to understand. I imagined it was, but when I started here I really saw that first hand. It’s like science, you know? I’m still learning a lot, even after working here for a year.
When you get hired here, they have a month-long intensive training program so that really helps. It gave me all the necessary skills I needed to become a barista and now I’ve been able to expand on them.
How did you become a store manager in less than a year?
Well, this place is a chain with a lot of stores throughout the city but they aren’t franchises. Since they’re all owned by the same owner and they open new shops all the time, they need reliable people.
I showed that I had a strong work ethic, was passionate, and wanted to learn and it got their attention. When my former manager left, they knew that I was serious enough to take over the role.
Now, I really see this as my own shop that I can influence and be proud of.
Why is being a barista such an interesting hospitality job?
Well, I guess the closest job would be a bartender. You serve drinks, there’s regulars, people want to discuss their problems with you. I definitely find myself in that classic pose–leaning on the counter, cleaning a glass and listening to someone’s story. You’re kind of like a therapist.
But the big difference about being a barista is that you see people first thing in the morning. Often they haven’t even brushed their teeth or are properly dressed for the day. Sometimes, I’m the first person they see.
So, I get to observe my customers kind of like a social experiment. Some people really need coffee and it affects their mood when they don’t have it. I see people who are quiet or cold in the morning and then come back later in the day acting completely different.
I’m a tarot reader so I’m interested in mystic, astrological ways of looking at things. I always thought that the moon’s phases affected people but I never had evidence. Then during the last eclipse, everyone was always talking about how bad they felt or how they didn’t sleep well. I don’t think you really get that with any other type of hospitality–it’s unique to being a barista early in the morning.
What’s the most challenging part of being a barista?
Well, since I see people first thing in the morning, you can get customers who are in a bad mood or haven’t fully woken up yet. Some people are really rude and barely say anything more than just “coffee”. Not even a please. Those kinds of customers really frustrate me because I’m a person too, you know? I’m up and at work even earlier than they are, with a smile on my face.
If this was my own shop, I’d say something. But, I’m representing someone else so I can’t respond to rude people the way I’d like to.
Luckily, I have a lot of amazing regular customers who love to come in to chat. They outnumber the rude people by quite a bit.
What’s your favorite part of working in a coffee shop?
Interacting with all the different types of people. I love socializing and meeting new people and that’s what I get paid to do all day long. Yes, I make coffee. But, when I’m done making it, I get to have a chat and check in with my customers. That human connection is priceless
What advice would you give to someone who is starting out as a barista?
I would tell them to work in as many different settings as possible to find the one that fits them best. Maybe they’d prefer working in a brunch place or in a hotel, or somewhere else. Take advantage of as many opportunities you can and it will help you grow a lot.
What are your plans for the future?
Well, after working as a manager here, I’ve really started thinking about opening my own shop. I’d love to mix my interest in mysticism with my passion for serving people into some sort of Tarot Cafe concept. I think that’d be really fun and unique.
If I do open my own place, I really want it to feel like a home away from home for people. I want it to be a place where people can sit down, feel super comfy, and socialize with friends or strangers.
But, first, I need to save up the money!
Working as a barista is a great way to get your start in the hospitality industry. Fefe’s story is proof that a passion for serving others is the most important trait you can have, the rest can be learnt on the job. Check out the open barista positions available on Hosco and find your dream coffee job today!