Penny's Cafe in New Dorm

First Latin and Coffee, Then the World

Written by Elizabeth Vietor

One day while working at A.J.’s Café, my manager, Lisa York, told me that she appreciates her initials because they remind her of the Roman historian Livy. Having taken a class on Livy just last year, my interest was piqued. She quickly followed up by telling me that she double majored in Latin and German at Hillsdale. (Latin majors unite!)

As it turns out, two of Hillsdale’s three coffee shops were run by former classics students in the last year. Emily Barnum, the former house director of Benzing Residence who managed Penny’s—a smaller-scale coffee shop in the New Dorm—graduated from Hillsdale in 2018 with a major in Greek. She is currently enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Chicago Divinity School studying the history of Christianity.

For her part, Lisa told me that she tried teaching at a charter school in Texas right out of college, but it wasn’t for her. After a couple of years, she decided she’d move back to Hillsdale and start saving up for graduate school.

“I got a job cleaning factories at first. I worked at night and listened to a lot of podcasts,” Lisa said.

When a management position at A.J.’s opened up, Lisa’s prior experience at a coffee shop in Germany recommended her for the task. She plans to stay at A.J.’s this year and take online classes toward a graduate degree in substance abuse counseling, then hopes to move to Austin, Texas, once she completes her degree.

“I realized while I was teaching that I wanted a job where I could help people in a more active way. Being a substance abuse counselor fell into my life over the last few years because of experiences I’ve had and people I’ve met.”

For Emily, coffee shops and graduate school were both unfamiliar experiences. Unsure how to fill the gap year that she planned to take for graduate school applications, the Penny’s opportunity fell into her lap during an interview with Dean of Women Diane Philipp. After that, the pieces started to fall into place.

“Everything had to be figured out through amateur research and, naturally, trial and error,” Emily said. “Before graduation I was reading blogs online about how to start a coffee shop, and by early May I was calling coffee suppliers.”

One of the toughest parts of her job was dividing her time between managing Penny’s and house directing, since the dynamic nature of each position required her to be available at a moment’s notice. According to Emily, however, the ability to deepen relationships in these people-oriented jobs made the time commitment worthwhile. “My mentality can be summed up as ‘be (almost) perpetually available,’” Emily said.

This lifestyle has since changed. After completing a summer language intensive, Emily is back to being a full-time student—and I also heard that she got a cat, so it’s safe to assume that all is well. As a classics student myself, watching Emily and Lisa achieve their graduate school plans while nailing their current jobs provides a happy reassurance that the future is bright.

Elizabeth Vietor is a senior Latin major with an affinity for thrift shops, butter, and scrunchies. She hails from Phoenix, Arizona, originally, but now that she’s here, doesn’t know how she existed for so long without seeing the leaves change every fall.

Published in September 2019