It’s not that common for someone to be headhunted on the job because of the exceptional standard of service being delivered. But for Yamikani ‘Yummy’ Phiri, it’s happened four times – and now he’s found his “home” with Starbucks, he says.
He was appointed as part of the opening team for several of the brand new Starbucks cafés in Cape Town after his talent for service was spotted by Leah McCrae, Starbucks SA’s managing executive, at The Silo, one of Cape Town’s luxury hotels. “He has it all,” she says, “warmth and friendliness, knowledge and expertise – but more than that, an ability to share his knowledge graciously and humbly. He has an openness and a million-dollar smile that makes one want to get to know him better. We’re delighted Yummy has joined our Camps Bay team and we know he will add his own special touch to the store’s offering.”
Yummy, who grew up in Hwange in Zimbabwe, completed his A-levels and then planned to study as a diesel plant fitter, but there were no funds. He worked for the railways for a year before coming to South Africa to join his brother, who was working at the Roundhouse restaurant in Camps Bay. Robin Thomas, the manager, took Yummy on as his protégé, which meant that when Thomas moved on to the V&A Waterfront, Yummy moved with him. It was here that he had the opportunity to attend a certified Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) training course and qualify in the top 3.
He was then headhunted on the job a couple more times by some of Cape Town’s finest hotels and restaurants, including The Silo, until he encountered Leah McCrae whom he lists along with Adrian Maizey, Starbucks SA CEO, as his “inspiring role models”. Through his customer-facing work over the years, Yummy has been a keen learner and discovered a love and appreciation of people.
He is now settled in at the Starbucks Camps Bay store as an enthusiastic and committed partner (the term Starbucks uses for its baristas). “Being one of the partners in this team feels like home for me. It’s the way I believe everyone who comes into the store must feel – this is a true ‘third place’. Starbucks is a human company, where our customers must be given the full coffee experience, and their satisfaction is key.” Yummy adds that he’s found that all the Starbucks partners are proud to buy into the Starbucks philosophy, “where everyone must feel and be important.”
Looking ahead, Yummy says his dream for the future is to grow step by step with Starbucks, which he believes holds exciting opportunities for him.
Yummy’s experience and training as a sommelier has given him a deeper enjoyment of great coffee. He says the wine and coffee experiences are very similar. “With both, you look for the aroma, acidity, body, and flavours. Coffee is so versatile – it can be had at any time of the day; it’s an energiser, it’s relaxing, and it’s always special.” As a new coffee aficionado, he has discovered that his favourite Starbucks coffee to drink is a caramel macchiato and to make, is a caramel cappuccino.
His advice to young people in the hospitality industry is to explore opportunities in the coffee industry. “It’s growing fast and there are many ways to become a part of this excellent industry.”
When he’s not at work, Yummy spends time with his family – his wife, his son (7) and daughter (3) – all of whom have quickly become firm Starbucks fans.
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