A Fearless Reporter Auditions as a Bikini Barista

“Everyone loves coffee. But here? Here you have to be hot. Are you hot?”

Bikini coffee. (Allison Kerek)

This story first appeared in the Dec. 4, 2013, edition of WW.

There are many reasons a woman might respond to a Craigslist want ad for bikini baristas. Maybe said woman always wanted to learn a useful trade. Or perhaps she had longed for years to indulge her exhibitionist side but never found the right venue in which to do so. Or—bear with me—it could be that at the time she came across the ad, our job hunter was 36 years old, unemployed, broke and living with her mother. In other words, what did she have to lose?

Some pubic hair, for starters. On the morning of my interview with Dream Girl Espresso, I woke early, not because I was nervous but because I had to do something I hadn’t done in months—shave my bikini line.

After weeks of neglect, the results were what you might imagine: red, itchy bumps everywhere. Still, nothing could deter me. Having come across the Dream Girl Espresso want ad during my daily job search, I had decided to join the ranks of muckraker feminist journalists such as Gloria Steinem (see “A Bunny’s Tale”) and Nellie Bly (I suffer from delusions of grandeur) and tell the story of bikini barista-ing. From the inside.

Per the want ad’s directions, I had sent off a bikini selfie and a truncated work history to the Dream Girl Espresso inbox. Two hours later, I got an email from Leah, part-owner of the kiosk, asking when I was available for an interview. We settled on a Wednesday at 9 am.

“Text if you’re going to be late,” she said.

Sandwiched between a defunct gentlemen’s club and a Mexican restaurant, the Dream Girl Espresso coffee kiosk in Hillsboro is hard to miss: A large, hot-pink sign advertising the best coffee in town points the way. I was 10 minutes early and passed the time watching four dudes—three in Ford F-150s—get their espresso on.

Once out of my car, I spotted her, the Dream Girl of the Day, dressed to support our troops, behind sliding glass. The bottom half of her tanned body was poured into butt-revealing camouflage boy shorts. On top, she wore a red-lace bralette and a camo conductor hat. The pièce de résistance? A bandolier of fake bullets between her breasts.

“Are you my 9 o’clock?” she asked me.

“You’re Leah?”

“Door’s open.”

Inside, the kiosk was cozy and bright. I couldn’t take my eyes off Leah. She was the hottest small-business owner I’d ever seen.

“Are those real?” I asked her, pointing toward the bullets but subconsciously meaning her breasts. They were perfect. Megan Fox in This Is 40 perfect. I wanted to pull a Leslie Mann and touch them and cry.

Leah cocked an eyebrow. “Oh my God. Can you imagine?”

I had thought it would just be me and Leah talking, but soon a man in sunglasses walked in, introduced himself as Jeff, and took over. He had pockmarked skin, a lisp and a salesman’s swagger. He asked me to review my work history, and again I fudged a little, telling him I’d mostly worked as a teacher, some college, some high school, but that I was having a hard time finding a job in my field.

“Ooh,” Leah said, wiping a countertop clean. “Hot for teacher.”

“So why do you want this job?” Jeff asked.

I started to sweat. “I love coffee?”

He smirked. “Everyone loves coffee. But here? Here you have to be hot. Are you hot?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest. Then I started yammering about how, while I was clearly older than the other Dream Girls in his employ, I was a wonderful conversationalist and could maybe pass for the hot librarian type. I think I even mentioned that I had a master’s degree, which everyone who has one knows is a sure sign of desperation.

“But are you hot?” he asked.

He motioned for me to undress, which I did, hurriedly, nearly falling over when my jean leg got stuck on my foot. Meanwhile, Leah poured a latte for a bald man on a motorcycle.

Jeff gave my pale body the once-over. “Now walk around, get used to it.”

I took a few steps toward Leah and then sort of backed my way into the corner where they kept the drink recipes. It was like starring in the world’s saddest swimsuit competition.

“You’re hot,” he said.

My hotness established, Jeff acquainted me with the key to successful bikini-coffee sales. It’s all about the upsell. He could teach anyone to make good coffee—”Starbucks and Dutch Brothers got nothing on us,” he said—but quality shots were only part of the equation.

He gave me a for-instance. First time through, a man orders a plain cup of joe. He’s shy. He’s intimidated by the on-duty Dream Girl, so it’s time for her to work her magic and talk him into coming by later on for a latte or mocha. Girls should give each man at least 10 minutes, Jeff said. It doesn’t matter how long the line is. The idea is to take the time, ask him about his job, his family. Make him feel special.

But not too special.

“Never flash the customers,” Jeff said. “I don’t care how much they tip. We’re not a strip club. We’re a classy business that sells a good cup of bikini coffee.” He pointed out that Leah wore pasties underneath her top. “You have to cover your junk,” he added, finally taking off the shades and giving my crotch a cursory glance. I followed his gaze south and wished I hadn’t. The bumps had gone from slightly irritated to flaming red. I excused myself and pulled on my pants.

Jeff’s eyes were a disconcerting gold color. “Think you’re going to sell bikini coffee in your jeans?”

“I’m cold.”

“You can’t be cold and sell bikini coffee.”

The more he said “bikini coffee” the more I visualized little cups of coffee dressed in string bikinis, frolicking on a beach far away from TV Highway.

Putting on my pants seemed to put an end to the interview. Joe left, suggesting Leah and I get better acquainted, and while I finished getting dressed I compiled a mental list of questions. Maybe Leah and I could share a sister moment, really delve into whether or not she felt empowered by her job or exploited or neither. Was it just a way to feel pretty and make a living? All the same, did she worry about the message her business might be sending to young women about why and how they should be valued? Could this era of the sexy selfie shared so often with friends and even strangers be creating a generation of women who only felt visible when on display? And what was the future of feminism anyway?

“We’ll call you,” Leah said, offering me a thin, cold hand.

They never called. Apparently I wasn’t hot enough. Not Dream Girl material anyway. So my bikini is back in the drawer, resting against my red-lace bustier and matching panties, which will never see the light of kiosk. My razor is safely stowed away. And I’m back to cruising the Craigslist want ads every day, looking for the perfect job.

There’s that ad again: “Bikini Baristas Wanted.”

Good luck, ladies. And Godspeed.

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