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The Industry All-Stars: Tara Payne

Tara Payne - Philz Coffee Barista Extraordinaire

For three years, my writing has been almost exclusively focused on food - literally taking the things I eat off of the plate, and changing them into words on paper. By doing so, I often don't bring enough attention to the hundreds of other facets of the food industry: the dining atmosphere, larger industry discussions a la Michael Pollan, emerging new trends, or the people who make it all possible.

As I was getting my daily morning coffee from Philz, it suddenly hit me: one of the most important reasons for why I keep going back to this place, or any place for that matter, is because of the happiness I feel whenever I interact with the people working at these establishments. It's part of what makes San Francisco feel like home; it's like Cheers - there's nothing better than getting a warm welcome from people who know your name...and they're always glad you came. So right here and now, I'm starting a new series of posts that puts the spotlight on some of my favorite people in the San Francisco, and what makes them so damn awesome.

First up is the person who was my inspiration for this entire idea - my favorite barista in the whole wide world. She goes by the name Tara Payne, a barista/shift manager at the Philz Coffee on 24th Street by day, or DJ Dalle: ass-shaking expert by night. We met over a year ago when she sucked me in with how perfectly she made my coffee - a small Silken Splendor with vanilla soy. I know it seems simple enough, but let me tell you, nobody makes it as well as she does. So, I quickly started going to her exclusively (even at the risk of hurting the other baristas' feelings), which gave me the opportunity to interact with her for a few minutes every day.

It didn't take me long to realize that Tara doesn't just make a damn good coffee, but that she's also just plain cool. With two years under her belt at Philz (I believe...) she clearly works her ass off, but always goes about her business with a laid back attitude, taking the time to chat, makes jokes, and just interact with you in a real way - but only if you're in the mood that early in the morning, of course. That's actually one of the things I like best about her, no unnecessary chit-chat or fake morning grin and small talk when you clearly aren't in the mood. Thank god, she gets it.

But it was my experience last week that solidified her as being one of my favorite people in SF. Let me paint the picture: I walked into Philz, saw that she was busy on the food counter, and quickly breezed by her without thinking she had noticed me. While I'm in line, she moved to a coffee station, and with room for only four cups at a time, proceeded to help the first four people in line. I was up next, but rather than wait to be called by someone else, I went to her station and asked if she could add my coffee to the list, after she was done with her other orders. Her response? "Oh I already have yours going. Don't worry, I got you." And the best part? As I was paying, I realized I had forgotten to tell her that I wanted a large, not the usual small. But somehow she had remembered me ordering a large the Sunday before, and already had it covered. I had a perfect, large cup of coffee in my hand before I even finished paying. She treated me like a rock star, made my morning, and I didn't even think she knew I was there. How awesome is that?

While that morning made me especially happy, seeing her on my daily trip to Philz makes me happy every morning. It's become such a normal part of my morning routine that I can't help but feel slightly disappointed those few times I stop by and she's not around. So I want to say -

Tara, thank you for being one of those special people that help make San Francisco feel like home to me. I'll see you in the morning.

Follow Tara on Twitter: @djdallesf
Find Tara at Philz Coffee:
Philz Coffee
3101 24th St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 875-9370


  1. Michael says:

    Thank you, Kelsey. I loved this post! Among the most meaningful experiences we can have on a daily basis are the ones where we enjoy a sincere connection with another person. Thank you for reminding us how special people like Tara are in our lives. I look forward to reading every post in this series.

    There aren't a lot of people who choose to recognize others, Kelsey, so please permit me to tell you that you are special, too.

  2. roamtheland says:

    It's great to give some recognition to the people that make or break an experience. Too often we focus on the plate in front of us and forget how much the personality of the person helping us contributes to our returning again and again

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