Bikini Baristas Try To Get Leg Up In Seattle

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Bikini barista i

Lauren Alison is a barista at Chicka Latte in Seattle. Sara Lerner/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sara Lerner/NPR
Bikini barista

Lauren Alison is a barista at Chicka Latte in Seattle.

Sara Lerner/NPR

What do you think of the Seattle bikini baristas' tactics? Should there be rules to regulate these coffee shops? Comment on our blog. There, you can also read about a city that was full of scantily clad espresso-servers long before Seattle.

Lauren Alison

"It's not supposed to be skanky, or trashy or anything terrible," says barista Lauren Alison. "It's just supposed to be fun, and we all enjoy it." Sara Lerner/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Sara Lerner/NPR

In the Seattle area, espresso huts are about as numerous as mile markers. Some coffee shops are trying to get a leg up on the competition by taking the sexy route — and numbers-wise, it seems to working.

Baristas in spike heels, lingerie, fish nets and other skin-revealing attire are attracting long lines — and large tips.

When servers started wearing pasties at a shop called Espresso Gone Wild west of Seattle, however, some residents decided the caffeinated provocateurs had taken it too far.

"You have to be of age to go buy a nudie magazine. You have to be of age to go to the strip joint. You have to be of age to buy cigarettes. I mean, come on. There's age limits for what are considered adult things," says Stephanie Postier, one of the residents leading the charge to make coffee shops "PG" locales.

Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon agreed that their attire violated zoning ordinances. Exposing "any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola" qualifies one as "unclothed," so "a pastie would not be acceptable," he concluded.

Espresso Gone Wild's owner complied. The baristas now wear lingerie or bikinis.

But Postier wants to take the issue further. She is pushing for a statewide law that would bar anyone under 18 from doing business at the stands where baristas wear pasties. She also wants a warning sign outside all sexy espresso stands, so "no moms with little kids will come through."

The coffee shops are reluctant to make changes, because the sexy formula is working.

"We stimulate the sexual imagination to drive our coffee sales. And it's proven to be a successful combination," says Steve McDaniel, who owns Java Girls, a chain of 16 espresso stands throughout the Seattle area. "It allows me to compete in a highly competitive marketplace and support my family and put food on the table."

A former casino manager, he says he's owned other coffee shops before, but couldn't compete.

"Sex has sold since the beginning of time. It's gonna continue to sell until the end of time," he says. And he's banking on this being true all over the world; he recently copyrighted Java Girls in nearly 30 countries.

The women who work for him are benefiting financially, too, he says.

"They make so much money at Java Girls, there's nowhere else they can go and work," he says.

Lauren Alison, who works at Chicka Latte, a similar sort of enterprise, says she understands that her business isn't for everyone. But if people don't approve, they should simply stay away. On this particular afternoon, she's dressed in a sexy school girl uniform — garter belt, tiny plaid skirt, fish net stockings and a crop-top.

"It's not supposed to be skanky, or trashy or anything terrible," she says. "It's not supposed to be hurting anybody. It's just supposed to be fun, and we all enjoy it, and we get a kick out of it, and so do our customers."

Sara Lerner reports for member station KUOW.



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