MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Starbucks was born in Seattle, and it has spawned a lot of coffee-shop children, some of whom seem to need a lot of attention. Sara Lerner from member station KUOW reports.
Ms. LAUREN ALISON (Barista): Hi there, what can I get for you today?
Unidentified Man #1: Tall iced mocha.
Ms. ALISON: All right. Do you want whipped cream on that?
Unidentified Man #1: No.
Ms. ALISON: OK.
SARA LERNER: Barista Lauren Alison at Chicka Latte in Seattle wears white fishnets, a garter belt, a tiny plaid skirt, and a T-shirt that stops below her chest. The espresso hut windows go all the way down to the floor on two sides so drivers can see Lauren's whole body. When she leans over to talk to a customer on one side, a guy in a truck on the other side widens his eyes and grins.
Unidentified Man #2: (Unintelligible) baseball game, remember?
Ms. ALISON: Uh-huh. Totally. Yeah, I think that's the only other time I've ever served you, right?
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.
LERNER: Baristas at Chicka Latte wear sexy costumes, like of a school girl or Minnie Mouse. At other stands baristas wear spike heels, lingerie, or bikinis. When servers wore pasties at one shop called Espresso Gone Wild west of Seattle, Stephanie Postier decided she'd had enough.
Ms. STEPHANIE POSTIER: 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, I mean, buy cigarettes. I mean, come on. There's age limits for what are considered adult things.
LERNER: Mason County Commissioner Tim Sheldon agreed that their attire violated zoning ordinances, specifically...
Mr. TIM SHELDON (Commissioner, Mason County): Someone that is unclothed or in attire or costume, to view or expose any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola. So a pasty would not be acceptable.
LERNER: So the owners complied. The baristas now wear lingerie or bikinis. And that's how it goes. First pasties, then protests, then the local government writes a letter, and owners comply. Stephanie Postier wants a state-wide law that would bar anyone under 18 from doing business at the stands where baristas wear pasties. She also wants signage outside, as a warning, at any of the sexy espresso stands.
Ms. POSTIER: So you know what you're getting, you know. There's no misunderstanding. It's like, you know, adult coffee shop or whatever it may be, some sort of a label to it, so it's very clear. No moms with little kids will come through.
LERNER: Where Lauren works, the stand is red with a huge drawing of a well-built lady on the side. At Best Friend Espresso in Kenmore, the logo on the side is nothing but a small palm tree. If that doesn't give you an idea that it's another sexy espresso stand, the long line of waiting cars might. Steve McDaniel owns Java Girls. It's a chain of 16 espresso stands.
Mr. STEVE MCDANIEL (Owner, Java Girls): We stimulate the sexual imagination to drive our coffee sales, and it's proven to be a successful combination that allows me to compete in a highly competitive marketplace and support my family and put food on the table.
LERNER: McDaniel's office is in Kent, south of Seattle. His baristas wear lingerie or bikinis. He tried coffee shops before, but he couldn't compete. As a former casino manager, he tried what he thought might work.
Mr. MCDANIEL: Sex has sold since the beginning of time. It's going to continue to sell until the end of time.
LERNER: Now, Java Girls is copyrighted in almost 30 countries, and he says the baristas stay.
Mr. MCDANIEL: When girls make that good money, you want them to move out from mom and dad's, get into those car payments, get into the new apartment, start making furniture payments. Because once they do, they make so much money at Java Girls, there's nowhere else they can go and work.
LERNER: Lauren Alison at Chicka Latte says she doesn't feel stuck in her job at all. She likes her customers, her bosses, and coworkers. She understands that her business isn't for everyone, but she thinks those who don't like it should just not visit.
Ms. ALISON: It's not supposed to be exploiting women. It's not supposed to be skanky or trashy or anything terrible. 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.
LERNER: If Stephanie Postier gets the law on her side, that would be the end of pasties. But we're not talking Starbucks here. Baristas will still be serving up frothy lattes with little skirts and flirty smiles. For NPR News, I'm Sara Lerner in Seattle.
Unidentified Man #3: Iced vanilla latte?
Ms. ALISON: Sure.
(Soundbite of music)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.