Photo by Bill Bullard
Last month we bid farewell to David Saileni, an Irving Farmer since 2011, who began working at our former cafe on 7th Avenue and managed to pull shifts at every single location except for Millerton, which is quite a feat. He's a customer favorite and you only need to spend a few minutes in his presence to understand why. Originally from Tanzania, David moved to Washington, DC, in 1998 before relocating to NYC in the early aughts where he began working for Whole Foods. His friendly customer service resulted in a friendship outside the store with Sandra David which eventually led to marriage, and it is this particular life adventure that is now leading him to Charlotte, NC, where Sandra is pursuing a job opportunity in the world of taxes and accounting. In an effort to assuage our sadness over his departure, here are a few things we've learned about David and his uniquely positive energy. It's a glimpse of what we'll miss, and what we've grown to love.
If you scroll through David's photos on his phone you will see clouds. Hundreds upon hundreds of clouds. He's captivated by their transient nature and shifting beauty, how they invite you to observe patiently. If you don't see anything at first, wait a moment and a shape will be revealed. If you see something extraordinary, capture it in a picture because it won't last. His prized photo of a cloud shaped like a crocodile is trapped in his old phone which got stolen, then recovered, then held as evidence in the investigation, then returned to him eight months later with the SIM card locked for 23,000,000 minutes. David recognizes that he'll be elderly and close to death when this phone is liberated, but he cheerily entertains the possibility of sharing the crocodile cloud with his grandchildren one day because, after all, even a locked SIM card is impermanent.
He also has hundreds of photos of butterflies. As a kid in Tanzania he would see all sorts of butterflies and it was only later that he realized people traveled from all over the world to see this rare population. After school he would get distracted for hours studying the variety of shapes and patterns. He would collect the butterflies with his friends and carry them to the rooftops where they would be released in a flight of winged color, a ritual that became an emblem of his own desire to see the world in its profound multiplicity, something his father got to do as a member of Tanzanian parliament.
Another favorite animal is the honey badger for its determination and resilience. Even in the face of bee stings and snake bites, the honey badger will not give up. And it is reasonable to expect that David would also brave poisonous attacks in the pursuit of his goals. We once saw him shove his arm down a clogged drain in the floor at our 79th Street cafe while everyone else stood dumbfounded by the spewing, gurgling mess. That was definitely a honey badger moment.
When asked about his secret to making such incredible latte art, he says it's all about taking his time. When he went to Barista Camp in Wisconsin he realized how much emphasis was being placed on minimizing the time it takes to craft an espresso beverage in an effort to increase efficiency and output. He began to explore what would happen if he slowed down by a few seconds each step along the way. This slight increase in production time resulted in a more relaxed energy, both for himself and the customer. He wants each customer to know that he's invested in them having a good beverage and a great experience, that he's really with them in that moment and it's an opportunity to make a meaningful connection. There is an extraordinary patience in his willingness to observe the formation of a cloud, the delicate designs on a butterfly's wing, the perfectly textured milk breaking the surface of the espresso and the gentle merging of crisp whites and silky caramels.
If David has a weakness, it's bananas. He's been known to consume up to ten bananas per day, his regular number being seven. This somewhat limited diet was only supplemented by oranges and the occasional avocado or chocolate bar, so upon seeing his blood sugar levels a doctor had to intervene and demand that he scale back. He's now down to four bananas per day, so there's hope that he'll live to see the crocodile cloud once more.
"Enjoy the day. Forget everything and just enjoy. Go out there and have fun."
This is what David says he wishes for each customer, because he knows that people enter the coffee shop with any number of worries, so his interaction with them could be the only affirming moment of their day. When he was a kid, if he struggled in school or had a bad day he knew that afterwards he'd be able to spend time with the butterflies, and that for every difficult weekday there would always be Saturday when he could relax in nature. As an adult he understands that if you hate yourself, everyone you encounter becomes a monster, so his abiding creed is, "Love yourself, and love others the same way you love yourself," and to awake with the intention to make each day the very best.
As much as we hope to convey this attitude to our staff and customers, we recognize that David is special, so we'll do our best to remember his example and hope that NYC hasn't seen the last of this lovely man. We'll miss you, David, but like a cloud or a butterfly we can't hold onto you forever. Now enjoy the day. Go out there and have fun!