Two years ago, I bought my husband an espresso maker for Christmas. It was not one of those Williams-Sonoma-catalog, $2,000 espresso machines. This was a humble, $45 espresso maker. Still, with his new machine, my husband could make lattes as good as any I might get at Starbucks. I have been, ever since that Christmas morning, the happy recipient of lattes on weekend mornings, sometimes delivered to me in bed.
It was on just such a morning a few weeks ago when my husband stood at the door to our bedroom, wearing only his boxers, proffering a latte.
"I don't understand the fuss about that coffee shop in town," he said. "I serve you lattes all the time in my lingerie."
He was referring to Double Shot Espresso, a drive-through coffee shop near Golden Valley High where female baristas serve customers in the kind of clothing — nighties and swimsuits — that one usually reserves for leisure activities.
"Just don't show up at my bedside in a bikini," I answered. "That might freak out the kids."
While seeing their father serve coffee in a bikini might be unsettling for our teenaged boys (and for me, too, come to think of it), I'm fairly confident that seeing a pretty young woman in a similar situation would not draw from them the same level of horror.
Double Shot Espresso occupies a tiny, unimposing building. Its sign features a sensuous mouth above a pair of round, voluptuous coffee cups rubbing against each other, creating admirable cleavage in the way of well-endowed, full cups everywhere.
Sex as a ploy to draw customers is the oldest gimmick in business, going at least as far back as the Victorian era, when tobacco companies used full-frontal nudity on their packages to sell what was then an almost exclusively male product. So Double Shot isn't doing anything particularly original or risqué. In fact, owner Mohammed Darwish stated in a Sun-Star article that he borrowed the idea of bikini baristas from a coffee shop in Modesto.
In reference to the controversy about the coffee shop, some of it undoubtedly fueled by the newspaper story, manager Patricia Quinonez echoed playwright Oscar Wilde, who once famously stated, "There is only one thing worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."
"Any press is probably good press," she said in an interview published online. "At least somebody's talking about us."
According to some customers quoted in the Sun-Star, Double Shot is innocuous because teenagers are often "exposed to ... worse things than bikinis or lingerie."
It is unclear whether the pun was intentional, but what is clear is that such logic does not hold up to even the most casual scrutiny. While I would agree that snorting crank or being inducted into a gang is worse for kids than seeing a girl in a bikini, I have to disagree with the notion that the prevalence of really bad influences necessarily guarantees the suitability of other, less pernicious ones. Admittedly, a barista in a bikini isn't a significant problem for a typical teen. But don't parents have a responsibility to their children to point out and challenge sexual exploitation when we see it, instead of just shrugging it off?
Surely the owner of Double Shot is not innocent to the prurient nature of his business. His sign alone tells us that. And while I commend Darwish for providing jobs to young women in Merced, I wish he had not chosen such an obvious, sleazy approach to marketing. I wish he'd had a little more respect for his customers and employees.
In the final analysis, though, I must say that Double Shot does not pose much of a threat to the youth of Merced. Certainly, Golden Valley students lucky enough to have money in their pockets will suddenly find a new interest in espressos and double lattes. But eventually their enthusiasm will wane, and they will move on to some other, better fad.
Writer H.L. Mencken once observed that nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public. Unfortunately, he was probably right. In the case of Double Shot, only time will tell.
Brigitte Bowers is a lecturer in the Merritt Writing Program at UC Merced.