The Day “The Patrick” Disappeared: A story of lost identity

by cv harquail on October 20, 2010

This is a story about a quirky little cafe that disappeared.

While I lived in town, and for a few years after we moved, this cafe was a touchstone, a demonstration, of one of the experiences that made our small town so interesting. When the cafe changed just one little thing, it lost what made it special. Nothing has seemed as meaningful since.

The cafe was right downtown, just a few blocks from my house, and my family and I would go there all the time. And I mean, all the time. The cafe had several of your typical barista ‘characters’, often grad school dropouts who kept hanging around town, providing local color and culture.

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One of our favorites of these was Patrick. Patrick was there when the cafe first opened up, and was an occasional weekend manager. Patrick was also an artist, a designer, and not coincidentally a great barista. He was the guy who’d give my two year old a cup just like her mom’s, filled only with milk foam, and tell her to find the invisible latte he’d hidden inside.

Patrick was so key to ‘who’ the cafe was that they had a special drink named for him. “The Patrick” was some kind of soy milk based decaf drink that the actual Patrick had made up. Folks would order it by name.

One day when we were sitting in the cafe, Patrick came over with a round of free lattes, to share the sad for us/exciting for him news that he was moving to New York.

Although Patrick the barista departed, “The Patrick” remained — for years — as a marker of the quirkiness of the cafe and the people who originated it.

Forever, it seemed, the cafe’s handwritten menu board listed that trademarked concoction,”The Patrick”. Every time I was back in town visiting or teaching, one of the first things I’d do was hit the cafe. I went not just for the latte, but for the reconnection to home, to the cafe and to what made that cafe special.

Time after time, I’d look at “The Patrick” on the menu and chuckle about Patrick the character, what he represented about the cafe in all its quirkiness, and what made this cafe’s latte more special than most and always worth coming back for.

And then one day, I came back into the cafe, and “The Patrick” was no longer on the menu.

Everyone else was the same– the aroma, the bad art for sale, the guy with the grey beard hogging the chess table, and even the design in the foam of my latte. Just no “The Patrick”.

When I went back up to the counter for a drink ‘to go’, I thought maybe I could also order “The Patrick”, just for old time’s sake. But neither of the baristas knew what “The Patrick” was. That they didn’t know who Patrick was was understandable, after all the guy’d been gone for 4 years at least.

But that they didn’t know of “The Patrick” just floored me. How could they not know this quirky drink, this original concoction, that had been part of the cafe since its start?

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Had ‘The Patrick” disappeared as the cafe added a few more locations around town?
Had the owners/founders gotten tired of “The Patrick” and erased it to make room for a new version of Chai?
Had “The Patrick” lost its meaning to other customers?
Where did “The Patrick” go?

Wherever it went, it took with it the link to the founding sense of quirkiness, of play, that had always defined the cafe for me.

Now, when I’m leaving town after a visit or teaching, I still fill my thermos with a grande to sip on the way up 29 North, but it no longer tastes quite the same.

See also: Can Starbucks Touch Your Soul?

{ 3 comments }

Jeremy Lewis October 21, 2010 at 7:37 am

A sad and very recognisable story CV. How often does new management ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’, espousing a brighter future without fully understanding how an organisation got to where it is today? Surely there were nostalgic staff and customers in the coffee shop that remembered Patrick very well (at least the drink if not the person). What a missed opportunity to link past, present and future and portray the coffee chain’s expansion as Patrick’s heroic adventure to defeat the clutches of global, over-rationalized systems thinking.
On the other hand I hear that the latest coffee trend from the independents is to remove the lattes, mochas, and cappuccinos from the menu and replace with large, regular or small espresso, with or without foamed milk. And the popularity of (cheaper) filter coffee is on the rise for that mid-morning kick in these austere times, so perhaps it was time for Patrick, the drink to move on?
The point is, if you don’t ask your customers what they value abuiot your business, you’ll never know …

cv harquail October 21, 2010 at 10:40 am

Jeremy, you remind us of how many different themes The Patrick might have remind people of — everything from the personality of Patrick to the idea of a handmade drink. I never talked with anyone else about the disappearance of The Patrick, and I’d love to know what other customers noticed, and felt about, its disappearance from the menu. Maybe the next time I’ll stick my nose in their business, and ask someone.
Thanks for your comment– cv

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