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Lives of Washington bikini baristas in Amazon’s new show

(Photo courtesy of Foxy Lady Coffee)

It seems like every month there is a new controversial story about a bikini barista stand. Prudish community members who want these bra-bearing, latte-slinging baristas to cover up. But the latest headline is about Foxy Lady Coffee, a local chain with 10 locations that is the subject of a new Amazon reality show called “Foxy Ladies.”

RELATED: Bikini baristas get win in court

So I headed down to the Foxy Lady Coffee location in Tacoma, where instead of ordering a tall or a grande mocha, the local lexicon requires you to order a B, C, or D cup of coffee.

Married couple Paul and Yulia Coate opened the business a decade ago.

“Back in 2007/2008 we’d been in the real estate business,” Yulia said. “After the real estate market crashed, this was the majority of our income. So we decided to do something different. So we found the coffee shop for sale and and decided to buy it.”

But Paul says business wasn’t great.

“Employees came to me and said, listen, we’re not making any money. We’ve all talked, we had a meeting without you and Yulia. We want to wear bikinis to compete with everybody else,” Paul said. “So we said well, okay, we’ll try it.”

If you’ve never been through a bikini barista stand, either on purpose or accidentally, here’s what you’ll see.

“Mainly bikini, everybody has to get their hair done, makeup done, accessories,” Yulia said. “Shoes have to match their outfits.”

Chelsea manages the Tacoma Foxy Lady Coffee shop, which is also a sit-down cafe and bar.

“I’ve actually been in the industry for four years, prior I was a window tinter. I follow a lot of girls that do it on Instagram and I was like, why not? I heard it made money. Window tinting isn’t that lucrative.”

Chelsea says she grew up in a conservative household, so her family and friends were surprised when she shifted gears.

“My mom found out from her boss,” she said. “He came in here with his dad. So my mom found out but she was pretty cool with it. There’s a lot worse things that people are out there doing. I’m not on the corner or nothing. I’m just in a bikini selling coffee.”

It’s not the most conventional job to go home and tell mom about.

“My sister threw me under the bus on that one,” Paul said. “We were all having lunch one day and she said, ‘Why don’t you tell mom how the coffee shop’s going!’ It kind of broke loose. My parents come from more of a religious background, but she’s okay with it and now and she’s really supportive.”

Foxy Lady Coffee and body positivity

All of the women I interviewed said their work makes them feel confident.

“I feel like it’s very empowering,” Chelsea said. “It’s body positivity. You encourage people to be comfortable in their own skin.”

Marley manages the Puyallup location. I asked if she has always been this comfortable with her body.

“Um, not so much, not until I got this job to be honest with you,” she said. “Until I started working bikini coffee.”

Barista Kaylee says the compliments and attention are part of the perks of the job.

“Nothing is better than feeling gorgeous and being able to get up the morning and getting ready for the day and feeling lovely.”

Wearing little clothing has its hazards; most of the women say they’ve experienced burns from hot coffee, milk and water. And they’re all expected to do a fair amount of grooming.

“Well, yeah!” Chelsea said. “I don’t think anyone wants to pull up and see me with a full pit of hair, looking like I’ve been hibernating all winter. I have to get my eyebrows and my mustache waxed. I do get my nails done every two weeks and I get eyelash extensions every two weeks.”

A feel-good business

I asked Paul how he would feel about his daughter working as a bikini barista.

“My daughter just turned five on Saturday, we were in Disney World, so all I see is Minnie Mouse and Mickey and now she wants to get her ear pierced, which is weird. When she gets older if it’s something that she really wants to do, I don’t want to deter her from that and I want to be supportive, whatever she wants to do.”

All of the baristas say they feel safe, that Foxy Lady has safety measures in place. And Paul says the job has brought some unexpected fulfillment.

“Helping people get apartments or signing that note so somebody can finance their car,” Paul said. “Or helping somebody move some things on the weekend here or there or just trying to give somebody more hours. It’s really life changing to know that you can help somebody do that. I love to create that job for somebody and stability.”

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