The Xanadu brick-and-mortar coffee shop opened its doors for business in 2020 (photo by Aaron Stigile).

A living wage and percentages of the company are just two of the advantages that keep employees at a Downtown Phoenix coffee shop, where its employees say that “counter-culture” is a large part of its customer base.

Xanadu coffee’s appearance from the outside of the shop is not bright and colorful, but beyond its walls lie an atmosphere and perks that have kept employees at the shop in a rapid-turnover industry.

After leaning down to check if both drinks were full, Travis Ralkin picked up two oat milk lattes and handed them to customers who walked off with smiles. His coworker, Honey Lee, waited for the next customer at the counter.

“We don’t do things very traditionally,” Lee said. “We get paid a living wage instead of getting tips, we also make everything in-house.”

Ralkin said those aren’t the only differences between Xanadu and other coffee shops.

“It’s top shelf, it’s chill,” Ralkin said. “The longer you work here, you acquire percentages of the company,”

The Xanadu brick-and-mortar coffee shop opened its doors for business in 2020, and its numerous forms of compensation for its employees, according to them, set it apart from other coffee shops.

“We get paid higher than the minimum wage. It’s ridiculous, I see other places, I see how much they pay their employees for an hour, and it’s ridiculous,” said Fernanda Ruiz

Martinez, a barista at Xanadu who has worked at the shop for two years, added, “One of the owner’s priorities is trying to increase our salary every year to match the earnings that we make every year.”

Martinez said on top of that benefit, Xanadu is an employee-owned company, and everybody gets a share in the company. She said that when an employee leaves, they get compensation for their share of the company.

This stands in contrast to a main competitor of local coffee shops around the country, Starbucks, which has faced repeated union drives and, according to a March 1 ruling by a federal labor judge, violated labor law hundreds of times during a union campaign in Buffalo, New York.

Xanadu coffee shop offers a “great environment” for ASU students to study (photo by Aaron Stigile).

At the shop, customers can expect house-made syrups for their drinks and coffee that Martinez said Xanadu tries to provide “in the most ethical way possible.”

The house-made syrups, she said, are a part of what separates Xanadu from other coffee shops.

“It shows the efforts that we put into making those special drinks for people. It’s not that we’re just putting a syrup that we pump from the bottle, it’s something that we carefully take the time to make,” Martinez said.

Dada Rao, a graduate student at Arizona State University, sat at one of the tables in Xanadu with her “favorite drink,” an iced Americano with lavender.

“It’s a great environment for me to study, it’s a pretty quiet place,” said Rao, who studies law at ASU.

Yet, the location still faces some difficulties, according to Martinez, who said more space and more staff may be needed in the future.

“As we started getting popular and busy, we started having at least two people on every shift so nobody is alone,” Martinez said.

When she first joined the shop, Martinez said it welcomed her even though she had no prior experience working as a barista. Now, Martinez said, she feels more confident in talking about and making coffee.

“I’m really glad I applied to that job, because I feel like if I would have done another job I probably wouldn’t have liked it because of the way that other coffee shops do their thing and how it compares to us,” Martinez said. “I really like the work. I like their mission.”

Xanadu coffee shop, located at 625 N. 7th St., is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.


  • Aaron Stigile

    Aaron Stigile is a student at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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