When the vagaries of growing older limit your tolerance for vices, you tend to be protective of those still in your repertoire. That’s one of the reasons I wax ecstatic over the coffee at Coffee Bené in the library: a rich, bold, flavorful dark-roast brew.
But it’s more than the coffee. It’s the guy pouring the java: Traves Lundberg, the 28-year-old who grew up on St. Paul’s East Side. To me, he is the smiling face of the franchise, just the right mix of banter and business.
It took me three weeks to learn his first name and a year to know his surname. It took him three days to know how I wanted my coffee: dark roast with a touch of skim milk.
“I’m a face person,” he says. “I remember your face and that tells me something about you. I can remember faces from kindergarten.” From all indications, Lundberg’s got plenty of faces to remember; the library branch of Coffee Bené is doing very well, thank you.
Lundberg has been working for the coffee house for two years and has spent 10 years in the food and service business – Sbarro’s, Chipotle and Dairy Queen – since graduating from Johnson High School. He’s washed dishes, waited tables and cooked meals.
Brewing coffee, at least at St. Thomas, suits him. “I like the people I serve here,” he says. “I’m a social butterfly, the kid who got in trouble in school for talking. There’s always something going on in this place.
“The St. Thomas library has a pulse. I can feel it every day.”
Lundberg also feels the need to think about going to college. His girlfriend is urging him to begin now. He says he has to work full time so he feels a community college might be the best place to start.
Then, he’d like to finish at a place like, well, St. Thomas. “I played football in high school and I had a dream about going to Notre Dame,” he says. “Turned out that wasn’t realistic but, you know, St. Thomas might be.”
Lundberg’s interests point him toward music or journalism. “I like telling stories,” he says. “And I don’t have any trouble talking to strangers. And music, to me, is how emotion sounds. When I play rhythm and blues (on a bass guitar), I feel like I’m plugged into life.”
That’s the way Lundberg makes his customers feel. Kellie Longworthy, the assistant manager at Coffee Bené, says Lundberg is a big reason for the success of the library coffee satellite. “He just knows how to treat customers,” she says, “and gives phenomenal service.”
Lundberg’s contribution is more than service, though, to library director Dan Gjelten. He wants the library to be a center for the campus community – a living, learning and listening post.
“Traves has created a particular kind of atmosphere around the coffee shop which is warm, welcoming, personal,” Gjelten says. “He makes me feel important, he makes me feel known, he makes me feel appreciated.”
Lundberg makes me feel understood, in my passion for fishing. He loves it. He talks it. And he understands it’s an essential part of life – why no one ever wastes time sitting in a boat with a pole in hand.
“Fishing,” he says, “is never finished, never done. It’s the pursuit of something we can’t have. There’s always the next hole, the next hot spot. There’s something real spiritual about all of it.”
Now I tell you, how can you not take to a guy like that? He’s my five-day-a-week Christmas present.