Carrie Thomas: The Tenley barista who doesn’t like coffee

Noah Frank and Maya Wilson

When you walk into Whole Foods for a hearty meal or a quick snack, chances are you’ll see Carrie Thomas behind the coffee bar. You might see her brewing or pouring coffee, but you’ll never catch her drinking it.

It’s not because she’s just a caffeine purist—she’s an energy drink fiend. “Red Bull 20 ounces was like my all-time favorite energy drink. Whenever I could get my hands on it, I was crushing it,” Thomas explained.

This affliction was not without purpose. Besides being a coffee savant, Carrie is a self-proclaimed gamer. “As a gamer, you need that anyway, because you’re up all night doing projects and playing video games.”

“Video gaming is my life. I have tattoos of video games,” she said, pointing to spots on her body where she has World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy emblems inked on her skin. Thomas started playing when she was five, and since then video games have proven instrumental in her development and identity. “Gaming has an important role in my life. It expanded my brain at an early age,” she said.

The first time Thomas picked up a console, it was to play Suikoden, a Japanese role-playing game. “You have to think three steps ahead of your enemy—this game forces you to think outside of the box,” she explained. “It had a large vocabulary, a great storyline, so it had all the elements you needed to captivate yourself in a game. It was sort of like reading a book, but it was a video game.”

Thomas found gaming out of necessity. As a sheltered child, she had to look inside for companionship. She grew up in Petworth, DC with her mother and two older brothers. Before the area was gentrified, Thomas witnessed the violence and drug activity that plagued the neighborhood. “You have very big drug activities, you have crimes, you have drive-bys. So you had to really be on your P’s and your Q’s as a child in the ‘90s, because you could really easily get into stuff like that,” she said. “I was a sheltered child, so I was never outside a lot, so I never interacted with anybody from the outside.” But being inside all day clearly wasn’t all bad: “The result of our solitude was video games,” she explained.

For high school, Thomas attended McKinley Tech, where she was first introduced to a subject that she still maintains a passion for: graphic design. Overall, however, she seemed dissatisfied with the education she received at the school. “I felt like they were more focused on the general education part than the STEM part. Because I feel like a lot of people that go to schools like that are expecting to have that type of knowledge,” she said. “You don’t experience [a STEM focus] until your last two years of high school.”

As she became an adult, Thomas also struggled with embracing her sexuality. “My mother was very religious, so being lesbian in the household was forbidden,” she said. But when she moved out of her house, she decided to indulge the part of herself that she had never been able to. Even still, Thomas notices some of the side effects that this identity brings with it. “I do feel the harassment. It’s a double standard if you’re gay and you’re a female, it’s a triple standard if you’re black, and a female, and a lesbian. So you get three times as much hate. I’ve had my fair share of sexual harassment, even here.”

In 2013, Thomas landed a job at the Tenleytown Whole Foods as a graphic artist to design some of the artwork that used to decorate the walls of the store. Unfortunately, Amazon scrapped the position when they bought Whole Foods, so Thomas was moved to the coffee bar permanently, despite not knowing much about coffee or even liking it. However, the idea of being a barista grew on her over time and she became beloved by Whole Foods customers. “I wanted to be a store artist because that was gonna jumpstart my graphic design career, but unfortunately things go in different routes,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I hate the coffee bar, please understand that. I’m not a connoisseur of coffee, but I’ve learned to be a connoisseur, which is probably why a lot of people come to me for their drinks—because I put love into it.”

Naturally, Thomas’ rapport with customers extends to Wilson students. This could be surprising to some, given that Wilson doesn’t have the best reputation at Whole Foods, as students are known to shoplift occasionally. Thomas maintained that the petty stealing does not bother her. “You guys are just kids, and you’re adolescents, so you’re going to do dumb stuff,” she said, assuring us that maturity will come in time. “At the end of the day, y’all are going to get yours.”

Thomas did, however, point out a couple ways to hasten the process. “Respect your elders, respect people who are just looking out for you,” she said. And one more thing: “Focus on your education first, because nothing is worse than dumb American kids.”