Coffeeshop’s a stage for local barista

Starbucks barista Kathy Lovell has been working at Kents Starbucks since 2006 after losing her teaching job. She is a familiar face to those who frequent the coffee shop.

Starbucks barista Kathy Lovell has been working at Kent’s Starbucks since 2006 after losing her teaching job. She is a familiar face to those who frequent the coffee shop.

Mark Oprea

Kathy Lovell is unmissable at the Kent Starbucks. Working mostly with Kent State students half her age, Lovell initially seems out of place. Yet the one-time actress’ personality — as gleaming and bright as her spiky blonde hair — proves otherwise.

Her coworkers agree.

“She’s just hilarious,” said Kristin Moroschak, a fellow Starbucks barista. “And just an incredibly fun person to be around.”

Lovell said she doesn’t feel out of place working at the corner coffee shop, even after the nine years she’s called herself a barista. The Kent local said her Starbucks gig isn’t as mundane as some may perceive it to be. According to Lovell, the recurring comedy routines, employee banter and brew ha-has give her an outlet to express what she calls her “theatrical desires.”

These antics, Lovell said, take care of some of the occasional heat from the espresso machine.

“I don’t mind being a character,” she said. “It keeps things light and from getting too stressful.”

Lovell’s stage presence began at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she majored in theater and starred in performances of Guys and Dolls and Oklahoma! to help pay tuition and stretch her acting forte. She also worked as a singing waitress at the Texas Star Dinner Theater, taking orders for country fried steak while singing with other servers to piano music. After a while, a career in theater wasn’t cutting it and Lovell started to look to a life off the stage.

“I was living on peanut butter bars and water,” she said. “I got tired of being a starving artist.”

After a broken romance pushed her out of UTA in 1982, Lovell’s heartbreak quickly moved her to Kent. With an unfinished degree, she settled back into the restaurant industry, and then the area of management. She met her husband during that time and he helped encourage her to go back to school. After six years at Kent State, Lovell graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice.

After graduation, she didn’t really have a set career in mind, but she knew she wanted to be around people. Near the end of her schooling in 2000, a member from the Portage Opportunity School approached Lovell for a teaching position, saying her charisma would make her a good fit for education. Lovell felt good about the idea and took the job.

For about five years at the school, Lovell taught a part of a unique curriculum that provided special education for struggling middle schoolers. Many of the 10 students Lovell taught were court-ordered — just about all of them came from broken homes. Some had ADHD while others were just rebellious. A lot simply “were not thinking about education,” she said.

But Lovell was determined to try to change that.

She knew she wanted her approach to education to be “special.” She ditched the dull and blasé overhead presentations for showings of Broadway plays, oral readings of young adult literature instead of the classic, “same old” Huckleberry Finn. For fun, she played alternative rock bands like Green Day. She introduced the kids to daily newspapers — many of whom had never seen one before. 

As far as Lovell’s eclectic style goes, not a lot has changed since then. 

One time, one of her students pointed down to her bright-red Chuck Taylors and said, “I’ve never seen a grown-up wear those before.”

Lovell rebutted: “Who said I’m grown up?”

“For me, it’s being in front of an audience,” she said. “And my students were my audience. You have to keep it lively and keep doing the razzmatazz to keep them focused — and even keep them off guard a little bit.”

When the recession hit in 2005, thousands of public schools were affected, including The Portage County Opportunity School. Lovell lost her job as a result, and her students, she said, were assimilated into the “mainstream,” regular school districts. Back out on the market, Lovell went looking for a job with good benefits and insurance. She also needed another audience.

For the first few years working at Starbucks, Lovell volunteered on the side as an EMT. The rigorous work of pushing stretchers into ambulances and lugging around oxygen tanks was, for Lovell, “fun” and “fascinating.” After a shoulder injury, Lovell took up her gig as a barista full time. 

Now, with a rainforest-green apron instead of Chuck Taylors, Lovell finds herself with a new kind of audience, and coffee just the medium for her performance. Starbucks, she said, is simply a “great forum” for herself as an actress-turned-educator. After a long line of careers, Lovell sees them as “roles,” she said that she’s happy with where she’s at now.

Her secret?

“Everything that I’ve done has always been people-orientated,” she said. “I love people; I’m very much a people person.”

And her audience is much more to her than just latte-buyers. She said she gets feedback once in awhile from her regulars, what she considers to be “applause.” One time a girl handed Lovell a greeting card that read, “You make my day and I love coming in here,” almost making her cry.

For Lovell, there’s no better reward.

“It spurs me on when people do that to be a better person. It really does,” she said. “When people tell me things like that it makes up for the ones who don’t.”

It’s why one can often find Lovell with her usual pep, ripe for a comedy routine, wearing her miniature caps on “Tiny Hat Tuesdays.” As a matter of fact, Lovell reminds herself and her coworkers of her daily act every morning at 6 a.m., before the lights of the coffee shop come on.

“I always tell them, ‘It’s showtime,’ ” she said.

Contact Mark Oprea at [email protected].