Meet the Humans of Red Door: Barista Minzhi

Meet the Humans of Red Door: Barista Minzhi

Damian Wilson | Humans of Caltech

Minzhi, a Red Door barista.

Red Door: the campus café so inextricable from Caltech existence that it requires no introduction. How, then, to reword this introduction for the second entry in this series? As part of an ongoing effort to make the voices of Red Door staff heard in The California Tech, the following interview was conducted with the barista Minzhi.

**Lovely to meet you, Minzhi! If I may begin, how did you come to join Caltech’s cherished scarlet-doored café? **

So, it was during COVID. I used to live on the Westside and was working hotels, so I have a hospitality management background. After COVID, I came back to the Eastside to take care of my family. And at that time, we were on furlough, so I was—instead of staying home—trying to look for a job. I applied for a couple positions in admin, but my experience didn’t match with what the employers were looking for. I ultimately interviewed with Jaime, the Director of Dining Services, and from there started to work here. I came to really like the community here at Caltech. And, if it’s possible, I’d love to stay working here, in dining services or elsewhere.

What trials and tribulations come with your position?

Definitely the crowd! It’s my first barista job—never done this before—and it’s fun especially when you order at the register. You get to meet people, have small talk with students, and come to know the very interesting backgrounds of people. Definitely a very fun community. Everybody kind of knows each other! It’s a very good family, and I really love the culture.** **

It does sound challenging.

Overall, I wouldn’t say it’s challenging. I’m from the West Hollywood area, where the house was always full. I’m very used to this kind of pace. To me, it’s fun. I think the only challenging part is how sometimes people have the Anytime plan, where each person should have one entrée and one drink. If they order for friends, we have to catch it. And I don’t like being the bad guy! That’s the only thing. Students here are very nice.

Do you have any particular thoughts on dining policies at Caltech? Any changes you might want to see there?

I don’t know if this counts, but the graduate students have to wait a very long time. It feels very unfair for them, since they need to pay in cash. For the undergrads on Anytime, they pay for tuition, so it makes sense. But, though it’s already so busy here, I feel like there should be a separate plan for graduate students. I don’t know what change that qualifies as, but they do need to wait a little longer than for a usual café. Everyone’s busy during certain hours, so especially right now when we’re short-staffed—a particularly tough challenge—we’re doing pretty well. If you’re at a regular café, you order, you go, and you don’t even have small talk. Here, I feel like even though they need to wait a little while, they get to talk.

Has Red Door itself changed much since you started?

Yeah. When I first got hired, it was during COVID, so everybody wore masks. Over time, we slowly got rid of masks, plexiglass, and even moved the register: it used to be a little further from the barista’s side. Sometimes, we change out a couple items. Say, we used to have the ham and mozzarella, which we got rid of and introduced the carnitas sandwich instead. We sometimes introduce special drinks during the holidays, like a Thin Mint or pumpkin latte. Everything else seems to have stayed the same, in my memory!

Favorite part of the job?

I love the team! I’ve only been here a little over a year, and we’ve been through a lot. People quit, people come in here and there. I feel we really have gotten to know each other! Though there are some minor issues, we always stick together. We know our responsibilities, and we really feel like a close family. Some jobs have drama, but we don’t, really.

It’s lovely to hear you feel that way.

It’s one reason I’m staying. Originally, I planned to stay here a few years, but the team’s made it easier for me to feel like I can stay longer.

Any insider details about the Red Door music selection? Do you get to have any input?

We do have a couple DJs! Like our cook, Johnny—people love his music tastes. “We come for the food, we stay for the music,” I’ve heard people say. Vince, a morning barista, also adds to the music selection. People really like the music here,_ especially_ in the morning. Tonight, I’m actually playing my music!

And can you tell us a little about that selection?

In my twenties, I loved to go to coffee shops. It’s mostly inspired by the café music that I heard there. I really like Sara Bareilles. Actually, scratch that—I’ve really been into Alan Walker’s music recently. We aim for exciting enough music that it gets you moving, but not so loud that it distracts you.

And, of course: What’s your favorite item on the menu? What do you wish were on the menu?

My standard drink is the latte. I really do like the rose flavor. We almost tried to get rid of it, but some students got really sad. I encouraged them to tell people to keep it; I guess that enough of them spoke up, so we kept the rose syrup. Also, my coworker said that I made the best rose lemonade. Lemonade’s sweet already, so you dilute it a little and then add sweeteners. Food-wise, I really like the red tofu sandwich. I’m trying to eat less meat, so currently it’s my go-to. I love that it has a hint of spiciness. It came from Johnny, actually! He suggested the _bánh mì _style and to substitute meat with tofu.

As a vegetarian, I definitely appreciate the red tofu sandwich.

My goal in 2024 is to eat less meat, though it’s hard to cut out completely. I’m glad Johnny made that one! Originally, we had the grain salad, but substituted it with the red beet sandwich. People still complain about the grain salad being gone! It’s too much work for the cooks. I do think we should have more vegetarian options. Although a lot of sandwiches could be made vegan, and most could be made vegetarian.

Anything you’d like to sign off with?

I just hope that everyone gets to enjoy the food. I’m very happy that we’re able to provide a variety of options for the students. A lot of the food we have at the Red Door is actually pretty healthy. I have other family members in the restaurant industry, and the food they bring home and eat at the restaurant is very greasy. You know how fast food is. But, when I started working at the Red Door, I thought I could eat it all the time because of how healthy it is. I was surprised when I heard of how we don’t have McDonald’s, or Subway, but just the Red Door. We have our own dining service, instead of having to eat all burgers all the time. I’m sure we had someone who put thought into the nutrition of each meal, and that shows in the balanced meals we provide.

Thank you so much for your time tonight, Minzhi! You and the other hardworking staff at Red Door deserve all the appreciation in the world.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.