Meet Julian Grzechowiak, a highly aspiring and cheerful 29-year-old barista from a lovely countryside place near Zielona Góra in Poland. Julian is currently serving delightful specialty coffee in Kafo Kawiarnia, Gliwice which is considered one of the best cafés in town.
Julian’s journey in hospitality has an additional factor since he is a transgender barista and the society in Poland still has a complicated attitude towards acceptance and tolerance. Fortunately Julian found a place where he can be himself surrounded by a team and boss who support him and give him opportunities to grow. Thanks to that Julian can focus on growing his barista skills and compelling guests with specialty coffee.
Julek is currently fundraising for a gender-affirming mastectomy. It is not only an aesthetic operation, but also the one thing that would make him confident, happier and more comfortable in his own body to be more like himself. You can support the campaign here: International 4fund and Polish zrzutka.
Julian, what is your first memory of coffee?
When I was eighteen years old I made coffee at home. My dad said that it was only for adults (even though I was an adult in my mind at that time).
What inspired you to pursue a career in the coffee industry, and how did you get started? What did you do before coffee?
I was a little bit lost in my life, searching for something more meaningful to do rather than just serve and take payments from people. I wanted to do something that would make people happy in a place where my smile would mean something.
Before coffee, I was working at a gas station and it was just not for me. People came by but I couldn’t make friends with most of them, they didn’t even recognize me on the street. So it was kind of depressing. When I started working at the café, a new world opened to me and I think it made me more open to the world.
Tell us a bit about the place you work at. What is your role there?
I’m working as a barista at Kafo in Gliwice with people I adore. They helped me to learn how to make good coffee, how big is the impact of water on your brew, and how to work with people. These almost two years showed me so much and I’m still surprised I wasn’t aware of some stuff beforehand. Not to work just as a barista but just as a compassionate human being. And I’m still learning!
As a transgender person, it’s my first workplace where I can be myself openly and no one questions that. But it was a long way to get where I am now.
Transitioning can be a complex and deeply personal process. How did you navigate the challenges and find support along the way, both personally and professionally?
So first of all, when I tried to make my way through after working at the gas station, I tried to openly tell my future employers that I am transgender. It was a hard step but I wanted to be honest. When I met Paweł (the owner of Kafo), he didn’t question anything, just called me with “Hey Julek! When can we schedule a meeting?” it sounded so easy but for me, it was an eye-opening experience.
I think that people I’m surrounded by at the moment know that they can ask about anything related to me being transgender I’m always here to calm their worries or uncertainties. I do like to think I’m making a difference by showing them that there isn’t just one type of people around us.
Professionally, I think at the beginning I was so focused on people calling me by right pronouns that I wasn’t paying attention to anything else. Now I like to think that it doesn’t matter. What matters the most is if they like the coffee that I’m making and if I’m giving them the right tips about making coffee at home. It’s always good to be called by the right pronouns but if I see someone just once, I don’t want to waste our time explaining why I’m “he” not “she”.
Being a barista involves a lot of customer interaction. How did your coworkers and customers react when they learned about your transition, and how did you handle their responses?
Mostly everyone makes sure that I’m comfortable if they make a mistake. When I was hired, I told my boss about myself and how I wanted to be addressed. Sometimes people ask questions and if it’s okay with me, I’m answering. I even met several parents who have transgender kids.
What advice would you offer to individuals who are considering or in the midst of their own gender identity journey?
Do what’s best for you. Don’t hide. If someone won’t like you when you’re not hiding, they’re just not worthy of your time.
How has your transition impacted your sense of belonging and the relationships you’ve built in the café and beyond?
I discovered I’m an extroverted person. I like talking with people, I like sharing knowledge not just about coffee. I’m still learning how to set boundaries and I’m just happy to learn about people and interactions. I didn’t experience that in my other jobs.
Gender diversity and inclusion are important topics in today’s society. In your experience, what steps can coffee businesses and organizations take to create more inclusive workplaces for individuals of all gender identities?
I think “coffee people” are generally open-minded. Just hire more people like me, treat them well and you’ll see a rainbow in your coffee.
I think it could be awesome to organise some meetings at cafés with people from different places. Just imagine people sharing their mindsets over some speciality coffee. Sometimes I do that on my shifts, I think all baristas have the power to encourage people to share their thoughts.
Finally, what are your hopes for the future, both personally and in terms of society when it comes to gender identity and acceptance?
I just hope for all people to be patient, thoughtful and calm. I think that’s all we need to understand each other.