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Vision and Voice

Get to Know the Higher Grounds Team

Higher Grounds Booth at UVA Health University Medical Center

A top academic medical center depends on not only its various departments and tens of thousands of team members but also its contracted partners who become an integral part of our culture. Today, there is one very special team that I would like to shine a spotlight on, the Higher Grounds team. But where to begin…

While the concept for our beloved coffee suppliers began in Seattle, WA in 1993 as the brainchild of brothers Joe and William Trager and their best friend, Doug Keller, Higher Grounds began as one coffee cart in an alley on the Corner here in Charlottesville, VA. As this small team began to introduce our University community to the delights of espresso and lattes (not as commonplace at that time), they sought and earned an opportunity to provide their services within the medical center.

From that time until today, the original coffee cart has turned into two established fixtures within our walls serving team members, patients and families for 30 years. Open 365 days a year, serving from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. without fail, the team has grown to include 12 additional full-time baristas.

A few fun facts about Higher Grounds:

  • 350 gallons of milk and 250 gallons of soy and almond milk used each week.
  • Over 5 million cups of coffee sold over 30 years.
  • $2 will get you a delicious 16 oz. cup of house blend coffee today, the same as it was in 1995.
  • Over the years, the team has been comprised of employees from the U.S., Honduras, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Ecuador and Venezuela.
  • There are 3 second-generation employees at Higher Grounds and many more in line for future opportunities.

Now, let’s get to know this dedicated team a little better. In addition to providing fast, friendly service to well over 1000 customers daily, these baristas are a special part of each customer’s day whether providing an energy boost or moment of respite during a long shift, sharing encouragement to patients on their healing journey or giving comfort and kindness to visitors who have hospitalized loved ones.

  • Janeth has been with the Higher Grounds team for 20+ years (their longest-tenured employee). She is a proud Colombian and comes from a family of 18 children with 5 sets of twins, of which she is one. Janeth has a grown daughter who is getting married this June. Her twin sister Darly also worked with HG for 20 years before recently moving to Denver to be with her two sons.
  • Lucrecia (Lu) -- 18+ years
  • Karen has been caring for customers and supporting Higher Grounds operations for over 17+ years in the Wahoo West location.
  • Sarai has over 16 years with Higher Grounds and is currently the University Hospital Cafeteria manager for Higher Grounds. In addition to running the morning crew (and greeting customers by name and with a warm smile, Sarai handles all scheduling and recruitment/training of new staff.
  • Osiris (OC) is the shining face you will see at 5:15 a.m. each weekday, and she will greet you with the same smile at lunchtime. She has over 12 years of service with this team.
  • Dunia -- 12+ years
  • Luis -- 2+ years
  • Alice -- 2+ years
  • Danni -- 1+ years (second generation)
  • Rose -- 1+ years
  • Miles -- 1+ years (second generation)
  • Ana -- 1 year

Whenever asked about the best part of their work, these baristas say, “the customers”. Given that a coffee order today can be as unique as the individual customer, the baristas take pride in knowing their regulars’ orders and getting them ready when they appear at the booth. Over the years, the team has come to know more than just our coffee orders; like any good barista, they also have an ear for all the ongoings in the medical center! Still, this team knows that any amount of kindness goes a long way, and they are always there to deliver.

Please join me in giving special thanks and a huge shout-out to our Higher Grounds colleagues. I hope you will visit them soon to show some appreciation for everything this very special team does to make such a positive difference in our lives each day.

Take care and be well,