Scantily-clad waitresses and bartenders have been around for decades but imagine getting your daily cup of coffee from a bikini-clad—or even totally topless—barista.
In Washington state, where going topless in public is legal for women, Bare Beans Espresso made headlines last year with its servers who sport tiny pasties, paint their bodies, or go entirely nude while serving java.
Now Arizona has its own version of Bare Beans—but since it’s not legal to go full frontal in the Copper State, baristas must wear bikini tops. Critics have argued that the rising number of these coffee shops are just gimmicks that degrade women in order to get customers in the door. But the owner of Bikini Beans Espresso says customer interactions with his servers aren't much different than those one would have at the pool or on the beach.
“We stand for so much more than a girl in a bikini,” Ben Lyles, who started Bikini Beans in 2014, told Fox News. “It's empowering for our baristas to wear a bikini, feel comfortable in their own skin, embrace that, and have a choice to do something they enjoy and love.”
There are currently two locations of Bikini Beans in Arizona—one in Tempe and and one in Phoenix—with plans for two additional valley locations. Lyles is also hoping to become the first corporate bikini barista drive-thru nationwide. They offer a dizzying array of hot and iced drinks, that are served in sizes ranging from an A-cup to a DD-cup. Some drinks are pretty straightforward—but then there’s the “Naughty Chai Latte” (the shop’s version of a dirty chai) and, simply, the “Nude” (coffee with caramel and white chocolate swirls).
So-called “breastaurants” like Hooters and the Tilted Kilt have used minimally-dressed female servers to avoid the traditional sit-down restaurant sales slump. So is it really that big of a deal for a coffee shop to do the same?
If that business is near a school with young kids, yes it is, say opponents.
Kimberly Curry, a mother of four young children from the Spokane, Wash.-area, led a campaign with dozens of local moms to start a ballot initiative that would have required the topless baristas to keep their nipples concealed, and a small portion of their breasts covered, if they were within public view.
Curry told Fox News that she isn’t against the idea entirely but to her, it appeared that the Bare Beans baristas were engaging in "highly sexualized" activity in broad daylight.
“They are visible from the streets, all on major streets, and the baristas hang out of the windows, and often come out to smoke, advertise or empty the trash in their pasties and g-strings,” recalled Curry. “One of them [coffee shops] used to advertise ‘free lollipops for kids who come’.”
Though many of the Bare Beans-type stores advertised themselves as “bikini” coffee bars, Curry felt it was important that people in Washington—and throughout the U.S.—understood that the women serving weren’t actually wearing swimsuits. But after trying to mobilize likeminded individuals, she was shocked by the reactions from local councilmembers of both parties.
“Conversatives were against it [the ballot initiative] because they didn’t want any restrictions placed on business owners. Liberals were upset because they didn’t want any restrictions on womens’ bodies,” said Curry. “To be honest, the whole thing really turned me away from both parties. It was just a matter of human decency.”
Curry’s initiative to get on the ballot failed, and she admits the costly and time-consuming process “put a real strain” on her family. But, by her estimates, there are still at least half a dozen topless barista coffee shops in the Spokane area, so she hasn’t given up entirely—even it means just bringing awareness to the issue.
"I felt that as parents...we have the right to choose what our children are exposed to," said Curry, "and this was far different than bikinis on a beach."
But if the bikini barista movement catches on in other states—even those with stricter exposure laws than Washington—grabbing a cup of coffee at your favorite local could soon come with a few extra perks.