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Customers Volunteer To Run Café While Owners Treat Employees To Beach Trip

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – At some companies employees get bonuses, at others a day off, but a coffee shop in Washington Heights has taken employee appreciation to new heights.

As CBS2's Cindy Hsu reported, it's an idea that puts customers in control.

Welcome to Café Buuni, where the baristas are taking a break.

"First my idea was that we would close the shop and take the staff to the beach," co-owner Sarina Prabasi told Hsu.

"She said, 'What about taking the staff to the beach?' I said, 'Are you serious?' She said, 'yes,'" co-owner Elias Guramu added. 

The busy little shop sells up to 400 coffees a day and has eight employees who said the whole place is like a family. It opened five years ago in September and features coffee from Ethiopia.

"It's just a wonderful place to sit for a while and just enjoy a cup of coffee, but even more than that enjoy a great conversation," said coffee-lover Melody Morrow.

Morrow came up with the idea that customers could volunteer to run the place for a day.

"The reaction was really awesome. It was really awesome, and Sarina had to shut down the list at one point, because there were no other slots left," she said.

"We got close to 20 people," said Elias.

Prabasi told 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria she felt honored and knew she could trust them.

"We have a great relationship with the people in this community," she said. "It means that we are part of the community and they are part of us."

Tuesday night, the beginner baristas got a 45 minute lesson, and Wednesday they were on the job for one-hour shifts.

"It feels really fun, I'm super excited to work at Buuni today," one volunteer said.

"I'm anxious, very anxious," another added.

The real employees work long hours, since the shop is open seven days a week from 6:30 a.m. until 7 p.m. But Wednesday, the staff was at Rockaway Beach.

Hsu asked employee Korinne Stay what went through her mind when she found out.

"That it was a joke, honestly. It was like, are you guys serious?" she said.

For employee Michael Zaiko, it was a serious first. He came from Belarus two years ago.

"It's great. I've never seen the ocean before," he said.

Do they have a message for other bosses?

"Yeah, you can learn from their examples," said Stay. "They're amazing. They're definitely a beacon of light in the world right now."

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