Dancing Starbucks barista wins hearts everywhere

“Sam the Barista” took the internet by storm after one of his many adoring Toronto Starbucks customers recorded the rhythmic magic unfolding behind the coffee counter.

The video of Sam dancing while whipping up a beverage swiftly captured hearts around the world and has since been a viral sensation viewed by over 70 million people. It wasn’t long before Sam landed an appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. His online admirers affectionately refer to him as “the dancing barista.”

However, Sam isn’t the typical 17-year-old barista and his irresistible charisma isn’t the only characteristic that makes him unique.

Sam is autistic and has a commonly-associated movement disorder. He was told he would not be employable, but Starbucks manager Chris Ali thought otherwise when he met Sam at a summer camp for kids with autism. After hearing about Sam’s dream to be a barista, Chris offered an interview and immediately thereafter welcomed him to the Starbucks family. It was clear to Chris that individuals with disabilities are capable of surpassing barriers and he aspired to give Sam the same opportunity he would grant any other teen.

“Chris just said, ‘you got the job,’” Sam explained during his appearance on Ellen. “And in that moment my life changed, and my whole world changed.”

"Sam the Barista" and his manager Chris Ali

“Sam the Barista” and his manager Chris Ali

His whole world did in fact change as he propelled himself from a time in life when he avoided eye-contact to now flourishing in an environment spreading coffee and happiness. With the support of both Chris and his family, Sam wielded his movement disorder into dance.

Dance is medium that is not only enjoyable for Sam, but plays a significant role in the control he has over his movement. Individuals with autism excel within routine, both physical and visual. Sam is able to concentrate on how to craft beverages, learn new routines, and improve his overall social skills because of his love for dancing.

Through education and awareness, it’s possible to shift the perception that leaves some individuals with disabilities feeling deterred from achieving common life milestones. Sam transformed into a role-model for individuals diagnosed with disabilities. Shying away from hurdles in the path to his dreams was simply not an option.

Innovative programs and resources for individuals like Sam are readily available through organizations, including those offered by Southwest Human Development. While Sam learned that he could manage his condition through dance, other individuals may require different forms of therapy and support.

Sam’s story is more than a heartwarming tale to share, but rather an incredible opportunity to change and inspire the lives of others. Learn more about the autism services offered by the Children’s Developmental Center at Southwest Human Development by visiting swhd.org/autism.