The Big Gay WeHo Starbucks is closing this weekend on Sunday, July 31, 2022. Longtime crew member Leon Warusevitane started working at the 8595 Santa Monica Boulevard location since it first opened 27 years ago in 1995. In recognition of his valued employment at one of the most popular Starbucks Coffee shops in Los Angeles County, West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister, Mayor Pro-Tem Sepi Shyne and WeHo Public Safety Commissioner Kerri Balbone presented Warusevitane with a Certificate of Recognition on behalf of the West Hollywood City Council acknowledging his many years of service to the community.
“The City of West Hollywood is sad to see the neighborhood Starbucks at Santa Monica Boulevard and Westmount Drive close its doors after so many years of being a hub of Community,” reads the resolution dated the 29th day of July, 2022. “We honor and appreciate the many employees at this location through the years, including Leon Warusevitane. Besides keeping the community caffeinated, Leon has brightened customers’ days for many years. We thank him for his energy and service.”
In an interview with WEHO TIMES, Warusevitane looks back at what it was like serving the Weho Community for several decades. He speaks about opening day circa 1995, meeting his husband at what is now known as The Big Gay Starbucks, and he reflects on the changes in the gayborhood as he sets on a new adventure at the Starbucks located at the West Hollywood Gateway next to Target (aka Targay).
So you’ve been working here since opening day?
I was here for the opening ceremony. Howard Schultz [CEO of the Starbucks Coffee Company] was here also. We took a picture together, but I never saw it. I was really bummed.
What was day one like?
I was very nervous. There were so many good looking men. I was 26 or 27 and that was the start of a real wonderful career. People think, ‘oh, you’re just a barista,’ but it is so much more than that. People don’t realize that this is such a happy space.
Did you think you’d still be here 27 years later?
I don’t think I did. I didn’t think about where I’d be in the future. I walked here and this became a community, which was fantastic. Somebody in drag would walk in and nobody would bat an eye. That made me feel so comfortable. You didn’t have to pretend. Then later on, this became the Big Gay Starbucks. No address was needed. Everyone knew where we were. We would be advertised all over Europe as a tourist destination. This was the gay Bux. This was the place.
So you met your husband at work?
Yes I did. He came to order his coffee and he saw me with my big afro and he started coming here just to see me. I thought he was straight. Later on I found out that he was interested in me and that’s how we started dating. We will be celebrating our 26-year anniversary.
How did he propose?
I remember I was on bar and [former West Hollywood council member/Mayor] John Duran was standing outside with TV cameras. All of sudden everyone started cheering. Then I got a text from my husband saying, ‘hey, they knocked down DOMA. Will you marry me?’ And that was thirteen years into our relationship. There are so many good memories. It was crazy. I love this place.
What was your reaction when you heard it was closing?
I never thought in a million years that Gay Bux would ever close. It was very sad. I actually cried for like two days. I was so bummed. It’s about the space, the neighborhood and the customers.
How has West Hollywood changed for you in the past 27 years?
I feel like it’s not Boystown anymore. It’s nothing like when I first came here, which was ’88/’89. There used to be a lesbian bar down the street, you don’t find that anymore. People now go to Downtown LA or Silverlake. I don’t know anything about the price in rent going up, or the cost of living, but I do know that much has changed. We’ve lost so many spaces in this city. It feels like people aren’t that excited, but change is going to happen. It’s up to us to make our spaces comfortable and make it safe for us.
What is the scoop on the closure? Was it really about safety or was it a union bust?
I don’t know much about that. Safety and security are an issue. Working here is not really worth gettin hurt. I was actually mugged at gun point on my way to work once. It’s been really crazy. We’ve been assaulted and we feel bad for our attackers because they are dealing with mental health issues. We hear the profanity early in the morning. A person rubbed feces all over the wall in the bathroom and there’s not much we can do.
Is today your last day at the WeHo Starbucks?
Yes, today is my last day. I still can’t believe it.