Seattle coffee chain hopes for TV show based on sexy baristas

SEATTLE - Baristas Coffee, a local chain of "sexpresso" coffee stands, says it has a deal to develop a reality TV show based on its employees -- "attractive girls who wear provocative costumes."

One scene not likely to make the cut: The federal lawsuit in September alleging the chain violated labor laws by underpaying its employees, giving them checks that bounced and cheating them out of overtime.

Baristas Coffee, based in Kent, Wash., said last week it's working with M and M Productions of Southern California, best known for producing poker shows and other programming that filled 100 hours on Fox channels in the past two years.

Their contract envisions a reality series "based on the Baristas business and the drama-filled lives of Baristas' young, attractive female employees," said a news release from Baristas founder Barry Henthorn.

It went on to explain that "the show profiles the fierce competition between baristas ... for top shifts as well as the opportunities and challenges faced by the management while expanding the business."

A look at the "meet the girls" page on Baristas' website -- http://baristastv.com/Baristas -- suggests what the real attraction might be. But Henthorn said in an interview that scantily clad women will only take a show so far.

For a reality program to succeed, "there has to be characters you care about -- want them to succeed, want them to fail."

And his employees provide that, he said. "There's a lot of catty stuff that goes on between them and there's some strong characters the producers were drawn to."

The show would also explore the "trials and tribulations of the business," he said. "We certainly have not done everything perfectly from day one."

Henthorn said he's working to resolve the labor lawsuit: "We'll comply with whatever things end up being."

The Labor Department, which sued on behalf of 45 women at five Baristas locations, said in a statement that "employees were sometimes paid with checks that were unsigned or had insufficient funds, which resulted in workers being paid less than the federal minimum wage for all hours worked."

It also alleged that dating back to 2009, employees were not paid proper overtime wages when they worked more than 40 hours a week, and that the company didn't keep proper records of working hours.

Beyond the unspecified back wages and damages claimed in the lawsuit, the Labor Department's statement said it is also seeking $42,000 in civil penalties and a requirement that the company's wage-and-hour records get quarterly audits for a year.

Baristas Coffee hopes the show -- which doesn't have an announced production schedule, much less an air date -- would bring merchandising opportunities and an assist in franchising its business.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com)

Must credit The Seattle Times

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