The humble life of a campus barista

Portrait of Kevin McMurray, barista for the Java Moose Café. located on the second floor of George Martin Hall at St. Thomas University. (Daniel Salas/AQ)

Kevin McMurray doesn’t understand why people love him so much.

Since he started working at St. Thomas University’s Java Moose kiosk about four years ago, every so often, someone would approach him and thank him for helping them, for being kind or simply supplying their daily caffeine fix. 

He finds it a little strange that people are so impacted by his kindness and positivity, which is just a part of his outlook on life.

“University is stressful — for everybody,” he said. “Me being polite, I don’t know if that helps, but it doesn’t hurt for sure.”

McMurray, 46, described himself as easygoing and laid-back. He doesn’t like stress. He likes a good joke but admits he usually doesn’t have any on hand.

He starts his days at about 6 a.m. to get his son to school before heading to STU for around 7:30 a.m. He brews coffee in the open, echoing great hall. Light pours in the giant windows. 

There’s a morning rush at 8 a.m., then a short lull. Service picks up again at 10 a.m. Between peak times, he listens to music and keeps busy by cleaning. He stocks the kiosk with pizzas, samosas, sandwiches and other foods from the downstairs cafeteria.

In the ups and downs of his days, McMurray says it’s pleasant to talk to people when they say hello or shop at the kiosk.

“Life has treated me well, so why not return the favour?” he said.

McMurray was seven years old when his father died. He and his mother left Ontario and moved to New Brunswick to be closer to his mother’s family. 

He started working for STU, first as a grill cook, in 1998. Since then, McMurray said he became a jack of all trades, working in “pizzas, pots and delis.” When the cafeteria had a sous chef program, he became a sous chef. 

Three or four years ago, when the Java Moose kiosk had a position open, he applied, looking for a change after so many years of cooking.

After 20 years working on campus, McMurray doesn’t want to change jobs. He calls it laziness, explaining he doesn’t need to become famous or rich.  The easygoing pace works for him as he gets older.

“I have what I need to pay bills and I’m quite happy and content to carry on that way,” he said.

Between work and caring for his family and his son, McMurray doesn’t have much free time. Although, he enjoys playing first-person shooter games, mainly Battlefield and Apex, on his PlayStation. 

“I’d like to say I’m pretty good, but the stats lie and tell me different,” he joked.

He enjoys photography, focusing on landscapes and animals, but he keeps his art mostly to himself. He posted a few photos on Facebook. He doesn’t have a gallery.

“I can’t draw,” he said. “I’ve always been into art. [I’ll] take pictures, then nature can do the drawing.”

In the summer, McMurray, his wife and his son travel to Newfoundland and Labrador, where his wife’s family lives. When he retires, he wants to find a nice place there, like a cabin, so he could spend his summers fishing, relaxing, drinking beer on the porch. 

If he could impart his wisdom to others, he would tell people, especially students, to relax. 

“Life will usually work itself out,” he said. “If you give it time, and you put in the effort — anybody who’s going to university is obviously putting in the effort — it will come out in the end, so just don’t worry so much.”