Cape May’s Culture of Service – A Q&A With Retail Manager and Barista Gabby Sceia

Gabby Sceia, serving up coffee at Magic Brain Cafe.
Photo taken by Madison Musinski

About 3 years ago, Gabby Sceia moved to Cape May from her hometown of Hammonton to pursue a dream. She wanted the opportunity to put her culinary skills to the test by working in Cape May’s thriving restaurant industry. However, she soon found out that her calling was rooted more in service rather than in cooking. So, she transitioned from a back-of-house cook to a front-of-house retail manager and barista. Currently, Gabby works as a retail manager at Galvanic, a high-end clothing boutique located on the Washington Street Mall. She also works as a barista at Magic Brain, a cafe located in the Carpenter’s Square Mall. Throughout most of the in-season, and a lot of the off-season, her time is spent speeding from one job to the next. Like many of the workers in Cape May, Gabby Sceia has found a home in service and the culture that surrounds it.

Gabby, what was your entryway into Cape May’s service industry?

So, when I was little, I would watch a lot of cooking shows and things like that and I always wanted to be in kitchens and in restaurants. So, when I was 17, I started as a waitress at a very slow, very small family restaurant. From then on, I became a food-runner at a different, higher-end restaurant in my town. And from there, I was able to start as a kitchen employee as a cook, a fry-cook specifically and I was doing that while I was going to culinary school. So, I was working and going to school at the same time. You know, working in the school restaurant, working in the home restaurant. Then I finally made my way to Cape May and…I knew someone who worked at The Ebbitt Room, at the Virginia Hotel, and that is a very fine-dining restaurant. Completely different atmosphere. It had just received a new head-chef so things were changing and progressing and I think I got a little ahead of myself. And I think I got a little starry-eyed. I took the job at The Ebbitt Room.

Listen to Gabby describe her transition from back-of-house cook to front-of-house retail manager and barista:

What do you find most rewarding about working at Galvanic?

So, for me, when someone really does have a nice conversation with me, on top of feeling good about themselves and feeling good about their purchase – that is what is really rewarding. You know, I have some people come in looking for something specific and end up leaving with something the complete opposite and they’re 100% happy. Or if someone is making an investment purchase for the first time, something that will be a little more expensive but will last longer…that’s what is encouraging to me. It’s like okay, I’ve given someone not only a great piece to take home but, I’ve given them knowledge about the piece. I’ve explained how it’s made, where it comes from and really educated them on something that may have seemed a little trivial. A pair of boots might not seem like much but, the American leather and the built-in-America by American hands – that’s a big deal. And you know, it’s going to last them not only 5 years but it’s going to last them a lifetime.

Do you have a favorite story about working as a barista? Not necessarily with a customer but just in general.

The times I get to work with my coworkers is really…what makes it special. It’s the little moments where my manager and I…one time, we had the great chance of working together and we had had this inside joke and we just started hysterically laughing while we were making coffee. It lasted for a good, solid five minutes. And it was just so funny at the time. It just made me so, so happy and it really just calmed my nerves down from laughing. It was just like we could have friendly banter, and be friends, and still work. It wasn’t like we were stuck in this tiny corner making hot coffee, or cold coffee. We could just actually have a good time with our customers and ourselves.

If you could work in a place that was year-round and had consistent business, do you think you would or do you find that it’s still beneficial to be in this area?

Well, I actually had the option to move into a city within the next couple of months and I chose to opt out from that…unfortunately a lot of the other shore towns aren’t like this but Cape May, in particular, has the city-like atmosphere in 3 to 5 months. Even 6 months if you include all the way up to Christmas. So, it’s very fast-paced and it’s very city-like. You can walk everywhere. You can walk down the street. Then in the winter-time, it’s very suburban-like. I do have that small, hometown feel that I did growing up. So, for me, it’s really the best of both worlds. Thinking about working 80-hours a week, 365 days of the year, that I think would be so exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And I just barely made it through this summer so I don’t think doing that full-time, all the time, would be the best decision for me. I feel like Cape May gives you the best of both worlds very easily and in a very beautiful way. 

Listen to Gabby describe the difficulty of working 80 hour weeks during the in-season:

Do you feel like there’s a sense of community and endurance working in the local businesses of Cape May?

Oh, 100%. When I moved down to Cape May, I was 100% by myself. I didn’t have anyone. The only friends that I had were in the service industry and they became my family. I unfortunately got sick when I moved down here and my chef was there to take me to the emergency room and to check in on me and help me get doctor’s appointments. So, it was definitely a very big blessing to have my service family in my life.

Do you think that the service provided in Cape May, not just by you but by everyone, is what brings people back to Cape May?

I don’t think it’s what brings people back but I think that’s just what makes it so successful. That’s why it’s such a well-oiled machine. You know, you have some of the bigger corporate businesses here but, you also have the family businesses. Somehow they have all created this very comfortable work environment where the customers or the clients or the tourists feel that it’s a friendly, welcome environment. You know, that doesn’t just happen. They say at Disney World, it’s because everyone’s a Mouseketeer and everyone wants everything to be successful for the people to have a good time. I feel that’s how Cape May people grew up and that’s the mindset that we’ve kind of, not forced onto people but, brought to their attention. This is a place for people of all ages to come and it’s going to be enjoyable. Yes, we work very hard but, we all love what we do and we’re all very loyal to those employers.

Listen to Gabby describe why she continues to work and live in Cape May:

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