There are many roads to a claim to fame, but rising junior Kelly McArdle can boast an atypical route—and arrived in style, by Banana Boat, to be exact.
The Temple student, who has worked as a Saxbys barista in Center City Philadelphia for about a year while she pursues her religion major, entered a nationwide competition dubbed Saxbys By Me.
Both baristas and customers could create personalized drinks to be featured on the summer menu. A special Facebook page allowed contestants to incorporate different flavors, milks and more.
Saxbys, which originated in Philadelphia and continues to spread throughout the country, offers five different seasonal promotions per year, according to company Marketing Representative Kelly McLendon.
This competition, however, was the first of its kind, engaging both participating customers and baristas.
“We’re interested in [pitching] it out to our baristas and our customers,” McLendon said. “And engaging them in a way we haven’t been able to do before, [and] utilizing Facebook to make that connection.”
Once the competition had gotten significant interest, 20 contestants were chosen by Saxbys management to enter the voting portion, McLendon said. Those drinks that were chosen were deemed best representative of the summer season, and McArdle’s Iced Banana Boat Latte was a strong contender from the get-go.
“We thought that ‘banana boat latte’ sounded like summer,” McLendon said. “That summer taste, that summer sound, everything about it.” She also said that Saxbys management tasted each drink in the running.
The drinks, which make their debut on the menu on June 1st, are expected to be a huge hit amongst customers throughout the summer, McLendon said. Judging by the support contestants received during the competition, the winning drinks have a serious fan base.
The voting, which took place entirely over social media, required voters to like the Saxbys Facebook page before voting once every 24 hours at most. In tandem with the competition voting, Saxbys celebrated surpassing 5,000 fans, or ‘likes’ on their company Facebook page.
An unexpected voting frenzy caused Saxbys to consider offering the winning position to two baristas who had surged to the top of the competition, McArdle and fellow coffee mixologist Kaitlin Orr.
“We were really only supposed to pick one winner,” McLendon said. “But both [McArdle and Orr]’s votes just skyrocketed. They both had close to 4,000 votes, and they were going head to head the entire competition. We decided to pick the two closest winners.”
McArdle was inspired to create her iced concoction by her favorite flavor of Italian ice, Malibu Bay Breeze, from a shop in her hometown in Long Island, NY, she said. She never anticipated the attention her drink attracted. She called her mother, Diane McArdle, “instrumental” to her success.
“Her friends are probably responsible for my win,” McArdle said. “She sings in a band that’s pretty popular, so she has tons of friends, thousands probably.”
McArdle said she guessed that the tight competition between her and Orr encouraged their loyal supporters to keep voting. She called the voting “really stressful toward the end” because as the competition came to a close at the end of April, she had no idea whether or not she’d come out on top.
After a morning shift the next day, McArdle received a call from the Saxbys CEO, who explained to her that both drinks were chosen as winners because “they were both really creative, [and] both deserve to win”, she said.
With her winnings of a Saxbys Go-Card of $250 value in hand, McArdle began the life of coffeehouse fame, sitting through photo shoots and impromptu walk-ins from the CEO.
“He just came to say hi and congratulations,” McArdle said. “That was really cool.” With the Iced Banana Boat Latte days away from its introduction to the specialty summer menu, she looks forward to the reactions of regular customers seeing her face on the billboard, where it will appear next to her drink.
When it comes to receiving attention from her drink, McArdle will be contending with more than just Philadelphian coffee enthusiasts. According to her mother Diane, who called the online voting efforts of family and friends “very touching”, McArdle will have to make her drink for a party of dedicated voters during a visit home this summer.
Regardless of the semi-celebrity McArdle is currently experiencing, she said she has always truly enjoyed working at Saxbys, and plans stay with the company throughout her undergraduate years at Temple.
“I feel like we really take the time to get to know people,” McArdle said, explaining her appreciation for Saxbys. “We’re very friendly with customers. Its not canned, it’s genuine. People really want to know you.”