Supervisor Sean Thor Coburn walks through the aisles of the World Famous Bean.
The military veteran gathers his workers and prepares them for the work ahead. Known as the Sarge, Coburn sets the goals for the day and what is expected of each person. The workers silently nod their heads.
“When we are working, there is only right and wrong: black and white. There’s no gray line,” said Coburn in a rough voice.
Coburn, known to some as The Scary Bean Worker, looks like a mean man with his nine unevenly spaced skull and star tattoos dappled around his body and arms. Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Coburn was raised by truck driving parents who were away from home for long periods of time. Never wanting to follow the road of working long hours and long distances away from home, Coburn preferred the food business. At 15, Coburn worked as a busser at The Mouse Trap restaurant on the coast of Florida. After dropping out of high school twice, he joined the army at 22 years old and began building tanks in Korea as a mechanic.
“Yep, I built tanks for about three years or so,” said Coburn. Coburn said he left the Army “because they don’t build tanks anymore,” he laughed. “Basically, that’s why.”
After four years in the military, five years of cooking at a Christian retreat center in New Mexico, becoming a volunteer firefighter and kicking around from job to job, Coburn ended up in Abilene to take care of his mother.
Today, the 47-year-old veteran supervises several employees scheduled for the afternoon shift.
Megan McBride, a student worker, understands the negative stigma that follows Sean like the cologne on his shirt.
“Sean was definitely the most intimidating person at the bean,” said McBride. “He’s never afraid to enforce the rules or tell students to stop what they’re doing. I think that’s how a lot of students see him – intimidating and strict.
However, McBride has seen the real Sean Coburn during her time at the Bean.
“He’s one of the most hilarious people I have ever worked with,” McBride said.. “Sean is a really goofy guy, but he’s also intentional, compassionate, and friendly…He’s a simple, down-to-earth guy that always keeps his co-workers laughing.”
When Coburn smiles, his lower lip covers his three missing teeth. He knows his smile is not ideal, but it’s the best one he’s got, and for that, he shouldn’t be labeled as callous.
Co-worker Sharon Mize said he’s genuinely is a kind man deep inside.
“You know, he is a very strong-willed man,” says Mize in her soft-spoken, country accent. “Many people think he’s mean, but he is what I consider a good man.”
Blanca Martinez, the quiet Latina stationed at the salad bar, said Coburn likes to work and then play, always in that order. Shoveling pieces of melted ice out of the metal box and into the trash, Coburn is working just as hard as Blanca next to him. He doesn’t give it a second thought.
“Sometimes people don’t want to work,” Coburn said. “When I come in here, I set aside everything that is happening in my personal life and come to work. Some people just don’t get that. And sure, it is part of my military side, but when we have a job to do we need to just finish it and move on.”
Co-worker James Moore agrees.
“Oh yeah, Sean is a really good supervisor. I mean, he is really strict and whatever, but what supervisor isn’t, right?” Moore said as he slaps ham and turkey on white for the student in front of him. “Like, he does want you to get your work done, but he likes to lighten the mood around here. Honestly, I wish we could have him all the time.”
Coburn also manages the concession stands at athletic games. Frankly, that’s his favorite part of the job. He loves being able to talk and joke with students.
Coburn says he’s neither an introvert nor an extrovert.
“I don’t like labels. I’m just me. I don’t like putting labels on myself to fit a certain group. I’m just me,” Sean said. “Just like, be your own person. Who cares what people think about you?”
Workers slowly turn off the heat lamps. Coburn continues to walk the aisles. No words are spoken. Lights flicker off, and the last student sprints out of the cafeteria.