Okay. So one of the things I like to do when I stay with my parents is to head out to a local coffee shop in the morning and do some writing.

Still in bed, I whir up the old Urbanspoon and start cranking through my options. Today I found a little place called La Barista, on the corner of Grand Ave, and EP True Parkway in West Des Moines. But don’t look for the name “La Barista.” It’s not on the awning. It just says, “Coffee Bar.”

And it’s tiny. It seats perhaps eighteen people.

I love places like this. I walked and the woman behind the bar — well along into pregnancy — said, “Grandma, can you bring in the new plates?” And in came Grandma with the new plates.

I’m not exactly sure what Grandma said. She spoke with a thick accent, perhaps Eastern European.

I ordered my customary cappuccino, dry, and a cinnamon scone. It was one of the best cappuccinos I have tasted. Just a little bracing, just a little bitter, and strong, healthy foam. And the scone, made in-house, also very good.

I was shocked to hear they have been open for 17 years. Seventeen years. My parents have lived here since 1979. I have never been to this place. It actually struck me a little dumb.

There is Starbucks across the street. It opened about two years ago. But the young barista said that it hasn’t really done anything to their business.

A man came into the café and café and she said, “Hey, Dave. Same thing?”

“You betcha.”

Just then another car pulled to the drive-up window, which is right behind the counter. Dave said, “Hey, John,” to the man in the car. I am not making this up. The three of them — Dave, standing at the counter, John, in his car at the window, and the young barista — carried on a conversation about a third customer who had recently had a heart attack.

Now, I don’t really have anything against Starbucks. I know that to Seattleites they are a local company. But there is something about size that almost necessitates a simmering hierarchical anonymity. The further away a leader is from led the less connection they have, thus the less empathy and understanding they can have. It’s the same with customers. Decisions become matters of cost analysis, branding, and public relations. They really aren’t about the customer any more.

La Barista is about the customer. For them, small is powerful. I mean, 17 years? There is pluck in a family coffee house that survives for 17 years.

I may be done browsing for my café away from café. Now, if I can just find a good Thai place again.