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My personal favorite stories.

Here's a sneak peak into some of my best work. Click any headline read the story in its entirety. 


When the clock strikes 5 p.m. on a Friday night, masses of Michigan State University students and locals alike have one destination in mind: the bar. 

Customers enthusiastically join a line that trails down the street, sometimes waiting 30 minutes to make it inside their favorite bar. Once inside, they might spend another 20 minutes waiting for a drink inside the packed room, anxiously tapping their card on the counter to catch the bartender’s attention.

But an entirely different world exists for those of us who stand on the other side of the bar top. 

For service workers like me, these nights are how rent is made, how tuition gets paid and how we make a comfortable living in an otherwise unstable line of work. 


Barring any action, a measure that removes Michigan’s tip credit will go into effect in February 2023. 

Seventy-five percent of these workers believe tipped workers will make less money without the tip credit. Customers would still have the option to tip, but 49% of respondents said customers would stop completely. 

Without tipping, Huhn said the experience customers receive inside restaurants would not be the same. She said removing the incentive of a tip would result in worse service. 

“You're kind of like your own little entrepreneur,” Huhn said. “The incentive is, the more that I make the experience for the customer, the harder I work, the faster I work, the more money I will make, so you've really had this control over your job.”


Tammy UpChurch, a Buffalo Wild Wings server, has been serving for 35 years. She is what the industry calls a lifer, having successfully built a career out of serving. Thanks to tips, service jobs have more frequently become a sound career option for those with a passion for the hustle of hospitality. 

Flexibility is a large benefit, UpChurch said, but having cash in hand every day is what keeps everybody in the industry. She said she can make up to $50 an hour as a result of her hard work.

Despite the hardships, servers and bartenders like Vitale, Huhn and UpChurch find a sense of belonging and value in the ever-changing industry. 

“Being a tipped employee is everything to me … People choose the industry,” UpChurch said. “It doesn’t choose you.”

Inside Wild Strawberry and More, a sweet floral scent lingers in the air. 

An occasional rustling of flowers cuts through the otherwise heavy silence. In the corner, a woman gently ties a ribbon around a vase overflowing with flowers. 

The Holt florist shop’s current experience is not without lingering difficulties from the pandemic, a situation confronting other florists across the state.  

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“We’re all trying to be flexible and all trying to keep our mental health intact while going through a lot of these changes.”

“Even though it’s hard work, we come back every day thinking, ‘today’s a good day, let’s go at it.’” 

“Florists are pretty creative and resourceful people,” she said. “We have adapted well to the new way we’re having to think, like, ‘okay, I can’t get this, what can I do to improvise?’”  

Ten years ago, Sarah Trofatter sat down in the tattoo chair to get a half-sleeve inked by Solomon Trofatter – but they almost abandoned the tattoo because she couldn’t stand him.

Solomon Trofatter said they came close to never speaking again, because they couldn’t agree on the changes he wanted to make to her piece. In the end, they created a tattoo Sarah Trofatter loves, but they joke that they almost didn’t get there. 

“We didn't speak the same language,” Sarah Trofatter said. “Getting to that point took a lot of effort. And then it grew this great friendship. We ended up really connecting.”

Image by Lucas Lenzi

May is determined to compete in a bodybuilding competition someday. 

She lifts weights five days a week and regularly tracks her macronutrients. Above all else, the lifestyle associated with weight lifting is something that makes her feel her best, both mentally and physically. 

The beauty standard, she said, is shifting away from the stereotypical quest to be as thin as possible. 

But while weightlifting becomes more of a trend, May said, what women actually want to look like becomes a gray area. Just because beauty standards are shifting doesn’t mean that things are perfect — not by a long shot.

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