Because Of Steve Jobs's First Public iPhone Call, Starbucks Still Gets Orders For 4,000 Lattes

Six years and five iPhones later, Fast Company tracks down the recipient of Steve Jobs's groundbreaking prank call, the first ever made from Apple's original iPhone to the outside world.

On January 9, 2007, Steve Jobs took out his iPhone and dialed a Starbucks in San Francisco. "Good morning," answered the polite voice of employee Ying Hang "Hannah" Zhang. "How may I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to order 4,000 lattes to go, please," Jobs said, grinning. "No, just kidding. Wrong number. Goodbye!"

As Jobs hung up, a large crowd in front of him erupted in laughter. That's because this wasn't some private prank call. Jobs was on stage at the Moscone Center, where he had just unveiled the iPhone to the world. His call to the Starbucks that day was the first real public phone call made from an iPhone in history. Sure, Jobs had held a conference chat earlier in his presentation with Apple executives Jony Ive and Phil Schiller--but that call was prearranged and heavily scripted, no different than the dozens if not hundreds of calls they would've made during rehearsals, or the likely thousands of calls performed while testing the device prior to its announcement. (Ive and Schiller were even in the Moscone Center audience that day, cupping their phones to block Jobs's loud voice from interfering with the call.)

The true test of the iPhone's power came when Jobs opened Google Maps, and--to the awe of those in the auditorium--searched for Starbucks and called up a nearby store, seemingly on a whim. It foreshadowed a revolution in the mobile world, not just for consumers but also businesses. It was only appropriate that Jobs would call Starbucks, a company that's been transformed by the tools Apple has created or given way to, from processing 100 million mobile payments through its app to partnering with Square to handle its credit- and debit-card transactions. But for Starbucks employee Zhang, there was no way of knowing a smartphone revolution was on the horizon. To her that day six years ago, it was just another prank phone call. Little did she know it was from Steve Jobs.

With help from Starbucks, Fast Company was able to track down Zhang, a soft-spoken barista who goes by "Hannah." Sincere and sweet, Hannah has been working at the same Starbucks for more than a half-decade. "Honestly, I was shocked," she recalls. "I have never heard somebody order 4,000 lattes to go. I didn't say anything because I was shocked. But my first impression was that he was just being humorous. He sounded like a gentleman." (The exchange takes place at the five-minute mark in the video below.)

Hannah, who was all smiles when we caught up with her recently at the same Starbucks location, only learned afterward that it was Jobs who had placed the impossible order. She first found out from customers making a pilgrimage to the location, and now feels a sense of pride that the Apple cofounder chose her store. "Customers would sometimes come up to me and go, 'Did you know somebody at your store actually talked to Steve Jobs?' I feel very happy and lucky that I had a chance to actually talk to him. It means a lot to me that he picked our Starbucks," explains Hannah, wearing her green Starbucks apron. "My friends were surprised and jealous, like, 'Wow, you got a chance to talk to Steve Jobs?' They say to me, 'You should've said more! You just say Good morning and How can I help you.'"

Hannah, the Starbucks barista

Funny enough, now orders for 4,000 lattes are more common, thanks to the endless droves of Apple fanboys still wanting to partake in some aspect of Jobs's legacy. "Before him, no [we never received such an order]," Hannah says. "After he made the call, everyone copied him, prank calling our store and ordering thousands of lattes--to this day!"

Kimiko Barbour, the store's manager, realized the reason for the recurring prank calls only after Fast Company made inquiries for this story. "They happened randomly. It's funny because I didn't even know that this existed until [you called]," she says. "Another manager was like, 'Hey, have you seen the video?' And I was like, 'What video?' She emailed it to me, and I showed Hannah. Then it all connected. That's why people order 4,000 lattes! You know what I mean? Before, it was like, 'Who would order thousands of lattes?'"

Sitting at a table in the Starbucks store, as patrons shuffle by and the din of coffee brewing surrounds them, Hannah and Kimiko do some back-of-the-envelope calculations. "How long would it take us to fill 4,000 lattes?" Hannah wonders.

"That's something you'd need to figure out on your phone," Kimiko says. "Do we have enough milk?" The two laugh. They estimate it takes 44 seconds for each order. Multiply that by 4,000 lattes, and Jobs would have been looking at a 48-hour wait.

Hannah wishes she had said more to Jobs, had she known then that it was him. At the time, she would've loved to know what he was announcing--and, like a true Apple fan, when "the launch date" would be.

But above all, she would've made one request. Says Hannah, "I would've asked him if he'd want to come down to our store so I can make him the perfect drink."

Additional reporting by Lorraine Sanders.

[Coffee Cups Stack: Javier Martin via Shutterstock]

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44 Comments

  • Ohplease

    Making History by making the first ever iPhone call? Who cares? Who made the first call from a digital phone? An IP Phone? A Softphone? A mobile phone? It's completely irrelevant...

  • trisul

    You need to be there, not here. I mean, go there on a Sunday with $12.000 in your pocket and say all these billionares are fun, but they do not commit, give me those 4.000 lattes please.

  • Mundi Furere

    what a garbage. making idols of everything that moves. don't have an IPhone and probably never will. I wished their stock goes to hell and it did. 

  • intrr

    Surely you and your accomplishments in your unimportant average boring little life are so thrilling that you need no idols, scumbag.

  • Noname

    You are right! I mean seriously ...what's next? Steve Jobs used toilet paper in Burger King ..cmon

  • trisul

    I am sure that there are professionals who can help you deal with these issues. Life is short, don't waste it.

  • really? didn't realize the number of idiots was higher than i originally estimated. go back to your iphone, food, video game or whatever other drug you use that separates you from reality.

  • Guest Who I Am

    Teen angst going on here?  Just what did your mother do to you anyway?

  • what a stale sense of humor. you see, your intellect or actually the lack of thereof does not allow you to even insult properly. disappointing. but then again, your mother told you that already.

  • Ck

    You know you can link Youtube videos to start at a certain point... HOWEVER. I did end up watching most of this vid, working in the telecoms industry I see how amazing the browsing is on this devices vs ALL other devices at the time...

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Great story!  She sounds dedicated--and a good promoter of her workplace-- even though we're among those cannot believe anyone would go out somewhere for coffee, let alone buy a concoction, let alone pay so much for one!  

    As to ordering 4,000 of them, well, Starbucks should have filled the order and charged Apple!

    It would have been nice had Apple followed up and given her an iPhone.  In fact, they still should!

  • trisul

    I am really surprised that it was not an arranged call. I am sort of used to the film making maxim "the more spontaneous it looks, the more planned it was".