Nappanee’s Bret Beehler doesn’t seem to mind a little sweat.
The retired Marine Corps staff sergeant spent 11 years serving his country in the Middle East and beneath the sweltering South American sun. Now, he’s preparing to pour his energy and coffee into his hometown.
Beehler’s Friendly Coffee Company, a 100 percent veteran-owned and operated distributor of Arabica beans, began online operations in March 2015. The plan was to secure a storefront somewhere in southern Elkhart County by the end of this summer.
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That plan changed — for the better.
After a Flavor 574 article detailing the business and its charity line of coffee was published, a Nappanee couple who wished to remain anonymous contacted Beehler.
“Boy, I tell ya, I could have never envisioned that was going to be on the other end of the conversation when I called,” Beehler said. “They said, ‘Hey, we saw the article and we love what you guys are trying to do. We love the fact that you’re a local company and you’re a local Nappanee guy yourself and a veteran, of course. We have a building if you’d like to take a look and we’d like to donate it to your cause.’”
“After I got out the military, this is exactly why I came home, because I knew I was coming home to this kind of community.”
Located at 251 W. Market St. in the former Fins & Feathers pet store, the future home of Friendly Coffee Company has a long way to go before its target completion date of Labor Day.
Beehler spends his days tearing tack strips and clumps of carpet from the building’s interior. Outside, overgrowth and brush are being cleared around the back deck to make space for extended patio seating.
Beeler is keen on restoring the dilapidated structure instead of demolishing it.
“For us, it’s important to give it back to the community,” Beehler said. “We want to give Nappanee something else to be proud of. There’s a lot of history, a lot of heritage here and we want to restore that.”
Part of the renovation process will focus on the kid-friendly corner of the shop.
“We’re going to have a specific area designated to really allow kids to go in there and play,” Beehler said. “Parents will know that they’re playing safely and can actually come in and enjoy a cup of coffee with friends and family without having to worry too much.”
The children’s area will feature padded half-walls and flooring, in addition to chalkboard walls. Beehler intends to hire a certified childcare provider to oversee the younger guests.
Food hasn’t been factored into Friendly Coffee Company’s formula yet, but Beehler believes “it’d be a mistake not to include it.” He intends to reach out to local companies willing to place their products in his shop.
He will also offer wall space and open mic nights to showcase local artists’ work.
“We’re very interested in giving local artists an opportunity to have their art seen. I myself can’t draw a stick figure, but from my buddies and friends who are artists, what they’ve told me is that the biggest frustration is not having an opportunity to display their work,” he said. “So, we’d love to give them that opportunity and to show the community that we want to showcase others and promote others and their skills.”
The Friendly Coffee Company’s line of charity coffees will remain at the heart of the business. Whether purchased by the bag or cup, 50 percent of all charity line purchases benefit the designated organization.
Former New Orleans Saints return specialist Michael Lewis plans to partner with company for a charity line of his own during the coming months. Beehler says Lewis will be present for the shop’s eventual grand opening. Customers can receive tickets to the VIP grand opening and meet-and-greet by purchasing any bag of charity coffee during the month of May.
“We anticipated opening a coffee shop, but we did not foresee this soon, but when someone offers you that kind of generosity, I don’t think you turn your back on that,” Beehler said. “After I got out the military, this is exactly why I came home, because I knew I was coming home to this kind of community.”