Soldiers set up coffee shop in Iraq

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Profits from a coffee blend sold in the states are helping support soldiers fighting in the Mideast.

By Kathryn Rem ~ The Springfield State Journal-Register

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Soldiers from the Springfield-based Illinois Army National Guard's 232nd Corps Support Battalion stationed in the desert of Iraq now can cool off with an iced mocha.

The Starbucks-like retreat is Illini Joe's Coffee Shop, an upscale coffee bar built by the soldiers with donated funds.

The idea came from Sgt. Brandon Case of Quincy, a morale and welfare specialist with the battalion. On vacation in July, Case visited Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Co. in St. Louis, a 10-year-old micro-roastery that sells coffee-making equipment in addition to coffee.

"A clean-cut guy walks in and said he was trying to put together a coffee bar for a National Guard group in Camp Speicher in Tikrit," said Howard Lerner, co-owner of Kaldi's. "He was looking for donations for coffee."

The company gave the sergeant more than custom-roasted beans. It donated an espresso machine, a grinder, a water pump and other equipment and supplies needed to create gourmet coffee drinks.

"The first shipment was $10,000, and the shipping was $2,000," Lerner said. "They're set to make 10,000 drinks. We'll send out more whenever they need it."

Other businesses -- including Gloria Jean's Coffee, Mr. Coffee, Starbucks, K-Tec, SYSCO, Riley's Coffee in Fairview Heights and The Fudgery in St. Louis -- joined the effort with donations.

The fully equipped coffee house has two blenders, a brewer, four coffee pots and a full array of syrups and flavorings, including chocolate, hazelnut, vanilla, peanut butter and cinnamon. On the menu are cappuccinos, lattes, granitas, espressos, smoothies, cocoas, teas and other iced and hot concoctions.

Illini Joe's serves 800 to 1,100 soldiers.

Beverage-making expertise was provided by Case. When he was at Kaldi's seeking donations, the company spent several hours training him as a barista, a professional espresso maker.

Other soldiers constructed the 6-by-16-foot plywood bar in a small area at Camp Speicher and installed electricity.

"The effect that Illini Joe's has had is tremendous for the soldiers' morale," Case wrote in an e-mail from Iraq. "Most of the soldiers that come to Illini Joe's have been in country for quite a while, and a regular quote that I hear is, 'This is best thing I have had since I came to this country."

Lt. Col. Alicia Tate-Nadeau, spokeswoman for the Illinois National Guard, said a taste of home helps morale.

"When people are deployed and away from their families for a long period of time, there are periods when they don't even have time to sit down, punctuated by times when nothing happens," she said. "Our American culture now includes the local coffee shop. It's a place where they can have a latte and relax and visit with other soldiers and talk about their day and about home."

Kaldi's Coffee now sells its G.I. Java blend -- a dark, sweet, Northern Italian-style espresso -- to civilians at outlets in Missouri and Illinois and uses the profits to defray the cost of shipping coffee and supplies to Iraq.

"It doesn't matter what you think about the war," said Lerner. "We're there. We're in it. These guys are committed to it. Why don't we all step up and do something?"

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: