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Four vets from Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard start one of Chesapeake’s only coffee roasteries

Roasted coffee beans on burlap (Marco Verch Professional Photographer and Speaker/Flickr)

An Army guy, a Navy guy, a Coast Guard guy and an Air Force guy walk into a coffee bar — stop us if you’ve heard this one.

Veterans of four service branches, with more than 90 years of military experience, are opening one of the first coffee roasteries in Chesapeake.

By the end of September, Pale Horse Coffee hopes to start selling bags of their beans in the former Big Ugly Brewing space at 1296 Battlefield Blvd S. Suite 104 The company has been selling coffee online at since October of last year.

“We used to joke sometimes that we were missing a Marine,” said Michael Vecchione (Coast Guard, 20 years).

Asked about this, Chris Walton (Army, 22 years) wasn’t so sure.

“I wouldn’t say we’re ‘missing’ one,” he said, laughing.

Don Wingard (Navy, 30 years) started roasting coffee about three years ago in Missouri — but it wasn’t until his retirement this year that he was able to begin the company and cafe in earnest, finding his partners through networks of friends and associates.

“I did this by myself for many years. It’s a labor of love. But that’s a lot of labor,” Wingard said.

Wingard didn’t set out to form a coffee roasting company with only other veterans. “But it generally is, when you’re dealing with other veterans, there’s a sort of instant connection,” said Walton. “We all speak each other’s language.”

Vecchione had been selling Wingard’s coffee at his shop, Primo Cigars and Coffee, in downtown Norfolk. Vecchione had been looking for a veteran-owned roaster to carry, and he liked Wingard’s roasts, which at that time were sold under the name Seaside Coffee.

Walton came aboard through a mutual acquaintance, and worked with Gray Livingston (Air Force, 21 years) at a local shooting range. Part of what attracted Walton to get involved with the business, he said, was its focus on donating to nonprofits.

Pale Horse roasts coffee blends ranging from medium to dark, including a high-octane, high-caffeine blend called Midnight Driver — which they promise will keep you “Freedoming harder.”

Most of their core brands make use of the coffee company’s “Death rides a pale horse” branding: skulls in sea caps, a skull-faced Uncle Sam “Patriot Blend.” Wingard said the Pale Horse branding came, in part, because you really need a coffee when you feel like death.

Pale Horse also sells roasts branded for individual charities, which the partners research to make sure a large percentage of funds go directly to their intended beneficiaries. Fifty percent of the profits from each bag go to the charity on the label.

Almost all of the charities are focused on veterans and first-responders. Walton said that as a veteran, he feels it’s important to give back to the community. Each charity, Wingard said, picks its own flavor profile for its beans.

And so half the profits from dark-roast Hunter Seven coffee blend — made with beans from Indonesia, Africa and South America — goes to a nonprofit by the same name devoted to providing healthcare for veterans with chronic, systemic health conditions. First Bite, which supports military working dogs and their handlers, chose a Central and South American blend. Pennies for P.A.W.S., an animal charity based in Hampton Roads, went for a high-caffeine blend.

Other coffees sold by Pale Horse include single-origin roasts, and flavored coffees infused after the fact with flavors like sticky buns, chocolate or White Russian.

The partners, who sometimes refer to themselves as the “Four Horsemen,” hope to be selling bags to walk-up customers by the end of September.

But for people who want to hang out and drink a cup, the grand opening of the cafe is scheduled for Oct. 31.

“We want that specifically so we can have a Halloween party every year,” Wingard said. “We figure since we’ve already got the skulls and everything — we figured Halloween was a great time to launch.”


© 2019 The Virginian-Pilot