If you walk into the local coffee shop in many parts of the country, you might reasonably expect to find it crammed with Millennials in Bernie! T-shirts and beanies, typing away on Apple laptops emblazoned with peace signs and “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” stickers.
But if you come across one of Black Rifle Coffee’s 25 franchise locations — set to open across the country this year — you’ll probably find a different kind of customer. That’s because the company’s owner, Evan Hafer, is an Iraq War veteran and a Second Amendment advocate, and he wants everyone to know it. In fact, he tells me on the phone, he’s carrying a gun as we talk.
Hafer has run the company in Salt Lake City for just over two years, and in recent months, demand for his products has skyrocketed. Since he founded Black Rifle Coffee in late 2014, he has donated from his business’s profits to veterans’ and pro–Second Amendment groups.
“The Second Amendment speaks for the entire ethos of the company,” Hafer tells me. “A firearm is woven into the DNA of the country. The American Revolution was fought and won with a firearm.”
His appreciation for the Second Amendment comes from a greater appreciation for the Constitution, as well as from his experience serving in the U.S. Army Special Forces. Hafer spent four years on the ground in Iraq and over two years in Afghanistan, participating in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and serving several more deployments over the subsequent few years.
Now, just a little over two years since its founding, the company is experiencing an explosion in demand for its many unique coffee roasts and other products, such as mugs, thermoses, and other coffee equipment along with shirts, hats, and sweatshirts.
Hafer says the dramatic surge in sales began around Christmas last year, and orders continued to climb after his February Fox News interview, during which he said he hopes to hire 10,000 veterans to match Starbucks’ plan to hire 10,000 refugees. About 70 of his 102 current employees are veterans.
This increased demand for Black Rifle Coffee has enabled Hafer to hire a number of new workers, and he will continue to do so until his company is able to ship orders out on the day they’re placed. Across the country, 300 retailers sell his coffee, and Hafer is planning to open his first franchises this year, where the coffee will be prepared for customers by his own employees. Among the new locations will be stores in Colorado Springs, San Antonio, North Carolina, and Washington state.
With this recent success has come a greater ability to donate to groups close to Hafer’s heart. He tells me that he supports groups such as the National Rifle Association and a pro-concealed-carry group to defend the Second Amendment. He also donates to law-enforcement groups, having given over $50,000 to the Fraternal Order of Police, as well as Blue Lives Matter, which has enabled the group to purchase life-saving equipment for police officers. And he supports several veterans’ organizations, one of which is Warriors Heart, a non-profit addiction-treatment center for veterans.
Hafer had always been a big coffee drinker, and in 2007, between deployments overseas, he began playing around with creating his own blends and roasts. “I was kind of known as the coffee guy,” he says with a chuckle. “Just your standard coffee-head.”
Coffee provided Hafer with an outlet and an area of interest outside of his many military-related pastimes. “I just needed something different from combat and combat-related activities — exercise, shooting, reading about political issues in the Middle East,” he explains. “I needed something outside of that, so I thought, ‘I’ll start learning about coffee.’”
In 2007 he bought a one-pound Sonofresco coffee roaster and began taking it overseas with him, which enabled him to experiment with temperature and pressure to create different flavors. “I started getting into the science behind coffee, and it was fantastically interesting to me,” he says. Hafer had been roasting coffee for his friends and for restaurants for a long time before he officially opened Black Rifle Coffee. In his business, Hafer has found the perfect way to combine his two loves — coffee and freedom — into one enterprise.
Though he has always been patriotic and in favor of gun rights, he says that his time in the military in particular opened his eyes to the dangers of preventing citizens from protecting themselves. “Ultimately, as we look at tyrannical dictatorships around the world . . . we see that the Second Amendment really does keep the government honest,” he says.
“I’ve spent my adult life in countries that are fundamentally flawed, where people don’t have the right to protect themselves and their families,” Hafer adds. “I can’t tell you how fearful it must be . . . for you, as just a standard man or woman, not to be able to protect your family.”
His belief in the right to self-defense is coupled with an understanding of safety, and he says his company is in favor of responsible gun ownership. “We don’t believe that just anyone should be able to walk around and grab a firearm off the side of the street,” he explains. “There is an ethical responsibility for anyone who carries to be properly trained and vetted.” Hafer is also sure to point out the statistics on lawful gun ownership, which show that violent crime is almost never directly associated with an individual who legally carries a firearm.
But he wants to make sure that his company’s praise for the Second Amendment is always seen in the context of his greater appreciation for the U.S. political order. “Ultimately, what we talk about is the Constitution in general,” he explains. “That document is the cornerstone and basis of our society and our freedom. We love the country, we love the Constitution, we love our rights.”
— Alexandra DeSanctis is a National Review Institute William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism.
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