Pathfinder International magazine continues the focus on Veteran Owned Business with a look at the story of Tactical Coffee…
Darren, the owner and founder of Tactical Coffee joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1989 and after completion of basic training in Woolwich was posted to 17 Corunna Battery 26 Regiment RA in Gutersloh, Germany.
Darren served as part of a Tactical Observation Team that directed artillery fire, he worked as a Ferret driver, 432 driver, Warrior driver, Signaller and as the assistant to the Forward Observation Officer. During his time with 26 Regiment he deployed on three tours of Northern Ireland, two tours of Bosnia and a tour of Kosovo as well as countless exercises in BATUS, Poland, Germany and the UK.
It was on his tour of Kosovo in 1999/2000 that Darren had his first introduction to real coffee, while on duty in the Multi National Division Headquarters (on Millennium Eve) he was offered a cup of coffee from a cafetière and developed a passion for real coffee since that first cup.
In 2001 Darren was selected to be the Photographer for the Royal Artillery and the Gunner Magazine, photography was a hobby since school. Darren returned to Woolwich as part of Headquarters Royal Artillery and travelled to the Falklands, Brunei, Dubai, Gibraltar, Norway as well as the usual exercise areas around the world.
During his time as a photographer, Darren came runner up in the Army Photographer of the year competition and was awarded Licentiate to the Master Photographers Association and the British Professional Photographers Institute and won several competitions in the civilian sector.
In 2007 Darren was posted to the Royal School of Artillery in Larkhill to work as part of Media Services Team, the civilian lead team of photographers, Videographers and Graphic Designers. As the only military employed member of the team Darren didn’t fit in well.
On deployment to Larkhill Darren soon spotted a gap in the Military Clothing and Accessories market, there were no shops in the area that supplied equipment to troops on exercise on Salisbury Plain, Phase Two Recruits based at the Royal School of Artillery and stationed troops within the Larkhill, Bulford and Tidworth Garrison.
Darren and his wife Joanne soon opened a succession of shops in Larkhill, Bulford and Westdown Camp. It was during this time that Darren also established BombG T-Shirts, printing his own military humoured t-shirts and hoodies.
BombG T-Shirts was very successful but caused a lot of controversy with some of the designs being banned from sale within the shops that were located on Military owned property and even they got Darren and his family a few death threats.
The success of the shops and the online T-Shirt business soon meant that Darren could leave the Army after 19 years service.
In 2008 Darren sold his three shops and online business and with the proceeds of the sale Darren and Joanne signed a tenancy agreement on a pub in Upavon, Wiltshire, but after just over a year the business venture failed, mostly due to the lack of support from the brewery with who they took on the tenancy and the fact that in Darren’s opinion he was on the wrong side of the bar.
In 2010 Darren joined the Military Provost Guard Service (MPGS) part of the Adjutant Generals Corps (AGC) it took Darren two years to realise that standing on a gate, opening a barrier was one of the worst things in life.
After leaving the Army for the second time in his life he started a career in the Private Security Industry and had several jobs including, Security Escort, Door Supervisor, Operations Manager, Instructor, Penetration Tester and even the dizzy heights of Close Protection. It soon became apparent that there was no security in security and spent a lot of his time searching for contracts that tended not to last very long and getting paid correctly and on time was becoming a full time job of its own.
In 2015 Darren and his family moved away from Wiltshire back to the West Midlands where Darren had joined the Army 26 years earlier. Not happy with the normal pace of life, he wanted to start another business and try to make it as successful as his chain of shops and the online T-Shirt sales.
Darren took his love of coffee and tried to encompass this into a business and began to learn all he could by reading and watching videos, in late 2015 Darren took a course with the Winchester Coffee School and learnt the basics of making the perfect cup of coffee with the insight to opening a coffee shop, this idea soon turned into a mobile coffee van. It didn’t take long before he realised that both options were out of his financial reach so he began to think of other ideas for a business that could incorporate his love of coffee and entrepreneurialism.
In 2017 Darren stumbled upon an online business selling bags of coffee to the military community in America (Black Rifle Coffee) and began to do his own research into the possibility of starting a UK version but found that he had been beaten to the post by a Company formed by a couple of serving Royal Marines.
Not letting this deter him he carried on with his research and found that every time he looked another UK online coffee company would pop up.
“We spoke with several coffee roasters and attended a few Coffee Expos and conventions across the UK before we found the perfect roasting partner, the company we found is also run by a veteran who employs veterans which matches our company ethos, we didn’t want to white label their own coffee and pass it off as our own, we wanted coffee blends that were unique to us. We took our first three ideas for our blends (Alpha, Bravo and Charlie) and the roasters agreed to do them exclusively for us”
In January 2018 Darren decided it was time to jump on the band wagon and launched Tactical Coffee. Since its first sale in January 2018 several other coffee companies have emerged and disappeared but Tactical Coffee has gone from strength to strength, Darren puts this down to his genuine passion for great coffee.
Since we began we have taken on three members of part time staff:
Steve a former Combat Medic and now an instructor for the HART teams across the UK and Make Ready Assistant Manager for the NHS and also owner of SimFX Casualty Simulation can be found working alongside Darren at events (Steve is normally the one with a beer in his hand).
Paul, also a former Gunner and self confessed caffeine addict can be found making Fresh Hand Brewed Coffee at events and Veterans Breakfast Club.
Joanne, long suffering wife, the long haired General, Chief of Domestic Staff. Darrens rock, she also provides an ear for Darrens rants, raves and stupid ideas.
See https://tacticalcoffee.co.uk/ for more information.
Read the full Vetentrepreneurs listings HERE!