Last fall, Charlie Keebaugh, a friend of Jarret Johnson, stopped him in the gym and asked him whether he wanted to open a coffee shop. Uh, no, I don’t, he thought. But then, Keebaugh mentioned Black Rifle Coffee Company, and a week later, Johnson was listening to the Black Rifle Coffee founders on The Joe Rogan Experience.
“Mat Best and Evan Hafer were on Joe Rogan’s podcast,” Johnson said. “I listened to the episode three times. It was super interesting. Evan is a legitimate coffee guy, and between him nerding out about coffee and hearing him talk about giving back to his community, you can tell he’s the real deal.”
Johnson called Keebaugh, and within two weeks, they were meeting in San Antonio with the BRCC team. A month later, they had a franchise agreement, and less than a year later, they were up and running.
Photo courtesy of Black Rifle Coffee Company.
“We operate the store the way that Evan, Mat, and Jarred [Taylor] set out to run the company,” Johnson said. “Some people start companies so they can make money. They use the cliché look-at-me service platform, but Evan uses his platform for the right reasons.”
Johnson’s first career was as a football player. He started at the University of Alabama and became the only two-time captain in the Crimson Tide’s history and a First Team All-SEC pick as a senior. He was drafted in 2003 to the Baltimore Ravens and played nine years of his career there; the last three were spent with the San Diego Chargers.
Photo courtesy of Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun.
“Once I retired, I went through a big transition period,” Johnson said. “I was 34, at the peak of my life, and I had a lot of goals, thoughts … and quickly got lost trying to figure out who I was and what I should be doing.”
Johnson tried dozens of “things” while looking to find his way after football, from working for the Ravens on their radio broadcast crew and as a scout, to following in his family’s footsteps and working as a fishing guide in Niceville, Florida.
Within 20 miles of Niceville, there are six military installations, including Eglin Air Force Base, home to the 7th Special Forces Group.
“The one thing that was good for me is the community we live in,” Johnson said. “When I left the NFL, I lost my tribe, the people that I did tough things with. These guys have a similar experience. Though I never got shot at playing football, we struggle with a lot of the same things: traumatic brain injuries, transitioning from high-intensity work environments to going home to be a husband and a dad.”
Johnson was drawn to the connection he felt with the military community. He had found his new tribe; the group participates together in range days, workouts, and now working together with BRCC.
“When I was fighting age, I opted to play a sport, and these guys opted to fight,” Johnson said. “So what can I do now? How do you help people that did greater things than you? You just be a good dude, give to something greater than yourself. Whether it's volunteer work, going for a run, going to the range with these guys — it all happens organically, and I ended up with BRCC because it’s just a perfect fit to continue to support this community.”
Photo courtesy of Ashley Toohey/Black Rifle Coffee Company.
BRCC’s Niceville location currently employs 40 people — hired in the span of two weeks — and aside from Johnson and one other employee, everyone on staff is military-affiliated.
“Being a part of the BRCC community has done more for me than I can ever do for any of them,” Johnson said. “And I love everything the company stands for, and these guys are my buddies. It’s just a beautiful thing.”