Roastery Story: Operation Coffee and Military Veteran Sam Floyd
CoffeeTec supports sellers with their used coffee roastery equipment by making it easy to connect with buyers and ship heavy machinery across the globe. Operation Coffee connected with CoffeeTec to sell their used Diedrich IR-5 roaster, and we made “logistics easy!”
Just a quick 45-minute jaunt from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, you’ll find a truly inspiring coffee roaster by the name of Operation Coffee. The name alone suggests that it’s a purpose-driven business, inviting curiosity about its origins beyond where the beans come from.
Operation Coffee has definitely given new meaning to “finding your mission” for Marine veteran and owner Sam Floyd, who struggled with adjusting to civilian life after returning home in 2005 from a tour in Afghanistan.
Like many veterans navigating their post-military careers, Floyd fought a battle for his mental health and at one point contemplated taking his own life. Feeling alienated from his peers and loved ones because of his experiences overseas, Floyd knew he needed to seek help and rediscover a hopeful purpose for his life. This hope came in the form of a co-worker’s recommendation to reach out to the Semper Fi & America’s Fund.
The Semper Fi & America’s Fund is “dedicated to providing urgently needed resources and support for combat wounded, critically ill and catastrophically injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families.” Floyd took his co-worker’s advice and contacted the fund. He was quickly connected to Case Manager Sue Baker, who encouraged him to pursue a passion as the best means of finding happiness at home.
Taking Baker’s suggestion to heart, Floyd realized that in the same way that a cup of coffee adds pep to your step, he had a passion for coffee brought on by the many impactful conversations that he’d had over a comforting cup of joe. These conversations became the seed for the blossoming idea that would save Floyd’s life — and potentially the lives of other veterans facing the same post-combat mental health challenges.
Fast forward 16 years, and Sam Floyd has owned and operated Operation Coffee for five years — and a bustling operation it is, indeed. In addition to roasting coffee and growing his business, Floyd helps veterans through public speaking, peer support, and donating 10% of his coffee sales to Semper Fi, the organization that first supported him. Floyd is also looking forward to marrying his fiancée and becoming a stepdad.
We could end the story here because it’s a good one. But of course there’s more to this tale that actually involves CoffeeTec. We’re proud to have a personal connection to Operation Coffee, as Floyd turned to us to help him sell his Diedrich IR-5 so that he could buy a Diedrich IR-12 to keep up with his growing production demands. By researching used coffee equipment sellers online, a Semper Fi Fund representative connected Floyd with CoffeeTec and discovered our efficient process for selling used coffee roasters and industrial coffee equipment.
Sam Floyd was generous enough to sit down with CoffeeTec to talk about his experience in learning the art and business of coffee roasting, plus share his biggest inspirations and how he learned to live life anew.
The Origins of the Whole Operation, Plus a Morning News Boost
CT: Thanks for joining us today, Sam. Can you tell us about the origin of Operation Coffee?
SF: Sure. In talking with Sue Baker at Semper Fi, she encouraged me to identify what I was passionate about in order to help identify a post-military career for myself. After some reflection, I chose coffee because usually the best cups of coffee I've had with friends, I don't remember drinking the cup of coffee. I just remember the person who I was with during our conversation. It was good coffee, sure, but it was more about that person who was right across the table from me and the interaction we had. And, many of these conversations were about how to handle re-entry back into life post-Marines. My identity was in the Marine Corps. I was on top of my game. I could run 10 miles and not even break a sweat. Now I can walk up the stairs and be like, how far have I fallen, not only physically but mentally too? We all kind of lose that identity when we're back here.
So, that's the reason I chose coffee and started thinking about how I could leverage this passion to create a business that brings awareness to the mental health issues that military veterans face — because I’ve struggled with these issues too.
The coffee roasting learning curve was steep but now that Operation Coffee is a reality, I constantly ask myself, “What am I doing to further the mission back at home in this free country that we live in?” Along with what I’m doing to support veterans through my business, I'm starting to work out again. I'm going to be a stepdad soon. I'm going to be a husband. Those are my jobs and my new mission. That's my new duty station.
CT: How long did you serve in the Marine Corps?
SF: I was in the School of Infantry in California. From there, I got orders to Hawaii in 2003. I was there for several months, and then received orders to Afghanistan. We left for Afghanistan on Halloween 2004 and returned on Father's Day 2005. When I got home, I just wanted to move forward. That was a life-changing deployment, for sure.
You know, this might sound weird but a number of us veterans want to be back over there. Because it makes the most sense. I don't know if you've heard that before. It really is true, though, because life was just a lot simpler over there. You only had to worry about yourself. So, imagine coming back here and suddenly you have to make every decision. If you came back home with emotional struggles or a traumatic brain injury, making decisions can be very stressful. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of what I did in Afghanistan. But, with this coffee business, I want to focus on what I’m going to do to serve my country back home.
CT: Your case manager at the Semper Fi Fund, Sue Baker, encouraged you to follow a passion as a way of overcoming mental health issues that you experienced after returning home from Afghanistan. How has your relationship with Sue Baker changed your life?
SF: We’ve only met two times in person. But, the first time I was on the phone with Sue, I still remember I was processing a lot of things. I can just feel the overwhelming love in her voice, the tone she had. And for the first time in a long time, I felt very calm. Ever since then, Sue has helped me. Just last week, she sent me a book because she wanted me to read it. She’s like a mom to me. Man, she's such a sweet lady.
CT: Your business was given a serious boost from your Veterans Day interview on The TODAY Show in early November 2020. Can you tell us about that experience?
SF: Going into the interview, I didn't really understand the impact it would have because I never watched The TODAY Show. So, I didn't know their following. I can't really describe what happened the day the interview aired. The amount of emails and orders alone were mind-boggling. During the interview, my phone was in my pocket and it was vibrating non-stop! I was like, “What is happening?!” My whole website crashed. And, then my phone crashed.
Just the amount of connections that I made from that interview and the number of veterans who reached out to me was the most impactful thing. It was so cool. So, yeah, I could probably talk for hours about the amount of impact that The TODAY Show had. Still, it was just extremely humbling, and I’m very thankful for it.
As a result of the interview, local and national groups have contacted me, like North Carolina or St. Louis military support organizations, that have invited me to speak on behalf of veteran suicide awareness. You know, that's really interesting, because I'm not a psychiatrist or counselor. For me to speak on that, it's more that they want to see a face. They want to see the guy who struggles with it. For example, how am I doing with it now? And, how can I help people? That sort of thing.
CT: It’s great to hear that the interview drove traffic to your website, though we’re sorry to hear it crashed. But, it also connected people to the Semper Fi Fund too. Correct?
SF: That's right, and that was the goal Sue and I agreed on. The week prior to The TODAY Show, we were communicating back and forth. The day before the interview, I got cold feet. So, Sue and I talked about the goal of the interview. If we could help just one person with that interview, we would be achieving our goal.
And I believe we did just that. The amount of people driven to the Semper Fi Fund is increasing. Just on the day of the interview alone, the number of people who donated to the fund was pretty amazing. So that was the goal, and it is working.
A Goodwill Popcorn Popper, a Church, and the Beauty of Small-Batch Roasting
CT: Okay, so now let’s talk about coffee. How did you find yourself learning the whole coffee roasting process?
SF: Really, as I said earlier, the only reason I got into coffee roasting is because I enjoyed coffee and the connections it can create. That was the only reason I got into this. I had a cup of coffee in my hand, and I realized I really like coffee. So that's how it started. But that wasn't even scratching the surface toward learning to roast coffee, right?
In this business, they call coffee roasting the dark art because nobody shares secrets. Which couldn't be any any closer to the truth. I went to Coffee Fest in New York City in 2020. That was fun. I didn't really have a mentor — just books. I read 13 books about coffee roasting, and I watched endless hours of YouTube videos.
From burning coffee to under-developing coffee, I wasted a lot of money on coffee beans. Well, not wasted. It's all part of the learning process. Let’s just say that I spent a lot of money learning. I'm still getting there. But now people are like, “Man, your coffee got better,” and I’m like, “Yeah!”
CT: Like most beginning coffee roasters, we know you started with a very small roaster. How long did it take to graduate to the Diedrich IR-5? Talk us through that progression.
SF: Well, you know, when I started roasting coffee in my garage, before I was selling it, I was doing it in a popcorn popper that I bought from Goodwill. That was in 2015. And, then I transitioned into a Fresh Roast roaster, a little three-ounce one. And, then a bigger one. Next, I moved on to a Sonofresco that I operated out of a shared kitchen in 2017, the same year I founded Operation Coffee. I would roast from 10pm until 3am. I could only roast about two pounds at a time. And, then I picked up a coffee shop as a client and there was no way I could fulfill their order with just my Sonofresco. It was about a year and a half or two years into roasting that I bought my IR-5. It was perfect, and I was still able to keep up. Then The TODAY Show interview happened in 2020. I knew it was only going to be a matter of time that I’d need to get a bigger roaster.
CT: Are you in your own facility now rather than a commercial kitchen?
SF: I've been in my own facility for about two years now. It used to be an old First Baptist Church. I bought the old building, and it's really neat! It's super old. This building was built in 1866 and was the original church in my town. There's so much history in this church, and I wanted to respect that as much as I possibly could for the former members of this church. They had a final walkthrough, and it was pretty cool to hear people saying things like they got married here. That was neat!
CT: What do you love most about small-batch roasting?
SF: I love how much control I have with it and the amount of manipulation I can put into it. You have to actually use the handle to shift your air and the amount of gas put into it. I learned so much about what not to do and what to do because no matter how many YouTube videos you watch, it's on you to learn a ton from your roaster through direct experience.
Honoring Three Generations of Military Veterans
CT: You have a couple of coffee blends on your website that you named one after your father and grandfather. What was the process like to create coffee blends to honor people so close to you?
SF: My grandpa was a World War II vet, and my dad is a Vietnam veteran. Grandpa Joe's blend is an organic Ethiopian blend that took about six months to cup different coffees and land on a winner. I wanted there to be floral notes in it because he was huge into flowers, gardening, and farming. I also wanted it to be a little eccentric, but not too on the crazy side. So that's where that's why I finally settled on Ethiopian coffee. The blend respects all of these qualities that were important to Grandpa Joe.
My dad is still with us. And, FYI, he hates that he has a coffee blend named after him because he's such a humble guy and doesn’t want to be recognized. He's like, where's this coffee gonna go? I told him it's available to all 50 states on our website. I think he's accepted it. I told him that I wanted to honor him while he is still alive. He's 73, and I want to tell him how much he's made a big impact in my life by doing something like this while he's still with us.
My dad's blend is called Patches because his nickname is Patches. He’s a Vietnam vet, so a lot of people think he got his nickname from being a medic in the Army — you know, “patching people up.” It’s actually because when he ripped a hole in his jeans after returning from Vietnam, he asked his mom to put patches on his jeans so that he could fit in. When he returned back to the U.S., like many other Vietnam vets, he wasn't really accepted. With patches on, he could sort of fit in more, which is interesting. That blend took about a year to develop. It's all organic and fair trade as well.
It’s About Connection: CoffeeTec and Community
CT: Through the help of the Semper Fi Fund, you found your way to CoffeeTec. Can you tell us about your experience selling your roaster through CoffeeTec?
SF: I started in 2017 with a Sonofresco two-pound roaster. So, that was easy to sell. But, selling the Diedrich IR-5 was more complicated. I had so many questions about how to get an IR-5 out the door. Rick Davis (CoffeeTec’s Director of Sales and Operations) was really helpful. In addition to locating a buyer, he made the logistics so easy. He said, “We’ll take care of the crating and shipping. It’ll be easy, don’t worry!” I thought, “Okay, this is no big deal.” So, that was a big weight off my shoulders.
Rick’s guidance was especially helpful because there’s not a lot of people in my area who I can ask for advice on selling and shipping a coffee roaster, you know? I mean, I had to go to my local community’s board meeting to even explain what coffee roasting is. The experience I had with CoffeeTec was extremely professional and really, really helpful. Rick helped me along so I can install my new Diedrich IR-12!
CT: Now that you’ve got your new Diedrich IR-12, what’s next for you?
SF: Operation Coffee is always growing and I’m looking to expand even more than we have in the last year. Long-term goals include expanding the coffee roastery, continuing to serve the veteran community, and adding a retail space to the building. It would be such a pleasure to welcome the community back into this historic church building while selling coffee and benefiting veterans all at once.
CT: How can people order your coffee?
SF: To order Operation Coffee’s custom blends and single-origins while supporting veterans, visit our online shop. We appreciate your support! 10% of all coffee sales benefit the Semper Fi & America’s Fund.
CT: What advice would you give veterans who are having a hard time re-adjusting to life post-military service?
SF: I've been asked this question a couple times, and unfortunately, there isn't just one piece of advice. Every story is different. That being said, find your mission. That would be my ongoing statement. Find your own individual mission. Be a dad, be a brother, or a son, a daughter, a wife. Whatever your new mission is, do that with as much focus and intention as you did it in the military. Even more so. It’s crazy to think that I only served for four years. I wanted to do more but I was injured. But, those four years have molded me into who I am today. So, that's what I would say to people, find your mission, and whatever that is — including mastering the craft of coffee roasting if that’s your thing — go hard at it.
CT: Sam, thank you not only for your service but for what you're doing. You've clearly found your mission, to the benefit of all your supportive customers and the veteran community.
SF: I want to say thank you too, CoffeeTec. Everything that's happened to me these last few months has always been the goal of Operation Coffee: sharing my story so that somebody else who is struggling one way or another can get help.
A lot of people are struggling right now. If they hear my story and find that glimmer of hope, then it’s all worth it. I love that word, hope. That's the reason that makes it all worth it. I can't explain it better than that. Thank you for allowing me to share my story again.
What’s Your Roastery Story?
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In appreciation for Sam Floyd giving his time so generously for this interview, and in support of his mission for Operation Coffee, CoffeeTec is happy to provide Operation Coffee with a Lighttells Moisture and Density Meter to help him analyze his beans for a better roast. Thank you, Sam, for all you do!