They gave everything for their country, but veterans continue serving their community through their businesses.
Roughly 9.1 percent of U.S. businesses are veteran-owned, and there is no shortage of them in Arizona. Here are three veteran-owned businesses thriving in the Scottsdale area.
The G.I. Joe Coffee Company blends and sells coffee nationwide, donating a portion of its sales to veteran-related programs. Its CEO and founder, Tony Hudson, founded the company to provide a means of giving money back to veterans in need.
“Specifically those veterans who are disabled, the veterans who are disadvantaged, and also the veterans who are differently-abled,” Hudson said. “That in turn helps to affect their family as well.”
A graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and a fighter pilot of 10 years in the military, Hudson has partnered with several nonprofits, including the AirPower Foundation.
The company anticipates opening up kiosks and coffee houses around the states, enlisting the help of veteran and non-veteran supporters to run the chain. In fact, at least 100 people have reached out to the company to express interest in owning a franchise. Similar to the coffee’s packaging, the franchise will invoke a 1940s feeling, when patriotism was at its highest, according to Hudson.
In addition, Hudson is also working on a nonprofit that transitions veterans back into civilian life, with the help of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families out of Syracuse University. At the nonprofit, called G.I. Joe Coffee Project, veterans will learn the ropes of the coffee business, from brewing the perfect cup to managing a franchise.
“What we want to create is this network of coffee houses, coffee kiosks, and also the capability for us to train and also create careers for those veterans and those non-veteran supporters,” he said.
Paula Pedene, a Navy veteran who served for 12 years, has worked in the public relations department the V.A. Hospitals for years and also runs her firm part-time.
She was also one of the whistleblowers exposing the actions of the leaders and of the wait times at the Phoenix V.A. Hospital, the former causing her to lose her status in the PR department and be placed as a library clerk for two years.
“When I was in the library, I was trying to rebuild my reputation, and I thought, ‘I could do PR on the side and I can open my own business,’” she said.
Though her situation with the hospital finally came to an end, she had already moved forward in 2013 with running her own firm after her corporate work hours, donating her time to the Honoring Arizona’s Veterans and serving as the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade event coordinator. But she still works with the V.A.
“I believe in the mission,” she said. “For every bad story you hear, there are thousands of good people that are just doing a great job taking care of our veterans. I think our Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do more to tell those good stories and get them out there.”
Though the business has faced some hurdles and bumps in the road like many small businesses starting out, it has won three Silver Anvil Awards from the Public Relations Society of America, and Pedene has found herself at the crossroads of whether she will take the firm full-time.
“The reason I’m at the crossroads is because I love what I do with the V.A.,” she said. “I am just so proud to serve our veterans, and I am very passionate about that. That makes it hard to leave. For right now, the base that I have is just fine.”
A hidden desert gem, the Forum Cafe has charmed Scottsdale with its home-style cooking for nearly 15 years. Headed by Carmello and Olivia “Oli” LoCurto, the cafe offers catering, vegan options and American and Mexican breakfasts and lunches.
Carmello LoCurto served the military for 20 years as a chef, serving up to 1,000 soldiers three times per day. For him, cooking is a passion he developed that stood out, making him a recipient of several cooking awards and elevated him in his career with the military.
“I grew up poor and I grew up hungry, and when I was in high school, I took up a cooking class,” he said. “I just fell in love with it.”
His passion took him to serve citizens misplaced by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 where he served hundreds, if not thousands, of people everyday with his team for two months.
Though large competitors pop up around them, the cafe continues to be successful; Carmello credits his success to the military, saying it helped him adapt, learn to face new obstacles and be creative.
But one of the benefits to having a smaller restaurant is the cafe treats its customers like family; many customers are regulars, and the Locurtos make it a point to get to know them and reach out if they haven’t seen them lately.
“It’s more than a cafe to us,” he said. “It’s like family.”