'Joe' on the go
Coffee stop serves up gourmet coffee topped with convenience
By Jennifer Casteline Contributing Writer
Keeping service members happily caffeinated is no small order -- especially when that shipment of gourmet coffee is being dispatched from Fort Meade to troops as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that's exactly what Joe White did after returning from service in Bosnia six years ago.
The retired chief warrant officer 2, of the 629th National Guard Military Intelligence Unit, established Just Plain Joe, a gourmet coffee shop that not only keeps the locals caffeinated, but also donates coffee to deployed service members in combat.
Located in a drive-through coffee wagon at 4587 Leonard Wood Ave. in the parking lot of the now-closed AAFES gas station, Just Plain Joe is open Monday to Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The shop is one of three in Maryland operated by White, along with partners Dan Wright, a former sergeant, and Herb Cully, a retired Navy commander. The others are located in Stevensville and Centreville.
"It's fresh tasting," said Don McDuffie, of the installation's Directorate of Public Works. "You get served very quickly and there's the convenience of the drive-through."
In the four months since Just Plain Joe opened here, White is "pleased with business so far," he said. "I think we are developing a steady customer base."
The concept for the business started in 2000 when White was in Bosnia, completing his 24-year career with the Army. While overseas, he had access to only a not-so-palatable local brew made of beans ground into powder and boiled.
He set about attaining a better brew for himself and his fellow Soldiers by writing to a number of coffee companies, requesting they send better coffee.
White received no response.
Undeterred, and armed with a firm business idea and a mission to give back to the troops, White and his partners launched Just Plain Joe as an Internet company in 2002.
Selling only high-end gourmet coffee -- the top 10 percent of a bean crop -- Just Plain Joe has been donating coffee to deployed service members since its inception.
Customers partake in this strong business philosophy to give back to the troops as well. Over the last year, approximately 1,000 packages have been donated by customers and Just Plain Joe alike through its Coffee for Troops program.
"[It's] the little things that make a Soldier's day," said White, who resides in Stevensville.
And minus the creature comforts of home, coffee is one small way -- with its memorable feel-good tastes, aroma and lasting awake feeling one gets from a properly roasted and brewed cup of coffee -- that the business gives back "so that troops know that we care," White said.
So what makes this coffee different from its better-known and, perhaps, more established competitors?
Not only does Just Plain Joe offer 66 unique blends via its online store, but its coffee wagon offers early morning hours, drive-through convenience and a 100 percent, money-back guarantee on purchases.
But that guarantee probably won't be necessary for Jimmy Jones of the entomology department at the DPW, who said Just Plain Joe pours up both a great cup of coffee and "friendly service."
McDuffie, who drove over with Jones, agreed, adding that the fresh taste makes Just Plain Joe "our stop" in the morning.
Lt. Col. Tim Chafos said he enjoys the convenience of staying in his car while ordering.
Sandwiches, salads and flavored coffees are also available at the Fort Meade stop.
Prices generally are comparable to competitors. Regular coffee starts at $1.55 for a 12-ounce cup. A 16-ounce cup sells for $1.75, while a 20-ounce cup costs $1.85. But the shop's best deal may be espresso shots priced at 90 cents for a single shot and $1.35 for a double.
"People really like our coffee," White said. "Once they've tried it, they tend to come back."
For more information or send a Just Plain Joe gourmet coffee package to a deployed service member, visit www.justplainjoe.com and place an order through its Coffee for Troops program. Shipping is free for packages sent to troops selected by White.
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