Terri Griffin is looking for ways to expand the reach of his coffee shop, Blue Max Coffee, into Chicago’s competitive roasting market. So far, he’s developed a cult following in Afghanistan.
A group of U.S. soldiers stationed in the northeastern mountains near the Pakistan border have been communicating with Griffin for several weeks after finding the Forest Park business owner on the Web. The soldiers belong to an attack helicopter battalion within the 101st Aviation Regiment that, decades ago, was dubbed as Blue Max.
“They Googled me,” Griffin said of the initial encounter. The soldiers were interested in how the coffee shop got its name. “Blue Max is the biggest Husky you’ve ever seen,” Griffin said of an affable pet belonging to the store’s previous owners. “Why do you ask?”
In the course of exchanging e-mails and friendly barbs with a soldier known simply as KC, Griffin began sending care packages with coffee, hats and T-shirts from his shop. Before long, KC declared that the two Blue Max operations belonged to one another.
“When do we get to fly the helicopter?” was the response from Griffin’s staff.
Though the baristas may not get the chance to pilot a chopper, there is talk of traveling to Nashville, Tenn., when the soldiers return to nearby Fort Campbell for a face-to-face meeting over barbecue and, presumably, coffee.
About 12 months ago Griffin traded his career as a floor trader at the Chicago Board of Trade to run the small but popular coffee house on Lathrop. He grew up in Colorado Springs near the U.S. Air Force Academy and roots for the football team there. He is friends with a Vietnam veteran and, through an online role playing game, is acquainted with another soldier serving in Iraq.
While some might say there are plenty of political debates to have regarding the United States’ presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Griffin said when it comes to the soldiers he’d rather put such things aside. He’s optimistic that his customers will do the same and support a small fundraising effort that will go toward purchasing toiletries and other necessities for the Blue Max soldiers.
“This isn’t political. This is human,” Griffin said of sending care packages. “They’re Blue Max. We own them. They’re our company and we’re their company.”