How a veteran's side hustle morphed into a flourishing coffee business

Coffee has fueled Luke Schneider’s career, which began in the U.S. Navy when he served as Damage Control 2nd Class Petty Officer, and continues to fuel his post at the Rockford, Illinois Fire Department.

“I started drinking coffee when I was in the Navy working long hours and long shifts to stay awake,” said Schneider. “Coffee was a necessity, and when I got out of the Navy, it was the same in the fire department. You drink a lot of coffee, and it's essential at every fire station.”

Coffee evolved from a necessity into a hobby, thanks to his wife, Emily. Schneider told FOX Business that the two of them would spend weekends venturing into different cafes tasting freshly roasted coffee. The couple shortly thereafter began roasting their own beans and gifting their blends to friends and family. Schnieder created his own "fire department blend" which sparked the idea for his company Fire Department Coffee.

“I made this fire department blend, and I talked Emily about starting a company that was focused not only on supporting firefighters but also on providing a quality coffee that’s not just for firefighters,” said Schneider.

Schneider launched Fire Department Coffee (FDC) in July of 2016 at an 800-square-foot facility at a strip mall. Schneider soon connected with his company’s future vice president, Jason Patton, via social media through Patton’s satirical "Fire Department Chronicles" on Facebook. Patton is a firefighter in Florida and explained that he made a video ahead of an impending hurricane when he was stuck in a fire station with 30 other firefighters.


“I put a video out about how coffee was going to stop us from murdering each other, and us and someone tagged Fire Department Coffee in the video,” explained Patton. “Then Luke sent me some coffee, and I tried it, and the stronger I made it, the better it tasted which most coffee brands can’t do.”

Once the two men met, they connected and Patton not only became an FDC board member, but he also became vice president of the company.

“Our morals were so blended, and we got along so well that we said, ‘This should be the company that people look at, that first responders look at, and know that's the company that I want in my house,’” said Patton.


Schneider told FOX Business that FDC ran into a lot of early challenges to keep up with demand.

“We had 10-15 people working 24/7 on a 5-kilo roaster pulling three shifts to keep up with orders, and we often slept on sleeping bags to take power naps between roasting and shipping, and also nonstop hoping that our roaster didn’t die out,” said Schneider.

They also both had full-time jobs. “Our full-time job is out there being firefighters and this is also a full-time job on top of that,” said Patton.

Patton and Schneider said they applied the same grit and determination that they take to the fire department to their business.

“Giving up is not really something that has ever been on our mind and we love this. We love when there's a challenge; it gives us an opportunity to overcome it,” said Patton.

“The fire department is a paramilitary organization, so in the military, they stress attention to detail. It's the same way in the fire service,” explained Schneider. “You sometimes get one chance to do a job, and if it doesn't get done right, somebody’s life could be at stake for it. So we take it very seriously.”


Their perseverance paid off, and FDC was able to expand and hire more employees. The company moved into a 3,200 square foot roasting facility in Rockford, Illinois, and acquired 60-kilo and 30-kilo roasters, in addition to their original 5-kilo roaster. Schneider told FOX Business that their current capacity is 4 million pounds of coffee a year.

Keeping true to the spirit of helping others, FDC started the Fire Department Coffee Charitable Foundation. It benefits first responders and their families, and the company donates 10 percent of the profits to the foundation.

“There’s very little support in helping firefighters and first responders who suffer both physical and mental injuries, and our foundation is working to address all of them,” said Schnieder.

Both Patton and Schneider tell FOX Business that their company is about community both in an outside of the fire department and that they look forward to seeing it grow in the coming years.


“Coffee is what brings people together it is that consumable product that brings people together, whether it be around the table at the fire department or around the table at home,” said Patton. “We hope Fire Department Coffee can do that for everyone.”

To learn more about Fire Department Coffee watch the full video above.

Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and reporter for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.