BY MARK MATHOSIAN
I concur wholeheartedly with Mr. Galloway’s comments. If you are a veteran or have an interest in our country’s military history, you should visit Richard’s Coffee Shop in Mooresville, North Carolina. Richard’s is not your typical café – it houses a living military museum honoring America’s veterans. Here is information you need to know from Lieutenant Colonel John Hedley, USA, President of a non-profit organization operating Richard’s.
Army veteran Richard Warren founded Richard’s as a gourmet coffee shop about 20 years ago. Warren was a combat pilot in Vietnam who flew a Huey attack helicopter with the call sign “Mustang 53.” In the early days, the coffee shop was known as Pat’s Gourmet Coffee Shop. With his military background, Mr. Warren extended a warm welcome to all veterans and began a tradition of providing free coffee to veterans every Thursdays, with that tradition continuing today. In 2009 Mr. Warren passed away from complications of exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. The coffee shop temporarily shut down but re-opened in 2009 with the name Richard’s Coffee Shop, in honor of Mr. Warren.
Over time, word spread that Pats, and then Richard’s,was a veteran friendly place. From the beginning, military veterans and family members of veterans brought in personal military memorabilia to put on the walls and shelves to be shared with all coffee house patrons. Today, these personal effects have grown into quite a collection.
“We have many photographs, weapons, unit plaques, uniforms, and unique one-of-a-kind items, such as an original copy of a document from the Japanese surrender during World War Two. We also have items from Adolf Hitler’s personal desk. People bring in memorabilia to share so that family members can be memorialized. Everything we have has been donated and that gives us a direct emotional connection to our donors. We hold the materials for them and will be happy to return them upon request. We consider ourselves a temporary holding facility,” reported Mr. Hedley.
At first Pat’s Gourmet Coffee Shop started out small, however, over time it outgrew its facility. Hedley said they found a new location for the coffee shop in downtown Mooresville, “across the street from the original Pat’s in a location that was the heart and soul of Richard Warren because out the back door was the site of the house in which he passed away.” They made an offer to buy the 5000-square foot building and spent “about 12months raising over one hundred thousand dollars, primarily through the efforts of our vets.” The grand opening for Richard’s Coffee Shop was held over Armed Forces Day weekend in May of 2012 with much fanfare, including a meet-the-author social.
Joseph L. Galloway, coauthor of a popular military book about his time in Vietnam, “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young,” spent three days at the coffee shop greeting fans and autographing over 500 books with profits going to the museum. Galloway is a steadfast supporter of Richard’s. “The Welcome Home Veterans coffee shop and museum in Mooresville is a living testament to the strong bonds that bind veterans of all our wars together as brothers and sisters. Here, any veteran can find a warm welcome, good company and a free cup of coffee. It is also a symbol of all that is good and right about small-town America,” Galloway said. Galloway and his wife try to stop by Richard’s at least once every month to enjoy the warm welcome and the fellowship.
Today, Welcome Home Veterans Inc. Living Military Museum at Richard’s Coffee Shop provides adequate space for coffee house patrons, military memorabilia, and social events. The museum and coffee shop remain a gathering place for veterans. Social events are regularly hosted, including musical events and book signings by authors. On occasions you can hear great country, bluegrass and traditional music played by local entertainers.
You may be wondering why the words “living military museum” are in the coffee shop’s title. I asked Mr. Hedley about that. His answer was direct and sincere. He explained that the “living” part comes from the fact that when you visit Richard’s you will usually meet one or more of the veterans who gather there daily. Memories and stories are shared amongst themselves and with visitors. Hedley also says you should bring children along because honor and courage cross generations.
For a thorough understanding of this unique establishment, I encourage you to visit Richard’s website. There is also an entertaining music video on YouTube that was shot at Richard’s. The website is welcomehomeveteran.org/ and the video is at youtube.com/watch?v=Ouzqp_m3Nn8.