Brewing up business

The many skills military veterans bring to the employment table has garnered a lot of attention recently. Employers across the nation are recognizing that the training and discipline necessary to make someone a success in the military can make someone a very good employee in the business world.
Those skills can also help those veterans who choose to go into business for themselves. In fact, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than those with no military experience. Veterans make up nearly 10 percent of the nation’s successful small businesses, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Whidbey Island is home to several successful veteran-owned businesses. Either word-of-mouth or the business directory on the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs website led us to talk with the owners of three of them.
Lincoln Computers, Clinton
Scott Lincoln was a Munitions Specialist in the Air Force. He is a 1969 graduate of Langley High School and returned from his four years of service to join the family plumbing business.
“It was something I had planned on doing,” Lincoln said. “And in the environment I was raised in, it seemed like a good way to make a living.”
Eventually, Lincoln said he had taken plumbing as far as he could. His computer business, which he owns with his son-in-law, Jason Kalk, opened in 1995. He credits the military with helping him learn how to treat people.
“It helped me learn respect and it also gave me a new respect for people who have served in the military,” he said. “I had lived a sheltered life up until that point and it opened my eyes.”
Lincoln said during his time in the Air Force he had worked a second job and that connection to the business world, he feels, enabled him to keep enough of a focus on business that he was ready for it when he finished his service. But times, he said, are different for veterans returning home today.
“The challenges are different today,” he said. “The war I was in was not popular, but the economy wasn’t bad. Now I think returning vets are widely accepted, but the jobs aren’t there.”
Tough economic times for everyone make it difficult to think about starting a new business, Lincoln said. But even in tough times, being a veteran can be an advantage.
“It’s so hard to start up a business,” he said. “But veterans today may have a little leg up with some of the contacts they have now and help with the benefits they’ve earned.
“Take advantage of the opportunities out there,” he continued. “The Economic Development Council, for instance. Do your research. A wing and a prayer isn’t going to do it.”
As far as his own service is concerned, Lincoln said he’s always played it low key. Flags in the window and signs in the store let patrons know it is a veteran-owned business.
“I’m not going to hide it, but I’m not going to flaunt it,” said Lincoln. “It was something I was glad to do, something that needed to be done. I don’t expect any more out of it.”
Coaches Pizzeria, Freeland
For Dave Dillman, who owns Coaches Pizzeria in Freeland with fellow veteran Gary Nau, his military service shaped his life. Dillman was in the Army in 1969-1970, while Nau was in the Marines from 1965-1966. Dillman said his experience in the Army during the Vietnam war taught him valuable leadership skills which have served him well over the years.
“The military taught me to lead, not follow,” he said. “That has carried me through my adult life. The military did everything for me. I regret I didn’t stay in.”
Instead, Dillman took advantage of the GI Bill
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and went back to school. He enjoyed a successful career in business. Nau spent a good bit of his career in retail and restaurant management. Both men moved to Whidbey Island about 11 years ago, said Dillman, but they met just two years ago through the Veterans Resource Center on South Whidbey and struck up a friendship.
Now business partners, the two had a strong vision for their pizzeria, which opened Aug. 10.
“We’ve both coached and been involved with school sports, so we wanted to draw on our association with sports teams,” Dillman said. “We’ve built it around family, that’s the whole focus. Family, kids, military and seniors.”
As customers place their order at the counter, Dillman strikes up a conversation, asking the elderly man if he’s a veteran. When he answers ‘yes,’ the two quickly start trading service stories, although this customer served in World War II. Another gentleman in the group talks about his time in the military as well, and Dillman thanks them for their service.
With Dillman’s service has come perspective, although not from a pleasant source. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, due to his exposure to Agent Orange. Recovered and cancer-free now, he is philosophical about it all.
“It makes you look at your life,” he said. “I’m not afraid to die.”
In the meantime, business has been good and lessons learned long ago and over the course of a career are put into practice every day.
“You’re only as good as your people,” said Dillman. “I’m the coach, mentor, boss, teacher; that’s what we’re trying to do through our business.”
Honeymoon Bay Coffee Roasters, Oak Harbor
Mike Donohoe, owner of Honeymoon Bay Coffee Roasters in Oak Harbor, said he walked away with all kinds of things following his service in the Navy.
“I grew up in the military,” he said. “I discovered my work ethic — I already knew a lot from home — but I learned how to be a good employee. It also helped jumpstart my patriotism; once I was in I realized the sacrifice it takes.”
Donohoe opened Honeymoon Bay four and-a-half years ago. He got a job roasting coffee off-island several years ago and found what he wanted to do. He wanted to explore a career that would enable him to live on Whidbey Island.
“I loved what I did, but I wanted to do it my way,” he said, moving back and forth around his 1979 coffee roaster, which he rebuilt over the course of a year.
He loves what he does, he said, and roasts about 1,500 pounds of coffee each week. At any given time, the shop offers between 19 and 25 different roasts. A small espresso bar offers coffee drinks, cookies and scones. Customers can taste at least six different kinds of drip coffee every day and choose their favorite. Bags of whole beans are roasted, packaged and sold right there in the store, plus Donohoe has a good base of wholesale accounts. In short, he really loves what he does.
“I love the flexibility and I love the customers,” he said. “Coffee is such a social animal. It’s right up my alley.”
Donohoe credits his military service with giving him the courage to strike out on his own in business.
“I think it’s the fact you’re less intimidated by taking a risk,” Donohoe said. “Once you’ve been through some of those challenges you face in the military you tend to believe in yourself a little more.”
He said his Navy experience hasn’t only helped him with his own business, but in other jobs he’d applied for over the years.
“Every job interview I went to, I would tell them I’m a veteran and I never got turned down,” he said. “They know you’re going to be to work on time and do what you’re supposed to do. There’s a big plus being associated with the military.”
If you know of a Veteran-owned business in Kitsap County that should be featured in Veterans Life email the editor at