June 27, 2022



‘Starbucks of the right’ Black Rifle Coffee is expanding its footprint in Houston suburbs

4 min read

Shortly after 8 a.m. on a drizzly Wednesday, two employees at Black Rifle Coffee in northwest Houston threaded a large American flag, then a Texas flag, onto a pole outside the coffee shop and hoisted it up toward the dark-gray sky.

The cafe and store, which had its grand opening on March 26, is the latest brick and mortar outpost for Black Rifle, a veteran-owned, Utah-based company whose tagline is “serving premium coffee to people who love America.”

The menu features your typical nitro cold brew and cortado offerings, as well as specials like the camo latte, a blend of “Irish cream, green mint and smokey oak barrel that is balanced with espresso and milk.” Food items include a combat kolache and a tacti-club ciabatta sandwich.

The coffee shop has an adjoining store with Black Rifle coffee and merchandise. Shoppers can grab a Chemex pour-over or a hand grenade mug. Or a 12-ounce bag of Silencer Smooth light roast, Thin Blue Line medium roast, Freedom Fuel dark roast, or perhaps an AK-47 espresso blend. Or even one of the many t-shirts, including one with a black rifle overlaid on an American flag, the same design worn by the Jan. 6 Capitol rioter known as “zip-tie guy,” whose Black Rifle cap helped the FBI track the Tennessee man down.

Black Rifle Coffee has been portrayed as the Starbucks for conservatives, a moniker founder and CEO Evan Hafer doesn’t mind. “If you’re pro-freedom and pro-United States, people automatically label you as that,” he told Chron. “If that’s the way people want to characterize me, based on my love for my country, so be it.”

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A former Green Beret and CIA contractor who brought his own roasted beans when serving overseas, Hafer started Black Rifle as an online-only, direct-to-consumer coffee seller in 2014 with the aim of tapping into the veteran community. He was tired of West Coast cities like San Francisco, Seattle and Portland driving the coffee culture, he says. The stereotype of the politically liberal, coffee-snob hipster tends to dominate the craft caffeine world. “That was my pushback, you don’t have to buy into that,” he said.

The first year, Black Rifle did $1.2 million in coffee sales. The second year, it did $8 million. In 2021, its net revenue totaled $233.1 million, a 42.2 percent increase year-over-year.

Black Rifle Coffee Company in Houston serves camo lattes and combat kolaches.

Black Rifle Coffee Company in Houston serves camo lattes and combat kolaches.

Black Rifle Coffee Company

Today, Black Rifle is more of a lifestyle brand than just a coffee company. Hafer says apparel drives between 10 to 15 percent of its gross revenue. Its Coffee or Die Magazine, which currently has journalists reporting from Ukraine and was profiled by Nieman Lab, launched in 2018. The first physical coffee shop opened in fall 2020 in Salt Lake City, near the roastery.

Through these ventures, Hafer says he is “building an ecosystem for the veteran community.” Black Rifle’s pro-military and pro-law enforcement message has stretched its reach further, though, garnering support from Fox News commentator Sean Hannity and former President Donald J. Trump. As well as at the U.S. Capitol riots in 2021, Black Rifle apparel has appeared at the anti-lockdown and anti-Black Lives Matter protests that marked 2020.

Kyle Rittenhouse, who fatally shot two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wis., was seen in a photo wearing a Black Rifle t-shirt when he was released on bail. (Hafer put out a statement saying the company does not “have a relationship” with the teenager.) 

“The Black Rifle guys are not the evil that everybody makes them out to be,” J.J. MacNab,  a researcher on extremism, told the New York Times. “But they’ve closed their eyes to some of the evil that takes their humor seriously.”

Opening coffee shops around the country, both corporate-owned and franchises, was always the end goal for Black Rifle, and Houstonians are about to see a lot more of them. “Texas is our primary focus,” said Hafer.

After the Salt Lake City location, Black Rifle went on to open 18 more stores to date, including nine in Texas, and in other states like Georgia, Oklahoma and Tennessee. By the end of 2022, there will be between 20 and 25 total brick and mortars, more than half of them in Texas.

More Greater Houston stores are in the works, according to Hafer, including one around the same area as the franchise’s first location on FM1960, whose opening date will be announced imminently.

Hafer explains that direct customer feedback made it clear to them they had to establish a presence in Texas. The team analyzes subscription and purchase data as well as the brand’s social media engagement to target very specific communities where Black Rifle already has an established, high-density customer base. Once they’ve narrowed these places down, they look at available properties in the area to decide where to plant roots next.

This customer-led strategy led Black Rifle to open its first Houston-area location right off Highway 6 in unincorporated Harris County, near a collection of cul-de-sac-dotted, master-planned subdivisions called Copperfield.

The entire coffee shop is papered in wall wraps of armed men in tactical gear, while a TV mounted in a corner broadcasts videos of more armed men in more tactical gear.

Black Rifle offers a 10 percent discount on the entire store to veterans, active military and first responders. On Wednesday during the morning rush hour, a man with an American flag shirt and a red (unmarked) cap walked out with to-go coffee and a 12-pack of cold brew cans. Minutes later, two armed men, clad in all-black and sporting Houston Police Department Special Response Group badges, engaged the counter staff in conversation.

As more locations open, the Houston suburbs could become a counter-culture hotbed in response to the so-called “latte liberal.”

“Just like any pendulum, it starts to swing the other way,” said Hafer.

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