Veteran-owned coffee shop breaks stereotypes for female veterans

Veterans Voices

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — There’s something about a coffee shop that pulls you in.  It might be the tasty drinks or the cozy couches.  At Sweet Beans, it’s the smiles you’ll see behind the counter.

Nearly 10 years ago, Mallory Rugg started working as a barista when her husband first enlisted in the Army.  She loved it.

“I said, ‘I just figured out what I want to do for the rest of my life, and I don’t want to work for anyone else doing it,’” Rugg, co-owner of Sweet Beans, said.

But first, she felt called to serve and joined the U.S. Navy in 2012, working as a fire controlman. That’s when she met her friend, Heather Amodeo.

“Her husband and I had the same job,” Rugg said. Their families became close.

“We would sit on the front porch and I would tell her about my dreams, and I was going to make it happen and she goes, ‘Yeah that sounds amazing, I’d love to do that.’ I go, ‘Yeah you should do it with me,’ and then they got stationed in Hawaii,” Rugg said.

As luck would have it, both families moved to Norfolk in 2017.

“She was like ‘Are you serious about the coffee shop?’ I was like ‘Yeah I am,’ and then we hit the ground running,” Amodeo, the co-owner of Sweet Beans, said.

Rugg finished her enlistment.  Still working on the Navy base as an instructor, the two women got to work.

“It was so much harder than I anticipated,” Rugg said.  “I wasn’t prepared for how every single bank would want something different in the business plan.”

“It would be endless nights of just working on the business plan, working on what we needed to sell, how we were going to sell it, and it was just hair-pulling sometimes,” Amodeo said.

Finally, they got a loan and found their current spot, not far from NASA Langley. They opened in May and already have loyal customers, some who are surprised to hear their story.

As a female and veteran-owned business, Sweet Beans is somewhat of an anomaly; however, Rugg and Amodeo believe that stereotype is changing.

“There’s still kind of that idea that a woman veteran is different, you know, and with her and with Heather, there aren’t very many pairs of women who are stronger than those two,” said Rugg’s husband, Ron.

Rugg and Amodeo are determined to help other women, giving them advice on how to start their own businesses.

“If you are so passionate about something and you feel like you have something you can sell, then exhaust all outlets,” Amodeo said.

The women are paying it forward, using their training, their story, and their voices to inspire female veterans and beyond.

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