Starbucks controversy prompts coffee shop fundraiser

RYAN HUTTON/ The Eagle-Tribune Dana and Sal DeFranco hold some the coffee they've been shipping all over the country after pledging to give half the profits of all their online sales to the charity Concerns of Police Survivors.

HAVERHILL — A downtown coffee shop started by a former Navy SEAL has poured itself into controversy over the treatment of a half-dozen police officers at a Starbucks on the other side of the country.

Salvatore and Dana DeFranco, owners of Battle Grounds Coffee Co., reacted to the July Fourth incident in Tempe, Arizona, with an online fundraiser that has since foamed up like steamed milk.

Battle Grounds is splitting profits from online sales of coffee beans and merchandise with Concerns of Police Survivors, a group dedicated to helping the survivors and co-workers of police killed in the line of duty.

A Facebook post drawing more than 1,100 reactions, and shared nearly 800 times, is turning into sales from across the country. Dana DeFranco said her staff can barely keep up with orders. Since announcing the fundraiser, they’ve shipped to every state and Canada.

Sal DeFranco said he was horrified when he learned what had happened to police officers who stopped at a Starbucks in the Phoenix suburb on Independence Day. On their way into work, the officers purchased drinks and were standing together when a barista reportedly asked them to move because they made customer felt unsafe.

“It was disheartening,” DeFranco said. “At Battle Grounds our mission is heavily focused on supporting all of those who serve, including police, fire, EMTs and military past and present.”

Starbucks has since apologized, saying it has “deep respect for the Tempe Police Department” and apologizing “for any misunderstanding or inappropriate behavior.”

Apart from its name and menu — serving “Dark Ops” coffee, for example — the 3-year-old Battle Grounds Coffee has modeled itself as a local resource for veterans. Its two locations, in Haverhill and Lawrence, regularly host events for veterans looking for work or training, or who are seeking services such as health care or housing support.

Like many fast food businesses, it extends discounts to emergency responders and members of the military.

In May 2018, Sal DeFranco spoke to more than 400 injured law enforcement officers in Texas, telling them he knows what it’s like to suffer a debilitating injury and the importance of remaining optimistic. He described the severe injury he suffered while crossing a street in San Diego in 2008. It was just a week before his second deployment to Iraq.

He was in a coma for three weeks, and it took him years to recover.

While Sal and Dana were packaging coffee for an online order at their Haverhill shop on a recent afternoon, in walked a Boston homicide detective, Paul Chevrette, 51.

He’d seen a story about the coffee shop on the television news, he said, and made the trip about 40 miles north from Roxbury to buy coffee for an upcoming vacation.

“Bigger than the … fundraiser, what really touched me was that someone took the time to correct something that was wrong,” Chevrette said. “Good deeds should be rewarded. And, as a law enforcement officer, it’s important to me that someone took time to do this.”

The DeFrancos also reached out to the police department some 2,300 miles away, shipping three pounds of specially sourced, meticulously roasted coffee beans.

Mike LaBella writes for The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Mass. Reach him at mlabella@eagletribune.com

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