How Mat Best, Jarred Taylor, Evan Hafer, and their band of brothers, changed the world one grind at a time.
(As a fair warning, for those readers who may be more sensitive to foul language, this article, as great of a story as it is, may not be for you. Please keep in mind, the culture of the veteran community tends to be unfiltered and more than often, less than politically correct. You’d drop the f-bomb more often too if you spent the better part of your life in a warzone being shot at…)
For more than a decade, I have watched the Black Rifle Coffee Company (BRCC) empire rise on social media. What most don’t know is that this multi-million-dollar company and currently Starbucks’s biggest competitor, started through a chance encounter on a meme and video-sharing Facebook page. The page served as the meeting place for a fated duo, who would go on to create a community of veterans that would change America’s caffeine-obsessed landscape. What amazes me though, is it was never really the plan to brew up a coffee empire. It just happened—or did it?
Most know Mat Best for his unapologetic patriotic shenanigans online, his often less-than-PC viral videos, his borderline crude comedic songs (most recently, a rap song, “Gun Shop,” that hit number five on the international Hip Hop download charts), his much-more-serious New York Times best-seller book Thank You for My Service, and/or as the face of BRCC. When I first encountered Mat at a SHOT Show party BRCC hosted, my prior misperceptions of him as a class clown were quickly squashed. Amidst the raging sea of open bar chaos, the epic poolside rap battles, and celebrity-laden crowd, stood a much more quiet, semi-sober, and slightly introverted Best, doing his best (no pun intended) to talk with strangers and friends alike, while maintaining a semi-professional appearance (or maybe he was just hung over from the night before…). Either way, I had an ah-ha moment, the proverbial “This guy is the smartest guy in the room” realization.
Today, I am sitting at a patio restaurant table in Boerne, Texas, with Mat, his father, good friend Mason Mainz, owner of Montechema Firearms and the adjoined BRCC coffee shop, Mat’s physical therapist Zack and his father, and my wife Natalie.
Long before BRCC’s generation of veterans, our brave returned home from the battlefield longing for the comradery of the frontlines. After WW2, our GIs hit our shores and felt lost, so they did what most vets do: they found other vets—and with that, communities formed. The same held true with Vietnam. Some found a home at their local VFW, and some found a sense of belonging in newly formed biker clubs. Today, the call of the outlaw lifestyle is still alive and well, but the wild open roads are now digital, and thus a band of internet outlaws formed.
Meet Jarred Taylor, former Airforce Technical Sergeant.
Jarred is a creative guru, a social media genius, a master networker, eccentric to say the least, with an uncanny knack for name-dropping the most random C-level celebrities you’ve never heard of. I mean who has thought about Danny Cooksey since Nickelodeon’s, Salute Your Shorts in 1991? Jarred has, that’s who.
So where is this headed? How did Best and Taylor connect? You guessed it— the internet. “I always liked making people laugh; I also play guitar. While I was enlisted, I would make up stupid songs to entertain people at the bars. Funny thing is that I’m really introverted,” Best says. “Later, I started making these moderately popular internet videos and at the same time following the page. I sent the admins a DM hoping they would share my video and told them I was a former Ranger. I got a quick response back, and all it said was: ‘What Battalion?’ I thought to myself the guy knows his sh*t, so I responded, ‘Two-Seven-Five’ and sent him a photo of me in my uniform. I got another response back and all it said was, ‘Call me.’”
The admin was Jarred.
“I was skeptical at first, he could have been some 60-year-old woman looking to hook up with me, but I said f*ck it and called the number anyway. Jarred answered and immediately started running his muck about this Little Bird (MH-6M Helicopter) he had access to in El Paso and wanted me to fly down to meet him,” says Best.
“Walking into Jarred’s garage, there’s a couch, empty bottles of booze and beer, and a full photography set with a green screen. You walk into his living room, there’s his pregnant wife and a drum kit, keyboard, and amp, no furniture. You walk past that, there is his master bedroom which I did not go into, and then an office with a computer and couch from Craigslist. That’s Jarred Taylor—he’s weird as f*ck. He looked at me like: ‘We are going to change the world,’” Best says in a slight whisper to draw me in.
The two began making videos together and as both hoped, they went viral. One of the first videos produced was a rap battle entitled Navy SEAL vs Army Ranger. It amassed over 4.2 million views. From there, more and more videos were shot, aimed at the veteran community, collecting at least a million views each.
Next, came Article-15 Clothing.
“We were getting big on the internet, but no one really knew us outside of our videos,” Best says. “So Jarred decides we need to have a public event. No one showed up… well maybe like 12 people.”
But as fate would have it, one man did, Vincent “Rocco” Vergas. “I served in Ranger Battalion with Rocco. He was hilarious so we began writing him in to our videos. At that time, he was in Special Operations in Border Patrol. We convinced him to leave his job and start this t-shirt business with us that Jarred and I had come up with,” Best says. “It was literally three military buddies, that now looking back on it, had no f*cking plan. The business model was Jameson, hilarious videos, and really good design work. That’s all we had.”
“The thing with Jarred was, I would tell him my crazy ideas, and he would listen. I always thought I was a lunatic because no one ever understood me, but I say this in the humblest way, I am a visionary. Jarred was the first person in my life who would pour me a drink and say, ‘Tell me more.’ He believed in my creativity. That was the gasoline that created all of this. He truly believes in people when no one else believes in them. I would say, ‘I think we can,’ and he would say, ‘No, I know we can,’” relates Best with a grateful tone.
The company did seven figures the first year.
While all of this was happening, their online following was rapidly growing. Here was the concern: Mat was still serving our country as a contractor overseas with a few close calls under his belt and edging closer with every deployment towards becoming a statistic. “I swear it was like Jarred did it on purpose. I was riding a horse for a video we were making between deployments, and he flew this drone over me. It spooked the horse, and it bucked me off shattering my arm and knee and put my teeth through my lip. I was supposed to go to my weapons requalification process that week, and I couldn’t do it because of my injuries,” says Best. “While I was recovering, we were in North Carolina doing an event. On our drive home, I looked at Jarred and said, ‘I think I’m done contracting,’ and he calmly said, ‘Call your office and quit, you’ll be fine, take the risk.’ So, I did and suddenly, I was a full-time entrepreneur,” Best says with a grin.
Then came Evan Hafer, a former Green Beret.
Best received a random email from Hafer about meeting up and getting to know each other. As it turns out, Hafer served in the same contracting community as Best and through a series of connections, a mutual friend said they should meet up due to similar interests. “I ignored his email. But in true Jarred Taylor fashion, Jarred jumped on a plane to meet this random guy in Seattle,” Best says with a shake of his head.
“Jarred ends up linking up with him, and we all become friends. We worked on two separate businesses together that went nowhere, but in this process of Evan figuring out what he wanted to do with his life, he realized that above all else, he was a coffee roaster at heart. He asked if he could roast coffee for our apparel company as a secondary product line. We said sure, let’s try it.”
Article-15 Dark Roasted Freedom was born.
The first 300 bags sold out in days online, and customers kept asking for more.
“Evan called us a few months later from Salt Lake City, Utah, with a business plan: Black Rifle Coffee Company—named after his two favorite things in life—his service rifle and a good cup of coffee. He said, ‘What do you think?’ Jarred and I said, ‘Let’s f*cking go.’”
For two years, Best, Taylor, and Hafer promoted the business through online viral videos with no agreements in place other than their friendship. Eventually, Best and Taylor realized that the coffee business was what they wanted to do with their lives too. “For the fourth or fifth time in our lives, Jarred and I threw all our stuff into duffle bags. Jarred left his wife and kid (moving them out to Utah later). At that same time, I was engaged. I told her that I was calling it off. I left my entire life behind except one rucksack and drove to Utah to start BRCC,” Best recalls.
Hafer had skills at roasting coffee and the business knowledge; Best and Taylor had the internet savvy and marketing skills. “Evan could do more in one day than many of the other guys I worked with in the past could do in six months. It inspired me to become focused. A guy like me is like a nuclear bomb: I can either power a city or blow it up. Evan took my energy and harnessed it,” Best says.
“For the first three years I had to constantly fight the perception that I was just a face,” Best recalls. “I fought forever to get people to believe that I had a business sense about me. Even as we started to make things official with operating agreements, I had to convince some that I was more than a one-trick pony—not Jarred or Evan but some of the other guys involved. After we signed the agreements, one day later, I dropped the biggest video of my career.”
Best drops – How to be an American.
When the video hit, it was getting a million views per hour. The video amassed a staggering60 million views; breaking the online store and causing BRCC to sell out of everything they had in inventory. “That is when I publicly drew a line in the sand. I said we support law enforcement, we support veterans, we are pro-second amendment. We set the world on fire. The amount of hate that came in from the left was insane, but the amount of support that came in from the right was equally mind-blowing. That video defined what our brand stood for,” Best says with conviction.
Around that same time, Starbucks announced that it was going to hire 10,000 refugees from predominately Muslim countries. Naturally, Best did what he does best, he made a joke of it. “Evan made a meme of ISIS members holding Starbucks cups, and I said ‘send it.’ Also, we announced that BRCC was going to hire 10,000 veterans. I remember after we posted it, refreshing the page, and watching it. It had 800 likes, it had 6,000 likes, it had 15,000 likes, and then it spread like wildfire. National news started calling, and if we weren’t viral enough, we just went nuclear,” says Best.
BRCC hits Wall Street.
On February 10, 2022, BRCC went public on the New York Stock Exchange. “We had a group of people who believed in us, who procured a large amount of funds to create equity in the business that allowed us to IPO,” states Best summating a long confusing financial process. “For those interested in exactly how we did it, Google ‘SPAC.’”
If you were watching the company closely like I was, there seemed to be a double bell ringing ceremony and like most things BRCC, there is an epic explanation to why the IPO celebration happened twice. “I am never getting vaccinated. No f*cking way. Also, New York City was requiring me to wear a mask. I was like, ‘I am not wearing a f*cking mask when I ring the bell, they could kiss my ass. My morals and values are far more important to me than some photo on the New York Stock Exchange.’ And while some went, I stayed back with my people, and we held our own bell ringing ceremony here in Texas,” Best says with conviction.
Come for the Coffee, Stay for the Culture
After spending several days around Mat, Jarred, and just a fraction of the BRCC tribe, one thing was more than apparent. Their wild success is not so much due to the greatness of their coffee or even the viral videos but rather the value they have placed on community and their loyalty to it. Their acceptance to all who want to join them, their undying support for those that support them, and their absolute love for our country and the men and women who fought so bravely to give them the opportunity to live out their American dream, are things that can’t even be put in words.
I left inspired. I left proud to drink Black Rifle Coffee. I left even prouder to be an American. Jarred was right, they were going to change the world—one sip, one cup, and one person at a time.