How Coffee Saved the Life of a Navy SEAL


In 2008, before his second deployment to Iraq, Navy SEAL Sal DeFranco was hit by a car and sustained a traumatic brain injury. The trajectory of his life was dramatically altered. Little did he know how coffee would help his recovery and lead to a different path of serving the community. 

Coffee as the Catalyst

DeFranco’s recovery period was fraught with challenges; like needing to relearn basic skills, bouts of forgetfulness and all the other hallmarks of traumatic brain injury.

Due to his injuries, DeFranco was unable to serve in any capacity and was discharged from the Navy. As many disabled veterans can attest, the loss of so much at once often leads to depression and is a significant factor in the high rates of suicide among veterans. DeFranco wasn’t an exception.

Thankfully, an encounter with a medical doctor, a former SEAL himself, led to a life-altering, and perhaps surprising, remedy—coffee.

“After I started drinking coffee, things got better. I was happy and energetic again. I started hanging out at cafes, which was good for me to be around people and interact. From there, my passion for the cafe scene and coffee industry grew. It’s not a stretch to say coffee saved my life.”

Country, Community and Coffee

Ignited by his commitment to continue to serve, DeFranco and his wife created Battle Grounds Coffee. Choosing to go the more controversial route, the DeFrancos stick to whole bean coffee.

DeFranco says there is a method to the madness. The complex flavors and aromas in coffee are created by volatile compounds, which dissipate quickly once it’s ground. Whole bean stores better and lasts longer - meaning the taste is preserved. 

In addition to offering up premium roasts like Hold Fast, White Knuckle Espresso, and Treason (the brand’s decaf brew) the DeFranco's opened a brick and mortar cafe in Haverhill, MA.

“We are a family owned business that cares deeply about our community. Battle Grounds serves as a place for people to discuss ideas, build relationships and create business. In our community, we are the tip of the spear.”

DeFranco is all about community and giving back. And this also applies to his advice for military in transition or job-seeking veterans.

DeFranco’s Top Tips for Transition

  • Do as much market research into the industry you’re interested. The world is a competitive place and you need to give yourself the edge by arming yourself with knowledge. The more prepared you are, the better you will do. Informational interviews with subject matter experts or seasoned professionals in your desired field will be immensely helpful.

  • Before you enter into a business with your spouse, clearly define the roles each of you will have. At the end of the day, someone is going to need the authority to make a command decision. A married couple must be able to separate their business relationship from their personal relationship.

  • Look inward for motivation and continually strive to be the best version of yourself you can be.  

  • Surround yourself with intelligent, creative people. You want a network of reliable people who are there when you need assistance.

For 2018 and beyond, Battle Grounds plan to build more cafes throughout Massachusetts. Commitment to their community remains in the forefront for the DeFranco's. That, and a delicious cup of coffee. DeFranco is proof that you just never know what a good cup of joe can do for you.

Elizabeth Anne Hamilton is an Army Brat, Ret, and very proud of it. She is a published author and book marketing specialist, with successful NY Times Bestseller campaigns and Amazon Bestseller campaigns under her belt. Continue the conversation with her on Twitter @pookiegalore. 

-- Sean Mclain Brown can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @seanmclainbrown.

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