For the past 10 years, Larry’s Java Juice Extreme has offered coffee to veterans in the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s canteen. But owner Larry Suggs and his customers said what he offered was something more — a place to gather, to talk with others who’d been through similar experiences, and a spoonful of advice from Suggs.
Suggs’ most loyal customers were angry to learn the Veterans Canteen Service had closed Java Juice down and that it will soon be replaced by another coffee vendor. A few protested outside the VA on Thursday, and many customers signed a petition asking the canteen service to reverse its decision and allow Java Juice to return.
According to an undated memo Veterans Canteen Service Executive Director Joseph Tober sent the VA, the contract with Suggs’ coffee shop ended in December due to unforeseeable environmental safety and logistics issues. Tober, writing from St. Louis, didn’t specify what those were.
Suggs told The News-Review the problem started when the VA re-did the floors in the canteen area in November. Cabinetry at the coffee stand had to be taken apart and mildew was found. Suggs said that was the reason mentioned when he was first told there would be a delay reopening Java Juice, and later that his contract was being canceled. Suggs said that was unfair because the mildew problem couldn’t have been discovered without the cabinets being taken apart, and wasn’t on the surfaces where the coffee was prepared. He said he could have fixed the problem but wasn’t given the chance.
Suggs became close friends with some of his customers, and his shop became a place like a barbershop where people could speak their minds. Sometimes, what they spoke about was their own mental illnesses, and Suggs said he was there to hear them out.
“I don’t claim to be a counselor, I don’t claim to be anything but Larry. I’ve got a set of ears. I understand the veterans of this country,” he said.
Longtime Java Juice customer and veteran George Russell said the coffee shop gave veterans with serious mental illnesses the chance to sit and talk with people that were having the same type of problem.
Russell said he used to spend a lot of time talking with other veterans there, and all of them miss the place.
“It was therapy for a lot of people, and it was ideal. It was camaraderie. We met a lot of friends, still friends even now even though the coffee shop’s not here,” he said.
He said another coffee shop wouldn’t be the same, and the canteen service is wrong to make the switch.
“Everybody here said the same thing that this isn’t right that they did what they did,” he said.
Joe W. Hanshew, another veteran who frequented Java Juice, said its disappearance left a hole.
“When they shut that coffee stand down, it’s not just the coffee stand. It’s him, because the people liked him that well. It’s just like something was missing out at the VA. I mean it was bad,” Hanshew said.
Tober, the canteen service director, wrote in his memo that a new coffee program would be introduced at the canteen at the end of this month.
“This decision in no way represents an adverse reflection of the services of Mr. Suggs coffee services. He has been an outstanding partner building wonderful relationships with many of our staff and Veterans. We are extremely grateful and appreciative for his service over the years,” Tober wrote.
The News-Review reached out to the Veterans Canteen Service, but a spokeswoman said the director needed additional time before responding to questions.