JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One way News4Jax honors local veterans is by showcasing how they make a difference here at home - with veteran-owned businesses. In a tucked away building off Interstate 95 and Baymeadows, there's one business you may not know about, but one you will likely visit once you hear the story of how it all got started.
"With Jacksonville being a very military oriented town with all of our bases here, a lot of veterans and there's that connection between what I'm really passionate about - beer - and what I take a lot of pride in, which is the military service," said Navy Veteran Ron Gamble.
Gamble came up with the idea of Veterans United Craft Brewery. He blended two loves in his life following his navy career and plenty of success as an entrepreneur in the internet world.
"And that's where I came up with this. It's not just veterans. It's Veterans United, veterans coming together. We're passionate about beer and also passionate about our service and what we've done," explained Gamble.
Gamble showed News4Jax the home-brew bucket his wife got him as a Christmas gift back in 1999. While he created, grew, and then sold six other companies -- he fell in love with brewing.
Gamble got trained. He even spent time in Germany to learn the brewing trade. He then asked other veterans for their help. Almost 20 veterans decided to invest in the effort, veterans like Gamble's old boss in the Navy, Bob Buehn.
"Ron Gamble, who is our president [of Veterans United Craft Brewery], was a young naval officer with me in a squadron called VS28 on USS Forrestal out of Mayport back in 1991 during Desert Storm," said Buehn.
Buehn rose to the rank of Captain - serving 30 years. Gamble served 8 years Active Duty, with 4 in the Reserves. The two didn't see each other much after Gamble left the military in 1995, but three years ago, a squadron reunion led the men to share this brewing business idea. Buehn leaped at the chance to get involved.
"I know Ron has
done a lot of significant, successful things, but I don't think he puts any of those ahead of his time in uniform. And that's the way we all feel how we all feel," said Buehn. "It was natural for me, there's no question in my mind and feels so right. If you look at our symbology, our logo, those are Navy wings on there. A number of us that were Naval Aviators that are involved."
As Gamble has said, not only does he have a passion for beer, he has a passion for helping and hiring other vets, like Alex Moldovan.
"It's a lot of labor, it's just wonderful to see the end result. It's extremely rewarding," said Moldovan.
Moldovan is a young brewer at Veterans United. He's also a senior at a Jacksonville University and a Navy Veteran himself.
"I'm the canning line operator, so it's typically making sure everyone is in the right place at the right time. We all have to kind of wear several hats back there, so everybody has their head on a swivel," explained Moldovan. "The cans are coming out like I said, roughly 35 cans a minute.
While he's in charge of the canning line, he says his five-year experience as an Egress Tech on F-18s prepared him well.
"That's actually what I told Ron, I said if I know how to work on an F18, I'm just fine on this canning line," said Moldovan.
Veterans United Craft Brewery rolled out in August of 2014, and as 2016 approaches, Gamble says his start-up seems ready for the next steps.
"My goal is to make this a regional brewery, which means we're all throughout state of Florida and then we start to go into Georgia and the Carolinas and establish a really nice footprint here in Florida as a quality craft brewery," said Gamble.
"The spirit is veterans and military, but, you know, the enjoyment should be across the board," added Buehn.
Some really cool Jacksonville connections to the story: Gamble and Buehn talked about flying an S3 Viking Squadron. It was based at Cecil Field. Buehn says he actually served from all three bases in our area.
And, if you visit the taproom, the walls are covered in memorabilia connected to Gamble and his service, as well as history through the years of all branches of the military. A little bit of living history, if you will.
Veterans United Craft Brewery is located at 8999 Western Way #104, Jacksonville. For more information on events, tours and taproom hours, go to www.vubrew.com. You can also follow the brewery on their Facebook page.