Samantha Weigel/Daily Journal
Former U.S. Marines Nick Kakis and Jon Barton catch up over a glass of “Courage,” an IPA made at Warfighter Brewing Company in San Carlos.
Of the many theme bars and microbreweries in the Bay Area, Warfighter Brewing Company stands proud and decorated in San Carlos. The wall-to-wall collection of military memorabilia commemorates those who’ve served the country and will inspire any patron who walks in the door, said Jon Barton, founder of Warfighter Brewing Company; plus, they’ll get to taste some deliciously refined beers.
Barton, a former U.S. Marine sergeant, takes pride in his recipes and ability to create jobs for veterans. There’s a lack of venues that provide veterans with a place to reconnect and share their stories with civilians, Barton said.
“We were always saying, ‘hey, where can we go and hang out?’ We found local bars but didn’t feel inspired to get back to that level of bonding … . [Warfighter] gets veterans out of the corner, out of the shadows,” Barton said.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Barton joined Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marines; a reserve infantry dating back to World War II. Located in San Bruno, Echo Company activated during Operation Enduring Freedom and was deployed as part of the first combat troops to push from Kuwait into Iraq in 2003 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom 1, Barton said.
For those who’ve served in the military, returning home from combat can be difficult. Many struggle to find employment, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and lose touch with their comrades. Barton has made it his mission to help those struggling to replicate the bonds of wartime and successfully reintegrate into society.
“It’s a bond built on honor, integrity and courage; and we will always be in it together. Those bonds are hard to break, but they’re also hard to replicate outside that structure,” Barton said.
Warfighter Brewing Company started in 2011 before expanding in February to the 6,000-square-foot warehouse that includes a tasting room, pool table, televisions and video game consoles, an inflated golf swing simulator and a retail shop that sells coins, model planes, helicopters, clothing and accessories made by veteran-owned companies.
Warfighter beers are named after military leadership traits and principles, Barton said. He has about a dozen regular and several seasonal brews; such as Honor, an IPA; Courage, a red ale; Pride, his crowd favorite bourbon vanilla cream stout and the gluten-free World War II inspired Battle of the Bulge, Barton said.
Former U.S. Marine Nick Kakis spent most of his military career alongside Barton. Irresponsible drinkers created a stigma around soldiers and alcohol use; but Warfighter is primarily about providing a safe and welcoming place to socialize, not just about beer, Kakis said.
Promoting other veteran-owned businesses and using his brewery to strengthen ties to civilians will create more jobs for veterans, Barton said. He’s currently waiting to finalize permits, so the public will have to wait for Warfighter Brewing Company’s Nov. 10 grand opening, Barton said. The San Carlos Chamber of Commerce held a function at Warfighter in May and Echo Company gathered there to celebrate its 10-year reunion in August, Barton said.
“As soon as [I saw] them, all of this camaraderie and brotherhood, it was like there was never anytime apart. It was like everything was back to normal for once. In terms of dealing and coping with the combat stress, being at that reunion with my brothers, there was no stress,” said former U.S. Marine Leo Ortiz.
Ortiz was injured in Iraq and suffered from shell shock when he returned home. When he first reconnected with Barton, he was homeless and out of work, Ortiz said.
“Jon just looked at me very serious, very stern, and just told me ‘you’re going to come work for me’… . If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know where I’d be today. He’s not a selfish guy, he’s always looking out for the Marines to the left and the right of him,” Ortiz said.
Barton founded Tactical Media Group, a consulting company in the film industry that assists writers, directors and actors, such as Tom Cruise and Kristen Stewart, in replicating authentic weaponry techniques and military dialogue, Barton said.
He was able to create 250 jobs for veterans through Tactical Media Group, but still felt it wasn’t enough, he said. By employing fellow comrades, hosting reunions and selling veteran-made products, he hopes his brewery will encourage other veteran-owned business, Barton said.
“These guys don’t just want a check, they want an honest day’s pay,” Barton said.
Many of those he served with have gone on to careers in public service, such as police and medical personnel.
Ortiz now works as an administrator in the department of anesthesia and perioperative care at San Francisco’s General Hospital and Kakis has just received his paramedic license.
“We don’t quit serving when we take the uniform off, we keep serving even after we’ve left the military,” Barton said. “These are Bay Area heroes who are doing great things even 10 years later.”
Warfighter Brewing Company is located at 360 Industrial Road in San Carlos. For more information visit warfighterbrewingcompany.com.