Battle Grounds Coffee Co., a Veteran-owned Cafe in Haverhill Has Become a Community Hub.
When Haverhill residents Salvatore and Dana DeFranco decided to open a cafe, they envisioned a place that could serve as a hub for cultural, political and business events, where anyone, regardless of their ideological leaning, age, race or religion could come to talk about ideas, enjoy a cup of coffee and feel comfortable striking up a conversation with someone at the next table. After much hard work, including a major renovation that required a lot of sweat equity, the couple opened Battle Grounds Coffee Co. on Washington Street in downtown Haverhill in September 2016, just a few days after their wedding.
Salvatore, who goes by Sal, is a former Navy SEAL who served in the military from 2004 to 2010. After leaving the military, he worked for a while as a private contractor in Italy, where he spent a lot of time in cafes.
“I really fell in love with the role that cafes play in [Italy’s] culture,” he says. “Everything starts at a cafe; everything ends at a cafe. They are true community spaces. I wanted to bring that back to the United States.”
Before opening Battle Grounds, the DeFrancos reached out to city leaders, business groups, nonprofits and community organizations.
“We asked them: ‘What can we do for you? How can we be a resource and make your organization better?’ By the time we opened, we already had relationships with a lot of people in the city. We were already a part of the community. I think that’s what sets us apart,” Sal says.
In the three years that Battle Grounds has been open, the DeFrancos have actively worked to help local nonprofits and other organizations. “Rather than just letting people come in and use our space, we go out and try to create opportunities for them,” Sal says.
Partnering with a veterans organization, Dana and Sal helped create an initiative in January 2018 called Battle Veterans Homelessness. With the help of Battle Grounds’ customers, they raised more than $10,000 and collected winter clothing and gift cards, which they donated to organizations that work with veterans and their families.
Battle Grounds also hosts an annual fashion show, partnering with local retailers to raise money for various nonprofits. The proceeds from the 2018 event, which was held at the cafe in May and co-produced with Haverhill boutique The Color Mint, went to Operation Delta Dog, an organization that trains shelter dogs to become service animals for veterans.
The DeFrancos have also hosted events for politicians including Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, of Lowell and for candidates from both sides of the aisle running for various state and federal offices.
“We’re like Geneva,” Sal says. “We have had top government officials from every party here. We love hearing both sides talk. That’s democracy.”
“You won’t find any political campaign signs in our windows, and we don’t say no to anyone,” says Dana, who is a licensed occupational therapist. “That’s why people can come here and have intelligent conversations.”
In spite of all the DeFrancos’ community outreach, the coffee at Battle Grounds is not an afterthought. They roast their own beans and sell their coffee at the cafe and online. The cafe also serves bagels, sandwiches, salads and baked goods.
“We’ve met some really fantastic people who have become friends and resources,” Dana says. “Running a business is hard; life can be hard, too. It makes no sense to alienate anyone. A rising tide lifts all ships. We’re all in this together.”
[In February of 2019, after the original article was published, the DeFrancos opened a second Battle Grounds on Merrimack Street in Lawrence. — Editor]
[Update June 2020: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dana has gone back to work full-time at a local hospital. The cafe locations are closed, but you can still purchase Battle Grounds coffee online through their website.]
Battle Grounds Coffee Co.
Haverhill, Mass. – (978) 891-5860
Lawrence, Mass – (978) 655-5465