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Veteran finds peace in running Durham coffee shop, bar

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Matt Victoriano's military background influenced every aspect of his Durham coffee house and bar, Intrepid Life. Matt Victoriano's military background influenced every aspect of his Durham coffee house and bar, Intrepid Life.
DURHAM, N.C. -

From your first step inside Intrepid Life Coffee and Spirits, you know the Durham business is structured from a military mind.

That's because Matt Victoriano's military background influenced every aspect of becoming a business owner.

"I don't want it to be too abrasive," Victoriano explained of Intrepid Life, a coffee house by day and bar by night. "I've tried to integrate the aspects of my military experience in ways that civilians can see and appreciate that don't resemble a VFW hall."

After finishing four years in the Marines as a scout sniper, team leader and chief scout, Victoriano found himself struggling to become involved in his community. That's when he decided, in April 2013, to open Intrepid Life.

The brick-and-mortar business on West Parrish Street opened in January after he built the space himself with the aid of a grant from the city.

"I couldn't work for anybody and that was really a product of that post-traumatic stress and that experience I had in combat and the Marines," said Victoriano, who served in the Army National Guard before training at Fort Bragg. "People didn't understand me and I didn't get along with them. I didn't want to."

He said opening the business kick started his healing process. His own intrepid spirit is told through the surroundings -- right down to the bar, which showcases his and his employees' military memorabilia.

"It's something that draws people in. I wanted them to understand that, so they needed some visuals," Victoriano said.

The coffee also draws in the customers, along with the beer, which is what Victoriano originally wanted to build Intrepid Life around.

"I didn't want a space sitting empty for half the day during the daylight hours, so I came up with the idea of a coffee shop as well," he said.

"I like coming because of the mission that Matt has set up for this place, and the fact that he tries to pay his workers a living wage," customer Rochelle Sparko said. "They have good coffee. They have good beer."

Sparko added, "It's one of the few places downtown that I feel like I can really come and sit and do work."

One of the more unique aspects of his space is a pull-up bar, which is part of the Marines physical fitness test. If a customer reaches a certain goal on the bar, they earn a free drink.

"People come in here and study for hours, and they take breaks and do pull-ups," Victoriano said.

While military stress may have led Victoriano to the business, his military training prepared him for the challenge -- from long hours and disciplined report writing, right down to cleaning the espresso maker.

"Like an M16," he said. "High pressure, high heat when you're shooting rounds off. [Then] you have to take it apart and you have to clean it of all the gunk that's in there or it won't function right."

Some days, Victoriano said he'll be at the business for 18 hours, finding it difficult to balance being an owner and day-to-day manager.

"I'm caught between that struggle of finding myself here and needing time away to focus on growing the business where it needs to be," he explained.

Apart from that struggle and the surprise of expenses that comes with owning a business, Victoriano remains intrepid and wants his customers to "embrace that same aspect and focus on life."

"This space is about coming together and learning."

And the hard work is paying off. He said sales have doubled over the past 2 months.

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Copyright 2014 WNCN. All rights reserved.

Justin Quesinberry

Justin is a reporter for WNCN and a North Carolina native. He has spent the better part of the last decade covering the news in central North Carolina.  More>>

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