Don DiFrisco is in his early 60s, and he’s noticed a trend among his fellow Boomers: they’re retiring. Let’s just say that isn’t on the radar for Don.
By day, Don is the CEO of TSS Solutions, a defense electronics engineering and manufacturing company that specializes in the operations, repair, reengineering, and upgrading of land-based tactical radar systems. It’s the second surveillance technology company he’s founded. By night, he’s the Owner & President of Hell n’ Blazes Brewing Company in Melbourne, Florida, primarily handling the brewery’s finances and interacting with guests.
“There’s an old military adage,” Don says, “you don’t quit when you’re tired… you quit when you’re done.”
Don joined the Army in 1982, and spent 5 years as Sargeant of a special intelligence unit. After returning to civilian life, he worked his way up the corporate ladder in various finance roles. He eventually launched his first surveillance technology company, which he sold in 2014. That’s when what he calls his “intentional accident” happened.
Don wanted to do something fun with his three sons, and he’d recently had a call with a former employee of his who was now running a beer distribution company in Florida. The former employee told him to look into craft beer, which was just beginning to become more mainstream at the time. One year and 16,000 renovated square feet of a purchased property later, Hell N’ Blazes Brewing Company was born.
Don’s place in the hospitality industry may come as a surprise to some, given his background. But therein lies a valuable lesson, in his opinion: veterans shouldn’t shoehorn themselves into thinking they have to work construction or first-responder jobs.
“Education is key,” Don says. “The G.I. Bill is so good right now, so veterans need to take advantage and continue their education. There is no limit to what they can do.”
With a trio of Master’s degrees on his resume, plus a pair of successful defense companies and now a craft brewery under his belt, Don is living proof that any path is possible. He may run a craft brewery, but heck, he isn’t even that into beer—he says he’s more of a whiskey guy.
Beer fan or not, after running the brewery for nearly a decade now, he’s come to love the hospitality industry and sees it as a logical landing spot for fellow veterans.
“Discipline, organization, leadership, the tenacity to work through problems… these are all things you learn in the military that come in handy in hospitality,” Don says. “There are little problems that pop up every day, and you need to have the tenacity to work through those problems, all while preserving people’s feelings.”
Those skills also came in handy during the COVID-19 pandemic when establishments in Florida were only allowed to operate if they served food. So, Don and the team added food service. It was a calculated risk, but it paid off. And as Don has learned, the hospitality industry is one big calculated risk.
“It’s a low-margin industry, so you better know how to control costs and every tool you have better be able to help you see and understand your cost margin,” Don says. “But it’s a great industry—it’s fun and it’s social.”
On Veterans Day, we honor those who have served our country for their courage and selflessness. We also recognize the struggles that many face when they return home, and commit to doing our part to support our troops as they begin the next chapter of their lives.
We recently spoke with the owners of veteran-owned businesses to learn their stories and to share their views on how to make the transition from the military to the hospitality industry.
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