News & Politics

This Couple Is Having an Easier Time Selling Guns Than Coffee

A new store in Virginia aims to sell firearms and coffee. Guess which part of the business is having regulatory problems?

Kevin and Tammy Jones at Bullets & Beans. Photo by Jeff Elkins

The first things you see when you step into Kevin and Tammy Jones’s new business are semi-automatic rifles on the wall and a glass case of handguns. But another key component is missing: cappuccinos, smoothies, and organic baked goods.

Bullets & Beans—which the couple opened in August in the Loudoun County hamlet of Hamilton—was designed as a hybrid coffee shop and gun store. Except, for now, Bullets & Beans can sell only one of the items in its name. In this corner of Virginia, it turns out, it’s less complicated to get permission to sell guns than to sell coffee.

Bullets & Beans’ location in a former bank gets credit for the combo concept. Kevin, a web developer and firearms instructor, decided earlier this year that he wanted to open a business that sold guns and provided firearms-safety and self-defense classes. The former Farmers & Merchants National Bank building, dating to 1910, seemed perfect, thanks to an old-school vault with double doors and six inches of steel. “We probably have the smallest inventory of anybody in the county but the highest level of protection,” Kevin says.

Tammy thought it was perfect for something else, too: When she saw the checkered marble floors and teal walls, she immediately thought of a coffee shop. Although nearby Purcellville and Leesburg have several gun stores, it would be a challenge to find a decent latte in Hamilton. She figured coffee would complement the business nicely: “If you think about hunters, what is the first thing they do? They grab their gun, their ammo, and their coffee and they head out to the woods.”

Problem is the building is zoned for retail, not food and drinks. Getting around that rule is tricky. For one thing, a restaurant isn’t allowed next to residential property without a special-use permit from the town council. For another, local regulations require the coffee shop to have parking—something the bank building lacks.

Guns, though, were a different story. “Retail is retail,” Kevin says. “It really doesn’t matter if it was a comic-book shop or toy company or antique shop.” Though there was some community pushback because an elementary school is a few blocks away, Kevin says he had no issues getting the gun-shop and firearms-instruction permits from state and federal regulators.

Ultimately, the goal of the coffee shop is to make the gun side a little less intimidating to customers. The Joneses want to appeal to the person who may have inherited a gun from a grandparent but doesn’t quite know what to do with it. “I’m not really intimidated by the weapons—I’ve grown up around them,” Tammy says. “I walk into a gun shop and I kind of feel uncomfortable. I think females are kind of put to the side.”

While the couple waits for a permit and parking allocation from the town council, the coffee space is occupied by some beanbags and a PlayStation for their seven-year-old and his friends. Down the line, Tammy envisions the kind of place where moms can hang out while their kids watch a movie. If everything goes as planned, it will eventually be outfitted with couches, chairs, and tables plus wi-fi. They imagine acoustic music during the week. They hope it will be a destination for coffee in and of itself.

“Getting your beans is the important part,” she says. “It’s a big decision to make.”

They plan to offer a range of coffees and roasts. “Just like with firearms,” Kevin says, “every customer has a different requirement.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bullets & Beans sold automatic rifles. They sell semi-automatic rifles. 

This article first appeared in our October issue.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.