Spotlighting Veteran-Owned Businesses & the Men Who Served

To Be of Service

 

When people think of military service, one of the first qualities that often comes to mind is “discipline” – and it’s true that discipline is one of the core tenets of serving. However, it also happens to be a good quality to have when it comes to starting and running your own business. Here, we’re featuring six local veteran-owned businesses founded by men who served, then later channeled their energy into entrepreneurship as part of life after the military. 

 

By Anna Hill / Photography by Rich Smith

 

“Being an entrepreneur is sometimes a difficult path. So, when discipline wavers, my Marine Corps ‘never give up’ attitude kicks in.” 

– Gable Eaton

KANE Industries, LLC


Kermit Hemmert & Matt Payne, Co-Owners

U.S. Marine Corps & U.S. Navy

 

For Matt Payne and Kermit Hemmert, starting their own business was something that just made sense. Both of them were not only veterans, but coworkers in the same industry. Payne had served honorably in the Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance, and Hemmert served as a Naval Flight Officer for 10 years as part of the VP-26 Tridents. The two of them met while working together for ExxonMobil and spent a lot of time together on assignments in places like Qatar, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea. “On our last assignment together, we had a regular three-hour, round-trip commute to a remote well pad in the jungle of Papua New Guinea,” shares Payne. “We loved the complexity of construction as well as the idea of running our own business, and it was during those dusty and bumpy rides that we solidified the backbone of our business plan.”

Hemmert’s ties to the Chattanooga area were strong, so when the pair decided to really commit to starting their business, the Scenic City was the natural choice of location; and thus, KANE Industries, LLC, was established. A licensed general contractor and a licensed heavy construction contractor, the business aims to serve the Chattanooga community and its surrounding areas. “We provide 25 years of experience in proven safe, on-cost, and on-schedule delivery of service and construction-related activities in industrial, commercial, heavy construction, and residential scopes of work,” Payne tells us. “We love being here and are excited by the endless possibilities that Chattanooga and Tennessee provide.”

According to Payne, his and Hemmert’s respective backgrounds have significantly shaped the way that they do business. With a past that includes village gun fights and earthquakes as well as projects to build roads and water sources for communities, prioritizing site safety so that everyone can go home without incident to their families at the end of each day is something that’s very important to KANE Industries’ operations. “At the core of our business, we love keeping people safe, as well as solving challenging problems, meeting or exceeding the customer’s expectations, and solid financial returns on our hard work,” says Payne. “Overall, we love being a part of something larger than ourselves.”

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T&L Group, INC

Terry Garrett, Owner

U.S. Army

 

The journey from Terry Garrett’s service in the Army to the day he started T&L Group, INC, has spanned decades, but it certainly hasn’t been uneventful. “I was drafted and went into the Army February 11, 1971,” Garrett tells us. “I then went through basic and medic training and served as a medic in Vietnam from 1971 to 1972.” When he returned to the United States, he attended college and eventually became a certified biomedical technician. After years of working for Hewlett-Packard and then Erlanger Health System, Garrett started his own biomedical service business. However, while working with nursing homes did influence his decision to start a new business, it was a family matter that served as his ultimate inspiration.

In 2003, Garrett’s brother, Louis, was diagnosed with stage IV COPD. “He was a longtime gardener and found it increasingly difficult to continue the hobby he once found so much value in,” says Garrett. “Seeing Louis lose a sense of purpose and hope, I began trying to develop an alternative to traditional gardening.” Over time, Garrett developed wheelchair-accessible elevated gardens, which allowed his brother to continue his beloved hobby. Once Garrett understood the impact that the elevated mini-gardens he created could make, he established T&L Group, INC, in 2008. “The mission of our business is to elevate the gardening experience by meeting the needs of all people, at any mobility level,” explains Garrett.

Garrett’s elevated mini-gardens can now be found in schools and senior care facilities. “I am able to see a return on my investment – not the monetary benefit, but rather the excitement and joy that growing things can bring,” he tells us. “I love seeing seniors being able to garden again, something that many probably thought they would never be able to do again due to mobility limitations.” Garrett’s past in the military has led him to his desire to help other veterans transition back into civilian life through gardening. “I think there is a great amount of healing that can come from using your hands and connecting with the earth and soil to grow things,” he explains. And as his business continues to grow, he hopes to continue to make a positive difference in the lives of others. 

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Unity One East, INC

Walter Lindsey, Owner

U.S. Air Force

 

After joining the Air Force in 1988, Walter Lindsey served in several roles across his 13-year tenure. Lindsey was a security policeman for nuclear missile and military aircraft sites for seven years before being accepted into the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (AFOSI), where he served as a special agent who conducted criminal investigations and was later deployed as a counterintelligence agent in Saudi Arabia. “While deployed as a counterintelligence agent, I was responsible for obtaining information that would be used in support of the U.S. warfighting efforts in the region,” he explains. 

A Chattanooga native, Lindsey knew he wanted to start his own business here in the city. “As an agent with AFOSI, I conducted investigations which ultimately led to the arrest, prosecution, and conviction of those who committed felony crimes against persons and the government. When I decided to leave law enforcement and return to Chattanooga, my passion and sense of duty remained,” he says. Because of this, Unity One East – Lindsey’s own private security and investigations company – was born. The company employs armed and unarmed security officers, private investigators, and process servers to assist their clients, as well as offers security guard training for those who wish to become officers. “We are licensed in Tennessee and Georgia, and we have started the process to obtain licenses in Alabama and Florida,” Lindsey adds. 

Lindsey’s time in the Air Force gave him the experience that drove him to found Unity One East, but it also informs the way he operates his business as well. “The Air Force motto is, ‘Aim High…Fly, Fight, Win!’ That motto, when adhered to, drives mission success,” he explains. “It must be at the forefront of every thought process. We have a responsibility as protectors to ensure we are well-trained and ready to act when called upon.” And Lindsey loves having the opportunity to answer the call. “I value the opportunity to sit with someone and discuss their needs and work together to develop a plan to meet those needs,” he tells us. “My business allows me to meet people where they are, and provide resources and answers they need in order to help improve their quality of life.”

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Catch Bar & Grill 

Michael Poore, Owner

U.S. Air Force

 

Serving for two years in the Air Force at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas instilled values in Michael Poore that he still implements today as the owner of two successful restaurants in Cleveland, Tennessee. “It certainly gave me the discipline to get up and work my hardest every day,” he tells us. “It taught me about filling yourself with a sense of pride for a job well done. It also gives me a sense of pride to be of service to my community and my employees as well.”

Poore first moved to Cleveland in 2003, and when he did, he noticed that there weren’t a whole lot of dining options around town – and decided to take it upon himself to change that. “We moved into a beautiful old building that we sandblasted and renovated, and saw that downtown needed some good restaurants, so we opened two,” he explains. “One has been open for 11 years, and the other four years.” Poore currently owns both Catch Bar & Grill and Stack Southern Bistro; the former features an elevated fresh seafood menu, while the other features a variety of burgers and handhelds, with a focus on an extensive lineup of bourbons and rums. Opening and running restaurants is something that Poore has a passion for, but it hasn’t been without its challenges. “It’s been difficult during the pandemic, which makes you appreciate your accomplishments even more,” he says. “I’m thrilled when folks from all over tell me ours was the best meal they’ve ever had. There’s just nothing more rewarding.”

Looking to the future, Poore hopes to open a third restaurant some day in or around the Cleveland area. When asked what advice he would give to other veterans who are looking to start their own business, he tells us this: “Apply your military principles to your business in every way. Treat your employees as your greatest asset – in many respects, they’re your fellow soldiers. You’ll spend as many or more hours with them as you will with family. And finally, honor, dignity, and respect are the backbone in business relationships.”

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TeqTouch, LLC

Gable Eaton, Founder

U.S. Marine Corps

 

During his time in the Marine Corps, Gable Eaton – originally from Oakland, California – was stationed in Washington, D.C. as part of the Honors Platoon. There, his main responsibility outside of security was to represent the Marine Corps at ceremonies held at the White House and Pentagon, as well as to bear witness to fallen patriots being laid to rest. “My other responsibilities included honoring and representing our Marine Corps tradition every Tuesday and Friday night with a ceremony commemorating Marine Corps history,” he explains. “Later, I served in the Fleet Marine Force with Weapons Co. 1/6 2nd Battalion, stationed in the Philippines and Japan.”

Fast forward a couple of decades, and Eaton is not only an ambassador for the U.S. Veterans Hall of Fame, but he’s also the founder and CEO of his own business. What started as UTouch, a protective and wearable silicone stylus that was patented in 2016, became TeqTouch, officially founded in 2018. TeqTouch’s wearable devices were created with the intent to protect public health by reducing contact with public touch screens and touchpads while also serving as a unique branding tool. “Moving to Chattanooga in 2017 is what really pushed me,” says Eaton, who now works closely with the city as a supplier. “Being around so many creatives pursuing their vision added inspiration to my already overwhelming sense of mission. I am an entrepreneur, and this is what I do and am driven to do.”

Eaton’s experience in the Marine Corps helped shape not only the way he does business but his life in general. “The discipline that was cultivated there plays a huge role, but even more so has instilled the thought of ‘never giving up,’” he says. “Being an entrepreneur is sometimes a difficult path. So, when discipline wavers – I’m tired, too many disappointments, missed opportunities – my Marine Corps ‘never give up’ attitude kicks in, and it’s time to operate at 100%.” 

As for advice to other veterans looking to start their own business? Eaton emphasizes not only the importance of having a supportive community at your back but also recommends finding a mentor who’s already put in the work. “Surround yourself with creative thinkers and doers, not people who have not created or built anything themselves or actually gone through the process with their livelihoods at stake.”

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Photo by Emily Pérez Long

 

Snapdragon Hemp

Josh Manning, Owner

U.S. Army Reserves

 

In 2008, Josh Manning joined the Army and went into the reserves here in the Scenic City. He served as a wheeled vehicle mechanic for a chemical unit and remained in the reserves until 2018. Manning’s military experience pushed his education as well as drove him through college, and the mechanical knowledge he’d gained taught him a lot about the moving parts of things as well as the importance of problem-solving as a skill – both of which would come in handy when it came to starting his own business.  

After a near-deadly motorcycle accident, Manning was in search of pain relief that wouldn’t force him to rely solely on prescription pain medication, and this began his foray into hemp and CBD. “It helped me with life and offered peace and relief when I needed it,” he explains. “Engineering and curiosity about how stuff works intrigued me into figuring out how to make a good CBD product that would work for me. After a few years of testing, I made a few things and went around to other shops to try to resell, then went to the flea market and sold at a booth until we could open a retail store in East Ridge.” And the rest, they say, is Snapdragon Hemp history. 

Snapdragon Hemp now has four retail stores across Chattanooga, as well as a bakery and production facility. “We extract for local farmers,” Manning tells us. “I love knowing that the quality is top-notch from the grow to the customer, and having a hand in making the best product is the most fun part.” What continues to drive Manning is his love of learning, which is something that he constantly does as he operates and expands business. “Hemp is constantly changing, and new strains are grown yearly; there’s always different techniques to try, new rules, higher standards,” he says. “I love being a part of the new technology and talking with test labs and universities around the country about what we are doing.” Moving forward, Manning hopes to keep product quality up while continuing to open more stores, as well as partner with doctors in providing care and relief to patients. “It’s great to be part of a bigger community,” he says.

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