Helping veterans with his love of food, Army veteran takes traumatized veterans under his wing

Lisa McLean
February 18, 2020 - 10:46 am
Navy Veteran owner of Tin Hut barbeque helps vets

photo courtesy of Frand Diaz

Frank Diaz, 60, has fond memories cooking on the grill with his dad and feeding their fellow military neighbors.  Diaz, a military brat remembers the time when his dad handed him the fork and tongs and let him take over at the grill. “I was eleven-years-old,” he said. “I was really happy.”

Diaz, a disabled Army veteran has spent 33 years serving the military, first in the Army and then as a civilian working as an Anti-Terrorism Specialist for the DOD.

It was his DOD job that brought him to Hawaii where his barbeque business took off. He serviced the bases there and found his passion for cooking and helping his fellow veterans. He liked the concept of the mobile kitchen trailer (MKT) the military uses. He also came up with the name “Tin Hut”, a pun on the military call to attention, “ten hut”. He now has a fleet of trucks in and around Oahu, and feeds service members by the thousands at times.

Frank Diaz, owner of Tin Hut Barbeque
Photo courtesy of Frank Diaz

 

He is especially proud that he sought military personnel’s opinions for his special blend of sauces and spices for his barbeque.

“I would cater events and ask for their feedback on what they liked,” he said. When he lived on the mainland, he had traveled to different states where he learned from the different pitmasters in their areas of expertise.

“My goal was to bring them back their favorite meals,” he said of the different types of barbeque.

“This business was started by military, and is now run by a veteran,” Diaz said.  “It’s what makes it so special.”

Because Diaz knew how tough it could be to overcome trauma sustained in the military, he tried to make himself available to vets in need of help and understanding. One vet who had been suffering from PTSD had asked Diaz to help him to expand his small food truck business.

“He was seeking help from the VA,” Diaz said. “But it took so long. He was in limbo.” Unfortunately, his demons caused him to take his own life before he was able to complete his goal.

Diaz said that even though he had been helping others, this tragic event ramped up his efforts to come to the aid of veterans in need.

“I said I would never let any vet I come across suffer like that—If I have to go pound on some senator’s desk, then I will, and I have.”

Another way he helps is by hiring vets to work at Tin Hut. He finds employees through Facebook, and he has a “no questions asked” policy. Since he started his business in 2015, he has employed around 65 veterans.  He also hires military spouses who need part-time jobs while the kids are in school. Currently he has 11 employees, one of those is his loyal employee, Des Cortes.

Cortes, 27, a Navy veteran, was suffering from severe PTSD when she reached out to Diaz. She had sent him a text because she heard he was looking for people to hire. “He replied within one minute and said I was hired without even knowing me.”

Cortes recounted how one evening she was trying to close the cash drawer after work. It was a Fourth of July celebration they were catering and the explosions from the fireworks were causing her to struggle. She said Diaz saw this and calmly helped her finish her tasks.

“I got your back,” Diaz told her. “He saw me shutting down…and he helped de-escalate what was happening. “ She said she knew then that she was at the right job. It’s been three years since she started working for Diaz and she’s now taken a position as a pitmaster, in addition to her job as assistant manager for his food trucks and his restaurant location.

Diaz said it was his friend’s suicide that pushed him to come up with the idea for his non-profit initiative “Call 2 Duty”. His plan is to open a 205-bed facility next year on Oahu that will help veterans and their families. His plan is to provide counseling, professional training and healing.

“We will house and feed them—for as long as they need,” he said. “And help them to go out in society and be productive.”

Diaz also said they will have psychologists available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. “So if someone has a panic attack during the night, we want to be there for them.”

Sandra Bannan is a repeat customer who had Diaz cater her wedding last year. An Air Force disabled veteran, she said it’s hard to find good barbeque on the island.

Tin Hut Barbeque
Photo courtesy of Frank Diaz

 

“We love all the staff,” Bannon said. And she likes how Diaz helps veterans. “He helps people who need a second chance.”

Diaz is heavily involved with MWR, and he also caters events for churches and schools and gives ten percent of the profit to the organization that hires him.

“I’m a devout Christian,” he said. “And I believe in tithing.” 

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Contact Lisa: lisa@connectingvets.com

 

 

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