A Veteran’s Life … with Connor Quinn: U.S. Army veteran finding success with new Running Shop and Hops
Paul Rakitin helped start MH’s Veterans Day Run, which takes place Nov. 11
Published in the November 9 – 22, 2016 issue of Morgan Hill Life
By Connor Quinn
The recently opened Running Shop and Hops has quickly become a local favorite for a lot of residents. Even in San Jose people are talking about the running store that carries 54 craft beers on tap. Offering up running-themed flights of beer (try a marathon of 26 different beers) with a rustic and family-friendly ambiance that fits in well with Morgan Hill’s small town and rural feel, it’s no wonder that the place has found success. Many people may not know that owner Paul Rakitin is also a U.S. Army veteran. They probably should. His story is one of sacrifice and success.
I met Paul and his wife Renee last year during the inaugural Veterans Day Run along with Charles Weston, another veteran, although one from the Vietnam era. Together they have begun a tradition that hopefully will continue. I had joined them not to run (I’m lazy) but to play the part at being a medic again. My services weren’t needed last year and probably won’t be needed this year (I’m actually going to run) but, the impression that Paul left on me made me want to participate again.
So after several months had passed and when I needed new running shoes I decided to head back to his little shop tucked into a shopping complex on Dunne and Monterey. It was there that we really got to talking, as he expertly guided me into a new pair of running shoes, and we found out what we had in common. We were both medics in the Army and we had both served in Afghanistan. This was sometime in the spring of 2015 and he had told me of his plans to open up the new store with a bar attached offering craft brews on tap. I immediately thought that was a brilliant idea, since everyone should know that there are 13 minerals that are essential to human life and they can all be found in beer, so for those who like running it makes perfect sense. That last part may or may not be true, but I’m going to live my life — and I think Paul will as well — believing it wholeheartedly. I left there with a great pair of shoes I believe played a tremendous part in me surviving the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I hoped that his dream of opening the Running Shop and Hops would be a success.
Fast forward a year and downtown Morgan Hill now incorporates Paul’s dream, which has become a fast favorite of locals.
Paul grew up in Milpitas and moved to Morgan Hill for a managerial position at the now closed Go Run Sports. After a while he grew tired of working for someone else and decided to join the California National Guard, which is pretty much the opposite of working for yourself. He went on to spend three and half years of service on active guard. He was attached to the 870th Military Police company as a Combat Medic to their 2nd Platoon. He deployed with them to Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom 2010-11 at the same time I was there, although in Khost province. We decided not to go to much in depth about his experiences there since we’ve both found those experiences are more often than not relatable to most people. I think we’ll save those memories for a night when we have less responsibilities and more beer on our hands.
What I think is more relatable is the struggle that comes after a deployment to a hostile country, since everyone is well versed through the mainstream media on the struggles that veterans go through reintegrating back into society. Paul was hesitant to comment on this, which in my perspective is understandable, so I looked to his wife Renee who mentioned that struggle, but explained that it all related to his needing a higher purpose to fill that need. After serving in war as a medic, where literally the lives of others rest in your hands, the loss of that responsibility leaves one with a gap in their lives. It’s a hard life to live and even more so when someone has their own family to look after. As Paul made his deployment to Afghanistan, his daughter, Solstice, was then only 18 months. and son, Dimitri, was born one week before he went off to complete his second half of the deployment.
He has since turned that commitment into creating something that is bigger than himself. While we talked he casually mentions about going back into the service and the regrets about leaving that life behind, but he sees the opportunity here at home to do something for his community, and he’s fully committed to giving back. Most of the beers on tap are local or at least from the West Coast. At the same time he is adamant about exhausting all local resources for his business before looking beyond the city for his needs. While that should bring some local pride to anyone who sets foot into the bar, the real inspiration comes from what he does behind the scenes. While I mentioned the Veterans Day Run he promotes, he and his wife also donate time and material to local charities. These are the small town, small business things that everyone can look at as a good thing. He also pays homage to his fallen comrade Sean M. Walsh who has a nonprofit organization named after him to provide service dogs for law enforcement.
All the good Paul and his family have been doing does come with a price. He said the intense physical and mental strain he was under transforming his section of The Granary on Depot Street into the establishment it is now took a toll. He admitted to having fears that the running part of the new business would take a hit. Instead he has found success with the two blending together. Paul would also like it to be know that the loan he got for his business came from the Grow Morgan Hill Fund, money that would come from and stay in Morgan Hill.
As I sat in there enjoying a blueberry wheat ale that Paul gifted me before rushing off to pick up his kids, I watched throughout the afternoon as the place began to fill. While sitting there I noticed another patron pointing to the post were a bunch of military patches were tacked up and explaining what they all meant to his date. I casually mentioned that if he had a patch to put on the wall they’d offer a $1 off his next beer. He told me that his 82nd Airborne patch was already up there and that he came from San Jose to have a drink here, without knowing that it was veteran owned. It filled me with intense pride in the success of my friend to know that he had created a place that not only was for the local community but also made any veteran who walked into the place feel at home.
My take away and what I hope any struggling veteran takes away from walking into this place is that success will come when you have the truest of intentions, not selfish ones.
Connor Quinn is a U.S. Army veteran currently attending San Jose State University.