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The New Jersey Veteran Journal is an official publication of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and is intended to serve New Jersey's veterans, their families, friends and concerned individuals and groups. All correspondence should be sent to:
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Vets Haven to deli ownerBy Spc. Devon Bistarkey, 444th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Navy veteran Troy Cox, owner of Olde Towne Deli and Bagel House proudly displays his wears. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Bill Addison/Released)
When Hurricane Sandy struck, Navy veteran Troy Cox found himself out of a job and homeless.
After serving 20 years and finishing his last tour of duty in Iraq in 2007, Cox was faced with the biggest challenge of his life when he lost his job and residence in Seaside Heights.
With nowhere to go, Cox found himself at the place that has returned approximately 1,000 New Jersey veterans to productive lives – Veterans Haven.
The transitional housing program run by the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs puts its residents on a path to self-sufficiency following a formula of job training and life-skills building. The program originated more than a decade ago with one facility in Winslow Township, Gloucester County and expanded last year to a second location in Glen Gardner, Hunterdon County.
In many cases, veterans emerge from the program with newly-acquired life skills and having kicked alcohol or drug dependency.
In Cox's case, the program gave him a home base and an opportunity to regroup. But for Cox and most other Veterans Haven residents, the most powerful weapon they have is their own ambition.
A few months ago, Cox bought a shuttered building in Clinton, N.J., and turned it into the Olde Towne Deli & Bagel House. He opened and the place is doing brisk business.
"This all started with nothing but a dream," Cox said recently as he handled the busy Saturday lunch rush.
It may have been Cox's dream, but other veterans have joined him on this journey. A team of fellow Veterans Haven North residents helped with the renovation of the eatery and are now serving customers.
"They put their faith in me," said Cox.
Cox said the transition to running a bagel and deli shop came naturally. He grew up working at his family's diner in Indiana.
When asked, Why bagels? Cox's answer is simple, "Why not?"
The focus of his work is equally simplistic. Work hard and give back. His fellow veterans at the shop follow the same credo.
"Being veterans, we dust our knees off and we get up and we go," he said. "That's what we do."
The bagel shop itself remains a work in progress. It's nestled between a florist and a bookstore and still has no sign out front. Even so, the store continues to draw a steady stream of customers through word of mouth and what Cox describes as the best sandwiches in town.
Cox serves patrons without identifying himself or his employees as veterans living in transitional housing.
"I don't want them to feel like they're out of place because they're in a shelter," he said. "They should feel like heroes, because that's what they are."
When asked what the future holds, his answer is simple: "More."
The next challenge for Cox includes plans to expand and focus on giving back to Veterans Haven for the doors it opened for him.
"I am happy to be able to give back," he said. "They've given to me and I'm giving back."
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