Opinion: Capitalism works in the Capitol

There are three Senate office buildings.   

They stretch up Constitution Avenue running away from the Capitol itself.  

It is a considerable distance from the farthest office building, the Hart building, to the actual Capitol. This distance can be covered either by walking outside when the weather is nice, or by taking a tramcar that runs between the buildings.  

If you prefer, you can walk underground through a labyrinth of tunnels and hallways.

In one of these hallways, across from the Senate barbershop, is a little coffee and sandwich shop called “Cups.”

For years the Senate food service — which was run and owned by the Senate at the time — attempted to operate this coffee shop.  

It lost money. It served lousy coffee, and few people went there.   

Someone in the Senate management, to their credit and the benefit of the American taxpayer, decided to lease the location.

Kathy and Charlie Chung won the contract, and have been running the business since 2001. They are first-generation immigrants from Korea who had run another coffee shop on Capitol Hill, but not as part of the Capitol complex.

“Cups” is difficult to find. It is in the middle of one of the endless basement corridors, which weave through the Senate office buildings — somewhere in the Russell building — and it has no significant signage or easy accessibility.  

Still, Charlie and Kathy have managed to take a place that had lost money when it was run by the Senate and turn it around.    

It is a successful and, one presumes, rather profitable business.

Kathy is irrepressibly friendly and upbeat — and there all the time.  

Charlie, who has a degree in architecture, works incessantly to make sure the coffee shop is supplying what customers want, for food and atmosphere.  

Sometimes, but not often, Kathy lets Charlie take a day off and go fishing.   

He has never caught anything, at least according to Kathy.  Wives say things like that.  

They have two very talented children. Their son went to Johns Hopkins and is becoming a lawyer. Their daughter went to Virginia Tech.

It is a simple coffee shop in the basement of the Russell Senate Office building.   

It is also a definitive statement that President Obama, when he says small business-people do not create their success, when he says government does, is wrong.  

The government could not make a success of this location or this business.   

It took two committed people who put their whole selves into working tirelessly to make their small business a success and give the numerous people they employ good jobs.   

It is a statement about what works in America and how our country remains the best place on earth to realize one’s dream.  

There is a lot of irony here.

If you are touring the Capitol someday, or just wandering around trying to get the attention of Congress about the importance of small business and entrepreneurship, stop by  “Cups.” 

Get a coffee and thank Kathy and Charlie for being very visible reminders — people who the senators and their staff see every day — that we are a nation that is constantly reinvigorated by people who immigrate here, work hard, take risks and create small business and jobs.  They are the people who keep our “can do” spirit alive and pulsating in spite of a government which, in Kathy and Charlie’s case, is literally “on top” of them — in spite of a president who dismisses their achievements.

Also, bring your GPS, so you can find your way back to wherever it is you are going, or came from. Otherwise you may never leave the maze of hallways that make up the Senate office complex.

Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.