The Black-owned Crowns & Hops Brewery has been seven years in the making, but owners Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter are just getting started. They’ve taken over the old Morningside Bowling and Recreation Center on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood across from the historic Academy Theater, with grand plans of returning it to its original family friendly hub of the neighborhood.
With a target date of this fall’s football season, the 14,400-square-foot space will feature an on-site brewery, full service restaurant and communal meeting space designed by Ashburn and Hunter as a place for the community to gather and feel welcome, see and feel themselves inside their culture.
“We’re excited to be on the opposite side of Prairie near Crenshaw, where they’re not building as many communal spaces in this neighborhood,” Ashburn tells L.A. Weekly over a cup of hot tea at the nearby Black and women-owned Sip & Sonder coffeehouse on Market Street.
“We can be the first to set the tone for what those family friendly community spaces should look and feel like,” she says. “It was really important for us to come into the neighborhood where Teo was born and reach out to the residents. People don’t always understand exactly what a brewery is, so it was important for us to share with them that it’s not just a space to consume alcohol. We have a community outreach program and we personally went door to door to all of our neighbors that are close to the establishment, introduced ourselves and answered questions they might have. It’s owned by a Black man and a Black woman, and we are part of this community.”
Reflective of the Operation Bootstrap movement launched by Robert Hall and Lou Smith in South L.A., following the the Watts Riots in 1965, Ashburn and Hunter are making it their mission to empower hopeful Black-owned businesses with their 8 Trill Initiative, a development fund dedicated to generating opportunities for Black-owned craft beer brands.
“When the pandemic hit and (the) murder of George Floyd was witnessed by the world, it caused us to investigate why there are these huge disparities in America,” says Hunter, who served at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “As entrepreneurs, it led us to focus on solutions that we could come to for us and others as well. We read a journal called A Business Case For Racial Equity that was written by the W.K. Kellog foundation, and in that document they talked about that if we focus on racial equity today, by 2050 the country stands to see an impact of 8 Trillion dollars to the national Gross Domestic Product. That changed a conversation that was only around diversity and inclusion to really be centered around equity. Equity is the tide that lifts all ships. Once we understood that, we were able to change our language about how we spoke about diversity and inclusion. We found a different way to approach the entrepreneurs – not just in the craft beer industry – that were struggling.”
As part of that solution, the award-winning Portland, Maine-based brewery Allagash Brewing Company and Crowns & Hops Brewing Co. have launched their collaboration beer, Cur-8. Hitting shelves this month at the start of Black History Month, Cur-8 pairs the crisp flavor of Crowns & Hops’ 8 Trill Pils pilsner with notes of bourbon, vanilla and oak from Allagash Curieux. Proceeds from sales will go to the 8 Trill Initiative.
In a competitive business environment like the beer industry, the initiative is about lifting up Black business owners and uniting the community. A force for good.
“As entrepreneurs, there’s so much we don’t know about owning a business,” says Ashburn. “Sure, we do it for the love and the passion, but there are simple, structural things and key pieces you need to know to be successful. Funding is only part one, it’s the entire ecosystem – sales, distribution and creating more spaces where we can live inside of craft beer and support each other.”
“Crowns & Hops is the case study,” adds Hunter. “What we do through our example is ultimately create a curriculum for what it means to establish racial equity that anybody can duplicate. There’s a reason why out of 10,000 breweries, less than 1% are Black- owned. A lot of that has to do with the generational wealth that has been built in this country, and access to capital and lack of information. If you’re not exposed to the formula, it’s just not going to be successful. You have to actively go and search out that information.”
The couple’s keen sense of community in Hunter’s hometown is evidence that they are part of the revitalization of Inglewood and not the gentrification of the city. Crowns & Hops has been welcomed by Mayor James Butts and Cinder Eller-Kimbell, senior community affairs liaison for Inglewood Police Department, who they credit for “doing God’s work by keeping her fingers on the pulse of the community,” bridging any tension between local police, residents and business owners.
“We have to be activists in our industry and there’s a lot of work to be done,” says Hunter. “With the unfortunate murder of Tyre Nicols, it’s a constant opportunity for us to be able to have thorough conversations about what needs to change. In that, there is this relationship that exists not just with us as business owners, but our patrons as well. If our patrons get a sense that they are being over policed and don’t want to step out of their homes, if they feel there is a relationship with the local police department in terms of insuring that they are safe and they can come back to their homes safe and be in their establishments safe, the dynamic changes. It’s a relationship beyond a business owner and the police department, we’re talking about something that is a government and people conversation. Our goal and our mission is to create a space to have that conversation; we have to be able to speak candidly about our concerns and what we’re passionate about and the things we’d like to see change in the community in a community space. In other neighborhoods you see these communal spaces on every block.”
Asburn says those spaces are vital to keep having these conversations often and consistently.
“What we’re creating is a central place for the Black and Brown community to go,” she says. “We’ve always been here and a big part of craft beer culture. We now have a home. A home for more diversity and seats at the table.”
“And, if that table isn’t big enough, we’ll build a bigger one,” Hunter says in his best soothing Barry White voice.
This article first appeared at LAWeekly.com