Bars cut ties with Grand Rapids brewery

A variety of Founders Beer for sale in Bay City. (Sam Philpot/Associate Editor)

By Samuel Philpot, Associate Editor.

BAY CITY – Ever since Tracy Evans, a former employee of Founders Brewery, filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the Grand Rapids based brewery, trouble has been on tap for the company.

Last year, Evans filed a lawsuit against Founders stating that a racial slur was thrown around casually at work. He also stated how there were two printers, one labeled “white guy printer” and another labeled “black guy printer.”

Amidst the controversy following Evans’ lawsuit and leaked deposition transcript, multiple bars across Michigan have pulled Founders beer from their taps.

Most establishments don’t want to be connected to the controversy over the lawsuit, even some bars in Chicago have pulled Founders from their stock.

More so than just not selling the beer anymore, other places have begun to cancel events. WhichCraft Taproom in Midland cancelled its event that was to be held on Saturday, Nov. 2. The event was a Founders Stout Brunch and Canadian Breakfast Stout release party.

For unknown reasons, Real Seafood Company in Bay City cancelled their Nov. 7 event “Founders Brewing Co. Beer Dinner.” The manager declined to comment on the topic.

“If I was manager, I’d sell the stock I have and not restock,” says Tyler Morse, bartender at Tiffany’s Food & Spirits in Frankenmuth.

However, not every bar is denying Founders entirely. Some are giving their profits off of Founders beer to charity, some are hosting raffles for large quantities and some are continuing to sell the beer and waiting to see what will happen with the lawsuit.

Some advocates for the brewery continue to stay loyal patrons.

“I consider myself a loyal customer of Founders products,” says Benjamin Mertz, a craft beer drinker from Grand Rapids. “As of now I have no intention to withdraw my business from the brewery.”

Mertz has still noticed a definite change in reputation for the Grand Rapids based brewery.

“Grand Rapids is a progresssive city, and many of its residents hastily jump onto these ‘Social Justice Crusades,’” says Mertz.

In lieu of the rising protests, Founders closed their Detroit taproom indefinitely. They also cancelled all of their events, such as the Canadian Breakfast Stout release on Nov 16-17. Refunds will be made and they plan on continuing the Grand Rapids event.

On Oct. 25, the Founders director of diversity and inclusion, Graci Harkema, resigned from her position in the company.

In her statement, Harkema lamented that “your actions have explicitly shown you are more interested in the optics of my face than the impact of my voice.”

“This is a lucrative business, so for her to stand up and walk away from it, that shows she has a real understanding of her morals,” says Carlos McMath, director of diversity and inclusion at Delta College. “It’s a struggle to go against a cultural mind frame. It’s taking down a thought process. […] The business is one person’s mind frame, and that’s what you’re going up against.”

On Oct. 31 a statement was released that showed a settlement has been reached between Founders and Evans. However, the terms of the agreement have not been disclosed.

In their statement, Founders said that “this serves as an opportunity to place our full attention on the work we now have to do, as a company of more than 600 dedicated team members, to rebuild our relationships.”

It is still uncertain as to when Founders will reopen their Detroit taproom and events will get back on schedule.

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