Fallout from a racial discrimination lawsuit is worsening for Founders as Detroit area bars and a major event sever ties with the Grand Rapids-based brewery.
Marble Bar, UFO Factory, Standby, the Skip, and all four Bobcat Bonnie's locations say they've stopped serving Founders beer in the wake of the suit filed against the company last year. Ferndale Pride, for which Founders was a sponsor this summer, will no longer accept the company's support because “they’re not in line with our values as an inclusive festival.”
Outstate, Spartan Spirits, an East Lansing liquor store, announced Tuesday on social media that it had pulled the company’s products from its shelves. Ollie, a bar and restaurant in Ypsilanti, has also stopped selling Founders products.
The suit filed last year on behalf of Tracy Evans, a former Founders manager who was terminated, alleges the company fostered a racist work environment in which white employees used the "N" word and office equipment appeared labeled for use by whites or blacks. Evans was previously involved in a Deadline Detroit show.
Most of the decisions to stop supporting Founders follow the release this week of a stunning deposition in which a manager at the center of the case appeared to try to use color-blindness as a legal defense. In his sworn testimony, Dominic Ryan, general manager of the brewery’s Detroit outpost, claims he’s unaware Evans is black because he doesn’t “know his DNA.”
Marble Bar dropped the company last year, when the allegations of racism surfaced. Co-owner Rafi Blake says it was a no-brainer.
“It’s just not that hard of a decision to drop a beer company that doesn’t apologize for racism in an 80 percent black city, and really — period — but it’s especially sensitive in the city of Detroit,” he said. “Founders never came out and made a statement after this all developed, they didn’t do anything to improve their relationship with the Detroit community. In reality even before those allegations came out … they never involved themselves in any aspect of the Detroit community.”
The Skip and Standby, two downtown cocktail bars under the same ownership, made the decision Tuesday and offered this statement:
Our loyalty is to our fellow service industry professionals, our guests and our staff. We understand that our vote is with our dollar and we want to spend that dollar with companies who operate with integrity and champion their community and their employees.
Bobcat Bonnie's owner Matt Buskard said Wednesday that locations with any remaining Founders products would sell them for $1 a piece to burn through supply.
Founders declined to comment and would not share how many total accounts it lost this week.
The company has faced mounting criticism in the days since Ryan’s testimony came to light. Eastern Market Brewing Co. said Monday that would no longer participate in this weekend’s Detroit Fall Beer Fest if Founders was involved. Founders today voluntarily backed out.
Evans said he appreciates the businesses' support.
"It is overwhelming knowing so many different individuals support you and really take notice of some of these things that have been happening,” he said.
“I don’t know how [Founders comes] back from this,” he added, referring to fallout from his case.
Detroit manager doesn't 'assume anything'
In his testimony, first published this week by Metro Times, Ryan refuses to acknowledge Evans is black, asking for clarification as to what that means and eventually concluding, “I don’t know Tracy’s lineage, so I can’t speculate on whether he’s … if he’s from Africa or not.”
The company later issued a statement saying that “Mr. Ryan was simply saying that he does not assume anything about individuals’ race or ethnicity unless they tell him that information.”
“While it might be acceptable to speculate about this type of thing in casual conversation, Mr. Ryan was not having a casual conversation,” the statement said. “He was under oath when he made these statements. As all deponents are instructed, Mr. Ryan was directed not to guess, assume or speculate in his deposition.”
Founders has said it fired Evans based on his job performance. The case is set to go to trial next year.
Two additional downtown Detroit bars will also soon no longer serve Founders, though for different reasons. Grand Trunk Pub and Checker Bar began winding down their relationship with the brewery after it announced a Spanish company was buying a majority stake in it. Tim Tharpe, who owns both bars, says his goal is to support Michigan beer and Founders no longer fits the bill.
Jack Thomas contributed to this report.