After several days of silence, Founders Brewing Company announced in an email to ticket holders early Friday morning that it is canceling its Canadian Breakfast Stout (CBS) beer release at the Detroit taproom and closing the Detroit location “until further notice.” The company cites concerns over employee safety at the Cass Corridor taproom.
Founders has faced mounting criticism this week related to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed in 2018 by a black former employee Tracy Evans. On Monday, a transcript leaked of a deposition by Founders Brewing Company’s Detroit general manager Dominic Ryan. Evans alleges in the claim that the company mishandled multiple racist incidents at the brewery’s Grand Rapids and Detroit locations. Evans claims that he was passed over for promotions despite being more experienced than other candidates and fired after filing a complaint with human resources. Founders argues that Evans wasn’t discriminated against and was fired for poor job performance.
Ryan, who allegedly took part in Evans’ firing, stated in the leaked deposition that he did not know if Evans was black and did not know the race of public figures such as Barack Obama and Michael Jordan.
A tipster provided screenshots of the CBS party cancelation email. The message was also shared by recipients on Facebook beer forums. Founders Brewing Company writes in the email: “In light of the recent events and, more importantly, out of concern for our employees’ safety, we have decided to close the Detroit taproom from Friday, October 25 until further notice.”
This was scheduled to be Founders’ final release of CBS ever. The brewery announced in August that in conjunction with its acquisition by Mahou San Miguel in Spain, it was discontinuing the CBS label. The Grand Rapids CBS release will go forward as planned and Detroit ticket holders will receive full refunds, according to the message. A wider release of CBS will go forward on Friday, November 1. While details were not provided regarding the “concerns over employees’ safety. Eater has reached out to Founders for more information.
A person identifying themselves as a Detroit taproom employee Heather O’Brien shared a post calling for a protest to the Detroit Fall Beer Festival events page on Facebook on Thursday afternoon. The flyer asks community members to “Join Founders Detroit Employees in a peaceful protest to address discrimination against Minorities/LGBTQ+/Women in the workforce. We are committed to the community and here to set things straight.”
The demonstration is set to take place near Founders’ Detroit taproom at the intersection of Charlotte and Cass Avenue at 11 a.m. on Saturday, October 26. Eater has reached out to O’Brien for further details. O’Brien writes in her post that employees have faced threats resulting from the turmoil at Founders this week:
We are Detroit Founders employees. Some of us have been threatened, some professional lives are being destroyed, some of us feel this will scar our professional reputations and know that this will (and has) affected our jobs. We are Detroit Founders Employees, WE as a team are not racists and we need support in proving that WE are Detroit, not Founders. We are asking for a peaceful protest. We are asking for signage, we are going to wear black in solidarity. We ask for your very peaceful support.
In conjunction with the cancelation of the CBS party in Detroit, Founders’ co-founders Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers released a joint statement on the company’s website on Friday morning. In the statement, Stevens and Engbers apologize to their employees “for all of the negative attention,” and write that Founders has “committed to work closely with them to make any changes to the company that need to be made to ensure a positive future.”
On Wednesday, Founders withdrew from the Detroit Fall Beer Festival, which was scheduled to take place this weekend. Stevens and Engbers write that Founders “wouldn’t serve as a distraction, given all of the recent headlines,” and for the “safety of our employees.” The pair do not address the cancelation of the CBS event or the temporary closing of the Detroit taproom. However, in a post to the Detroit location’s Facebook page later Friday morning, the brewery confirmed the closure. The brewery writes: “All of our Detroit employees will be paid during this time, including those who have said via social media that they plan to protest during this closure, to call attention to concerns.”
Since news of the transcript broke on Monday, many bars and restaurants in the area say they will no longer serve Founders on their menus. At least one brewery, Eastern Market Brewing Company, pulled out of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival on Monday in order to bring attention to the issues of diversity and inclusion in the industry.
Read Founders’ full statement below:
To our Customers and Communities:
We understand that we have built our company because of the support of our customers – who are really more than that. They’re our fans. They’re the reason that Founders exists and has seen the growth it has over the years.
Over the course of 22 years, we’ve created a company and a culture that was built on the very basis that beer is the conduit that brings people together. It connects us and celebrates people from all different backgrounds.
First and foremost, we apologize to our more than 600 employees – who work hard every day to make and serve some of the best beer in the world – for all of the negative attention. We have committed to work closely with them to make any changes to the company that need to be made to ensure a positive future. Those conversations are underway.
Because of the pending litigation that has received so much attention of late, we can’t talk any more specifically about the lawsuit that has been in the news. But we want to tell our customers in Detroit, in Michigan and around the country that seeing the integrity and value system of Founders being questioned is one of the hardest things we have ever experienced.
We had been advised not to talk about any of this, even as allegations have been cast in our direction. But we realize we need to talk about this now.
Whatever falls short – according to our culture bringing people together and standards – will be fixed. Our Founders Family will point us in the right direction.
To our local customers – please know that we are committed to Michigan and expanding our presence to Detroit because of the people here, from all walks of life, who come together around the aspects of life they enjoy. We want to continue to earn the trust it takes to be one of those.
To beer enthusiasts everywhere – we want to continue to earn your support.
To the restaurants and bars that serve our products – we share your values. We’ll fix any issues. We want to continue to help you make your customers happy.
Additionally, we want you to know that we withdrew from the Fall Beer Fest in Detroit this weekend so that we wouldn’t serve as a distraction, given all of the recent headlines. We made that decision with the safety of our employees in mind. It was with the best of intentions – for our company, our industry and the city. We look forward to participating in future years.
Mike Stevens and Dave Engbers
Update, 9:21 a.m., October 25, 2019: This story has been updated with a new statement published to Founders’ Detroit taproom’s Facebook page.
• Letter From Our Co-Founders [Founders Brewing Company]
• Former Founders Brewing Co. Employee Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination [ED]
• Founders Manager Claims in Discrimination Lawsuit Deposition He Didn’t Know Employee He Fired Was Black [ED]
• Tracking the Fallout From Founders Brewing Company’s Racial Discrimination Lawsuit [ED]