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Minneapolis Breweries Show Solidarity With Protests

June 02, 2020

By Jerard Fagerberg, June 02, 2020

May concluded with one of the most historic evenings of civil unrest in American history. Thousands of protesters across the Twin Cities took to the streets to demonstrate their rage at last Monday’s police killing of George Floyd. As the night wore on, police, fire departments, and the National Guard retreated, and buildings burned from South Minneapolis to East St. Paul.

Much of the rancor in Minneapolis took place on Lake Street, a thoroughfare that runs through one of Minneapolis’ densest minority neighborhoods. Centered in this neighborhood is the Midtown Global Market, a multicultural open-air market that has been the home of Eastlake Craft Brewing since 2014.

Eastlake is one of the 80 Lake Street businesses damaged due to riots. Typically, it’s a lively gathering place, with a patio that spills into a nearby bus stop. Now, it is a wall of plywood. The Dollar Tree across from its door has been burned to a heap of greyed, twisted metal. Cars at the body shop down the street are ashen and dessicated.

“We’ve been extremely fortunate that we’ve had just a couple of broken windows,” says Eastlake owner Ryan Pitman. “There’s a building right here with ‘don’t burn’ spray painted all over it, and it’s burned down. It had a childcare center in it. All the office buildings, all the places with groceries, it’s all gone.”

Eastlake is not the only Lake-area alcohol producer impacted. Du Nord Craft Spirits, which started the week by giving away free hand sanitizer at the site of Floyd’s death, was raided, and they’ve had extensive fire and water damage. Urban Forage Winery and Cider House had its front door smashed. Despite being victimized, both businesses responded to the damage with kindness and understanding. Du Nord launched a fund to benefit POC-owned businesses. Urban Forage is raising money to clean up Lake Street.

Midtown Global Market has become a sanctum. At night, residents defend it from arsonists. In the morning, cleanup volunteers line up in the hundreds. Pitman has been hearted by the conviction of his neighbors. Though he can’t open his business to help the way that Du Nord and Urban Forage have, he’s firm in his resolve that what’s happening is much bigger than his smashed windows.

“It’s important that we all keep trying to celebrate George Floyd’s memory as much as we can,” Pitman says. “We can’t lose sight of Floyd and the complete dehumanizing treatment that the Minneapolis Police Department has been showing for so long.”

Eastlake Craft Brewery

The North Loop, which sits between Downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi River, feels like a different world. As you cross I-35W, fewer businesses are boarded up. The smoke is thinner, and almost no one is on the street. From the doorstep of Modist Brewing, the sirens sound distant.

Despite being far from the rallies, Modist has set up as a relief point for those marching towards South Minneapolis. Last Tuesday, they were giving out free beer and hotdogs to protesters. A banner bearing Floyd’s face hangs on the painted brick above their patio. The front is boarded up, but out back, brewers Jason Dixon and Jack Greer are unloading water bottles and food from a Nissan. They’ve already filled one of their delivery trucks with supplies and are starting a fresh cache indoors

“You either board up your windows or you open up your doors,” says Modist co-owner Dan Wellendorf. “What do people need? They need first aid, fresh water, and freshly rolled 100-percent all-beef hot dogs.”

Modist has pulled no punches with its response to the Floyd killing. “Fuck this shit,” the brewery wrote in an Instagram post. “Our community needs justice for George Floyd, and we need it now.” In that same post, it dedicated a share of its sales to an array of charities, including the George Floyd Memorial Fund⁠, the Minnesota Freedom Fund, Justice 4 Jamar, and the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. 

“Our mood, just like the mood of our community, was shifting more to just being pissed,” Wellendorf says. “If we were gonna say something, we had to say it authentically.”

Three miles north, Indeed Brewing is even quieter, but it raised a din when it published an open letter to the City of Minneapolis asking that it no longer be required to staff off-duty MPD officers at their events. The call comes in lock-step with the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis Public Schools, both of whom announced they’d be ending their relationships with the police department.

“Our events are meant to be welcoming to all,” says Indeed co-founder Tom Whisenand. “We don’t feel comfortable inviting people to our brewery and having them show up and see a Minneapolis police officer.”

Whisenand is careful to say that the move is not explicitly anti-police, and that Indeed would staff officers from other local departments if necessary for security. The idea is to create accountability. Off-duty security jobs are well-paid and low-maintenance. Indeed hopes that other businesses will follow their example, and through this collective action, MPD will have to reckon with the reason one of its most coveted gigs no longer exists.

“If the department’s gonna change, it needs to change from within,” Whisenand says. “We’re hoping they’ll look inside and say, ‘These guys who are causing problems with the community, who are not following the motto of the Minneapolis Police Department, we gotta get rid of these people.’”

Surly Brewing

When the Target and Cub Foods near the Third Precinct were looted and torched, the Minneapolis neighborhood of Longfellow was rendered a food desert. Surly Brewing, one of Minnesota’s most renowned establishments, was uniquely equipped to respond.

Mary Sellke, Executive Director of Surly Gives a Damn, knows from her 10 years running the brewery’s non-profit initiative that food is the most urgent need after a tragedy. Working on a hairpin 40-minute turnaround, Sellke launched an emergency food drive. It was only supposed to be three hours long on Friday.

“I was thinking maybe we’d fill my minivan,” Sellke says. “We had cars lined up throughout the morning. We ended up with over 30 pallets of food.”

The drive extended into Saturday. The food was initially intended for residents of Touchstone Mental Health, but Surly gathered so much that it ended up taking a third of the supplies to relief points in South and North Minneapolis.

Sellke knows breweries are not a substitute for direct action or policy-based reform. Who could care about beer in a city where the National Guard is shooting paint rounds into civilian houses? But at the same time, you can’t remove breweries from the people they serve.

“People want to help, and they don’t know where to go or what to do, and that’s when they look to us,” Sellke says. “It was a safe way to do something when everything felt so hopeless. Minneapolis cares, and they’re willing to give back.”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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