Bed-Vyne owner Michael Brooks remembers when people didn’t believe in him.
He had a unique business idea for Bed-Stuy, where he’d lived since 2007. At the center of the neighborhood once known as “do or die,” he would sell wine and craft beer, featuring rotating drafts from local breweries with prices upwards of $7. No Coors Light in sight.
“When we first opened this place, people thought we were crazy,” said Brooks. “They were like, ‘black people don’t drink craft beer.’”
When Brooks opened Bed-Vyne Brew at 370 Tompkins Ave in 2013, he confounded the neighborhood’s expectations: It’s one of the only black-owned businesses on the block that turns out a diverse, passionate crowd and supports the local community through block parties and charity engagements. On weekends, Brew’s DJ sets attract hundreds, and regulars stop by the bar daily for its 10 beers on tap, with styles ranging from saison to triple IPA.
Brew is the second branch of Bed-Vyne’s three-business mini-empire, which includes Bed-Vyne Cocktail and Bed-Vyne Wine, and was co-founded by fellow Brooklynites Rotimi and Ayo Akinnuoye and Peter Medford.
Before launching Bed-Vyne, Brooks worked in sales for pharmaceutical companies. His major takeaway from marketing drugs was the importance of knowing your product, an insight he took with him to his first wine shop, 65 Fen in Lefferts Garden, and then also to Bed-Vyne Wine which opened its doors in 2011.
Noticing a range of young people moving into Bed-Stuy at that time, he sensed a need for a local wine shop so they could buy quality drinks without commuting to Manhattan.
Brooks approaches wine sales in the manner of a trusted confidant. He arranges product by taste, rather than by region, and classifies reds and whites into 12 flavor categories. He wants people to simply pick what they like and develop their palate.
“That way if they go somewhere else, whether to a restaurant or on vacation, they’ll be able to describe what they want,” he said.
This approach guided his plans for Brew when locals told him they wanted a “watering hole” to go to after work.
“I think it really helped the neighborhood because there was no place you could go in this area of Tompkins Ave to have a drink,” he said.
Brooks sees Brew as part of a larger craft beer movement, and it’s his goal to reach black consumers. A 2015 Neilsen study found that black drinkers make up only 11.2 percent of the beer-drinking population, and 3.7 percent of this slice drinks craft. Brooks doesn’t entirely agree with this statistic and sees it as an accessibility issue. For years, craft beer just wasn’t available in predominantly black neighborhoods.
“Black people are no different from other people in regards to their drinking habits,” said Brooks. “If it’s a good product, they’ll drink it and support it.”
He recalls a learning curve with his Bed-Stuy customers.
“These guys coming in were like, why am I getting this beer in small glasses? Makes no sense,” said Brooks, referencing how the double and triple IPAs are served in 8-ounce glasses. “They know now. They don’t question getting the beer in a small glass.”
Aside from inspiring locals to develop their palate for wines and New York-based beers, Bed-Vyne helps throw huge block parties in the neighborhood, including its annual Oktoberfest, and supports local institutions like the YMCA by donating product.
“You see with some of the other liquor stores, these people aren’t from the community,” Brooks said. “So the money that goes in there is like a black hole. We’re part of this community, and we will put stuff in here that benefits it and isn’t parasitic, sucking resources out.”
Bed-Vyne’s next big event will be the TAMA Summerfest on August 17.
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