Founders’ Detroit Taproom to Remain Closed Until 2020; Hires Interim Diversity and Inclusion Director

Founders Brewing Company’s Detroit taproom will remain closed through the end of 2019.

In the wake of a now-settled racial discrimination lawsuit filed by a former employee against the Grand Rapids, Michigan-headquartered craft brewery, the company said it will reopen the taproom in “early 2020” and donate all profits to local charities and organizations “through at least 2022,” according to a press release.

“Our intention with the Detroit taproom was to get it open as soon as possible,” Founders co-founder and CEO Mike Stevens told Brewbound. “We’re saying in early 2020, but really what we need to do is hire a general manager down there, and we’re looking for somebody local, if possible.”

Founders closed the Detroit taproom on October 25 after public backlash related to a leaked deposition in the racial discrmination lawsuit that was published on October 21 by the Detroit Metro Times. The deposition was part of a lawsuit filed against the beer company by former employee Tracy Evans in August 2018, alleging that Founders tolerated a “racist internal corporate culture.”

In the deposition, former Detroit taproom general manager Dominic Ryan declined to acknowledge whether Evans and several prominent African Americans are black. The company and Evans settled the lawsuit last week; terms of the agreement were not disclosed. Co-founder Dave Engbers told Brewbound that Ryan was relieved of his duties in Detroit and remains on paid leave.

Buzz Thomas, founder of Thomas Consulting Group and Founders’ interim diversity and inclusion director

Founders has also hired former Michigan legislator Buzz Thomas to serve as interim diversity and inclusion director, replacing Graci Harkema, who resigned from the post on October 25, citing in her resignation letter the company’s refusal to heed her recommendations.

Founders has tapped Thomas’ consulting firm, Thomas Group Consulting, to help identify “community partners in Detroit to ensure a diverse workforce and impactful philanthropy.”

“I look forward to helping Founders create a best-in-class model for diversity, equity and inclusion, that will be able to serve as a model for other companies to emulate,” Thomas, a former member of the Michigan Senate and House of Representatives, said in the release.

Stevens said Thomas will help Founders continue the diversity and inclusion work started by Harkema, who the company hired in January.

“We’re one of, really, honestly, only a handful of breweries throughout the United States to implement a D&I program that we started a year ago,” he said. “We definitely got a good start in it, but we’ve learned along the way D&I should be a very comprehensive program and needs to be viewed holistically throughout your whole company so that it really becomes entwined in how we do business and everything. That’s what Buzz specializes in.”

Founders is now looking to hire a new taproom general manager; Stevens said the ideal candidate will be “somebody highly skilled with years of experience in managing restaurants.”

As for Ryan, Stevens said the company plans to “help him as best we can.”

Founders has continued to pay its Detroit taproom staff during the closure and will do so through the end of 2019, according to the release.

Stevens said he and Engbers have been meeting with business partners “one-on-one to really talk through everything that’s transpired in the last several months to try and clear things up for folks so that we can move forward and get back to selling beer.”

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