Race and Economy

Why the founders of Crowns & Hops are running a brewing company with a mission

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal Aug 24, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Teo Hunter, left, and Beny Ashburn in Inglewood, California. (Photo courtesy Ashburn)
Race and Economy

Why the founders of Crowns & Hops are running a brewing company with a mission

Andie Corban and Kai Ryssdal Aug 24, 2020
Teo Hunter, left, and Beny Ashburn in Inglewood, California. (Photo courtesy Ashburn)
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In 2019, 89% of brewers across the country were white, according to the Brewers Association. This is where Beny Ashburn and Teo Hunter, co-founders of Crowns & Hops Brewing Co, come in. The pair met on Tinder seven years ago and went on dates to several taprooms. After realizing they were usually the only Black people in the room, Ashburn and Hunter made it their mission to bring more Black people into the world of craft beer.

Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal met Ashburn and Hunter on Market Street in Inglewood, California, a mostly Black and Latinx city in Los Angeles County where Hunter was born. Now, Hunter and Ashburn are planning on building Inglewood’s first Black-owned brewery. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Kai Ryssdal: So first thing we have to do is I need you guys to introduce yourselves. Tell me who you are and what we’re doing here.

Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn, co-founders of Crown and Hops. Photo courtesy of Beny Ashburn
Beny Ashburn, left, and Teo Hunter. The business partners believe that craft beer offers an opportunity for Black culture and brown culture to be represented. (Photo courtesy Ashburn)

Teo Hunter: Yes, my name is Teo Hunter. I’m the head of brewing operations and COO for Crowns & Hops Brewing Co.

Beny Ashburn: Hello, my name is Beny Ashburn. I’m the CEO of Crowns & Hops Brewing Co.

Ryssdal: How did you guys decide who gets to be CEO and who gets to be COO?

Hunter: She did.

Ashburn: I mean, kind of. My skill set, just what I’ve done in business, lends itself more to sort of that organization, behind-the-scenes, keep-things-moving kind of pace. And Teo really is the heart and soul and the beer of the brand.

Hunter: Without a doubt she is the momentum. I think, again, to the point of her background, and just I think the fact that not that many people in craft beer have seen such a strong Black woman lead. It just made for a perfect opportunity not only to highlight what she’s always done, but what you know, she’ll continue to do in this industry.

Ryssdal: Yeah. We have to say here that, I mean, the reason we’re here is that not too many people in craft brewing have seen strong Black people, full stop. That’s why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Ashburn: Yes. 100%.

Ryssdal: Say more.

Hunter: I mean, this is about — for us and what we’ve been able to really dial in on is — this absolutely is about racial equity. You know, I think in a craft beer industry with over 7,500 breweries, you know, less than 1% are Black-owned. A lot of what we did initially was just fighting to ensure that our reflection was present in breweries that were for the most part located in Black and brown neighborhoods. And, you know, as we continued our journey, we realized that there was another opportunity, which was to become owners in this space.

Ryssdal: I want to talk about that location thing because you guys are deliberate about wanting to be in Inglewood for people who live in Inglewood. Not the way it usually works is that craft brews go to a distressed place or an underserved place and white people come.

Hunter and Ashburn: Black or brown places.

Ryssdal: Yeah.

Ashburn: I think the great thing about Inglewood is right now you still feel the culture of what Inglewood has always been, which has been a very brown and Black community. And I think coming here specifically as Inglewood is changing, we wanted to come back in and buy back the block, so they say. That’s sort of the term that they’re using, and —

Hunter: Nipsey Hussle shoutout.

Ashburn: Nipsey Hussle. And represent the culture that is here and show faces, show owners speaking to racial equity like Teo mentioned, and really just be here to represent for us.

Ryssdal: Has your mission and your purpose changed in this moment?

Hunter: No.

Ashburn: No, I don’t think so. Not at all.

Hunter: If anything, it’s been solidified. You know, I think a lot of people, even when COVID hit, asked well, how are you going to keep your community together? Well, we started our community online. You have to envision how difficult it might be for someone who has to walk into a space and be the only one. We were able to cultivate that community and truly nourish it online. You know, so when everything shut down, our community was there as they’ve always been. And if anything again, when George Floyd was murdered, there became this message of amplifying the Black voice. And we also saw that as amplifying Black initiatives, Black business, and we have been building over the course of the past six years an opportunity to have our voice amplified.

Ashburn: Yeah. To Teo’s point, when we first started this, we knew we couldn’t start with just product. Our goal was to find the community, build the community, and to Teo’s point amplify Black voices in the craft beer community. We were not the first Black-owned brewery, but I think we were the first to possibly be the loudest and to galvanize our community in a way that had never been done before. And that mission hasn’t changed because now we’re actually going to open up those physical spaces, and the community is now built and ready to go. So we’re really excited about that.

Ryssdal: You’re counting also on Black money. You want Black funders for this. Why?

Ashburn: I think it was important to, as part of what Teo was saying, create that ecosystem of Black ownership, Black investors, Black money and buying back into your community.

Hunter: And let’s be honest, there’s a ton of white equity holders.

Ashburn: Yeah.

Hunter: You know, we thought that it would be incredible to make sure that equity stay within Black families, Black owners. You know, I do think there is a common theme with regards to specifically owners that are from this area — I was born in Centinela Hospital right around the corner — to ensure that that ownership stays in that community is also, you know, confirmation that the money will return and be circulated versus it being taken to an area that the investors or equity stakeholders might not live in. You know that is the thing.

Ryssdal: The thing we haven’t talked about: Why beer?

Hunter: Because it’s delicious. Are you serious?

Ryssdal: Look, you’re talking to a convert here. You don’t have to sell me. Anyone listening to this program knows that. What was it that made beer the thing that gave you guys this mission? That’s the thing.

Hunter: Yeah, I mean, well, think about it. Beer is an affordable luxury. I’ve had beers with the janitor and the driver of the Mars rover in the same room. And when you have a beverage or a product that can strip down all of the pretentiousness, all of the BS that you might deal with, everything in your respective life, family, whatever the case, and have this moment to where you can celebrate life and the things that make you happy. That’s like a supergood PSA for beer, right?

Ashburn: It is a good PSA for beer.

Hunter: But you know, it’s phenomenal. And again, what we didn’t see was the contribution of people of color in craft beer. You know, I mean, if you think about this thing being one of the oldest beverages on the planet, and I just find out, you know, about a year ago that my great-great-great-grandmother — three, right?

Ashburn: Yes, three.

Hunter: — was a brewer. It’s these stories that we don’t know of. You know why beer? Because we think that there’s a huge opportunity for Black culture, for brown culture to be represented in it. And it stands the test of time. And it’s delicious.

Ryssdal: Thanks, you two. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate it. Best of luck with this whole thing. I think it’s cool.

Ashburn: Thank you. We’re excited.

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