Tired of Searching for Good Beer, HBCU Grads Team Up to Open First Black-Owned Craft Brewery In Harlem
Three HBCU graduates are offering their personal touch to a trendy craft beer bar in the heart of Harlem, N.Y. — and beer lovers are already flocking to it.
Owners Kevin Bradford, Kim Harris and Stacey Lee made history on June 9 when they opened the doors to Harlem Hops, the first craft beer bar in Harlem owned and operated by African-Americans, ESPN’s “The Undefeated” reported. The debut bar sits on Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard surrounded by independently owned businesses, convenience stores and other establishments.
“We want Harlem Hops to be ‘Cheers’ for a lot of people in the neighborhood,” said Harris, an alumna of Clark Atlanta University. “We want it to be the safe haven where you can just come and learn about something different.”
Speaking to The Undefeated, Harris said the vision for Harlem Hops unfolded nearly five years ago. The Harlem native said good beer was hard to come by in her neighborhood, so she’d often travel to Brooklyn to find what she was looking for.
“I thought, there’s something missing here,” she said. “And that’s when it came to me that we should do a beer bar in Harlem. That’s was one of the reasons I thought about it.”
Harris soon met with restaurant consultant Jason Wallace, who put her in touch with soon-to-be business partner Bradford. It turns out Bradford, a Hampton University graduate, was facing the same problems when it came to finding good beer. He said he would find himself bringing back beers from his hometown of Detroit back to New York City.
“I had to travel these far distances to get beer I liked,” Bradford recalled. “I live in Harlem, and I wanted to open a bar in my neighborhood, but the zoning was residential. I couldn’t have a commercial space in my property. That’s when Jason Wallace introduced myself and Kim and I was like, this is it.”
From there, Lee, a fellow Clark Atlanta grad and trusted businesswoman Harris had worked with in the past, joined the duo and they all set off to open the borough’s first Black-owned craft beer bar.
“I have business sense, Kevin is focused on the beer and Stacey brings in the creativity and helps me keep my thoughts together,” Harris told The Undefeated. “… We’re all married to each other. We love each other. It’s the perfect combination.”
The bar owners pride themselves on serving unique craft beers with all natural ingredients and having a variety of beers on tap made by brewers of color. Their menu also features small bites like pretzels and bratwurst, and “small-batched craft cocktails and spirits from small, family-owned distilleries.”
“There are brewers of color all over the country, and it takes time to get your distribution and things of that nature,” Harris noted. “As they get their distribution into the New York area, then that’s when we’ll be featuring them as well. We’ve been in contact with a lot of brewers and building our own network.”
After working feverishly to pin down a color scheme for the bar decor and settling on tasty menu items, the trio was ready to finally open its doors to the public. The owners said they now look froward to watching their business grow and credited historically Black institutions for giving them the guts to pursue such a venture.
“We love our HBCUs,” Lee said. “… I think HBCUs taught us about humility, taught us about drive and it’s also very nurturing attending an HBCU. They have the mentality that you can do anything that you want to do.
This started out as a dream with no money, no dollars and here we are about to open the first 100 percent all African-American-owned craft beer bar in Harlem,” she added. “If you don’t have the money, find a way or make one.”