At the very end of 2018, an incident took place after hours at West Coast Grocery Co. (WCGC) in Portland, when the brewery’s then-head brewer made a vulgar suggestion to a female staff member. As you might imagine, things quickly got heated. Because the emphasis of this story is the potential good that can emerge from an awful situation, I’ll go light on the details of the actual event — what happened afterwards is my focus.
When West Coast’s manager and owner were made aware of the incident, they arranged meetings with both the brewer and the victim, a part-time staff member. (For the sake of privacy, we’ll call the victim Emily — not her real name.) Management arranged conversations separately and together with both the brewer and Emily, discussing the incident and appropriate disciplinary action. At first, West Coast planned to impose a one-week unpaid suspension on the brewer, stipulating he attend a sexual harassment class. After further internal discourse and external criticism, it was decided that termination was the only acceptable course of action. The brewer is no longer employed by WCGC.
External criticism of WCGC came largely from angry social media users, who were alerted to the whole debacle early on. Many had strong feelings about every step of the process, holding back little when posting. Such is the nature of most situations like this nowadays — the public was outraged, as it had every right to be. All people are entitled to a workplace free from harassment. When that right is violated and workers are victimized, it must be a small comfort for victims to know a community rallies behind them.
But where do we go from here? A woman was victimized, an employee terminated. What now?
It’s crucial for responsible management to look at company policies and staff protocols to see how incidents such as these were allowed to happen in the first place. Frank dialogue with and retraining of staff is typically the first step.
But it’s also important for a business entangled in this type of awful circumstance to make amends to affected parties — arriving at genuine solutions to mitigate these issues moving forward. In my opinion, West Coast Grocery Co. is committed to doing exactly that.
Charlie Hyde, owner of WCGC, spoke to me about his determination to do everything possible to turn this horrible situation into something with a positive outcome. Charlie and the victim, Emily, began working together to, in Charlie’s own words, “use what happened as a launch pad to promote change and make Portland a better place because of it.”
Charlie and Emily are taking a multi-faceted approach to this nightmarish situation, determined to turn a corner in a manner truly beneficial for the community as 2019 rolls along.
First, WCGC made a sizable gift to Raphael House of Portland, a safe house for victims of domestic violence. This donation alone will cover housing and care for a survivor for 20 days and nights. The company’s first donation was made in Emily’s name, but WCGC plans to continue making these contributions twice a year, each time honoring a different deserving person.
But how else can folks in the beer business work toward a common goal? To me, the answer is obvious: brewing beer! And that’s exactly what WCGC did. Emily and Charlie collaborated on a new beer with 100 percent of the taproom profits and distribution revenue going to support Raphael House. This brew, a hazy IPA, will be released soon — representatives from Raphael House will appear on-site for the official launch day, accepting further donations from attendees. WCGC and Raphael House are hopeful the community will show up in great numbers to support this event.
Charlie and Emily also plan to set up and organize a forum to bring people in the brewing industry together with other folks — the forum will discuss sexual harassment in the workplace and develop ways to effect change. They plan to broaden the discussion to the “larger societal problem” instead of focusing solely on folks in the service industry. Charlie tells me that, so far, they have forums planned at both Loyal Legion and Gigantic Brewing.
Regarding backlash on social media and in the community at large, Charlie was pragmatic. “The community cares deeply about what happened, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “The problems of sexual harassment, abuse and gender-based inequality will only be solved if we hold each other to a higher standard and partner to make changes. That’s why Emily and WCGC are partnering up, and I hope people who care about this issue will consider supporting us in this.”
Charlie emphasized WCGC has always been a brewery that lives to serve its community. He says he believes “... that it’s important to learn from experience how to be better as individuals, as companies and as a community. WCGC is committed to this.” Charlie continued, “We are committed to transforming our experience into something positive and being a force for change in the industry. And we’re committed to partnering with our community in other ways as well.”
Charlie went on to illustrate the ways in which WCGC has been a community-focused brewery since it first opened its doors six months ago, having made donations to several local schools in the area in that short time frame. He says they have no plans to change that focus, looking forward.
As of press time, WCGC is still interviewing applicants for the position of head brewer. Charlie said the company has seen a number of very impressive candidates. •
See related B.I.N.G. article on page 26