Founders announces plan to reopen Detroit taproom, donate profits following discrimination lawsuit

click to enlarge Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom until further notice amid a racial discrimination lawsuit. - Gabe Silver
Gabe Silver
Founders Brewing Co. closed its Detroit taproom until further notice amid a racial discrimination lawsuit.

Founders Brewing Co. will reopen its Detroit taproom in early 2020, the company announced Thursday — and it will donate 100 percent of its profits at the taproom to Detroit community organizations and charities through at least 2022.

The Grand Rapids-based company was recently embroiled in a contentious racial discrimination lawsuit in which a Founders manager claimed in court that he didn’t know a Black employee, who alleged an "racist internal corporate culture" at the company, was Black. Local bars began dropping Founders products from their menus, the company pulled out of the Detroit Fall Beer Festival, and its diversity and inclusion director resigned. It also closed its Detroit taproom until further notice.
The employee later settled with the brewing company for an undisclosed amount.

Founders, which opened the Detroit taproom at 456 Charlotte St. in 2017, “is now in the process of reestablishing and building relationships with local nonprofits,” according to a press release, “understanding that input from Detroiters must be incorporated into philanthropic decision-making in order to achieve the best possible impact for the city and its residents.”

“This experience has been humbling for us, but it’s put us in position to consider the type of future we want for Founders, creating a new vision for important aspects of the company,” Mike Stevens, co-founder and CEO of Founders, said in the release.

The company plans to hire an outside firm to independently audit it in order to identify any improvements needed within the workplace. It has hired Thomas Group Consulting to assist with creating a new companywide strategy, and has enlisted former Michigan state senator and representative Buzz Thomas to serve as the interim director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Founders. Thomas has provided similar counsel to other companies in the past. The consulting company will assist the brewing company to “ensure a diverse workforce and impactful philanthropy.”

Founders will also be hiring a new general manager, as well as train formerly incarcerated Detroiters so that they may enter its workforce.

All staff members who were working at Founders when it temporarily closed on Oct. 25 will continue to receive payment through the end of the year.

“We understand that financial impact is not enough. We’ve committed, companywide to accelerating our diversity and inclusion efforts. That will not wait until the reopening in Detroit,” Dave Engbers, company co-founder and president, said in the release.

Finally, Founders seeks to create a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Management system in line with the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award.

“We feel we opened Detroit for the right reasons, but we recognize there’s room to do things better,” Stevens said. “When we reopen our doors to beer lovers in Detroit, we promise an environment that will be positive for our customers, employees and the community as a whole.”

So many restaurants, so little time. Find out the latest Detroit dining news with our weekly food newsletter delivered every Friday morning.