How 3 HBCU Graduates Are Creating Community With Craft Beer In Harlem
“Beer is a part of us, and we are part of the history of beer.”
While living in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, Kim Harris was having difficulty finding a bar that specialized in craft beer. So she opened Harlem Hops with 2 business partners.
Harris, Stacey Lee Spratt, and Kevin Bradford founded the bar in 2018. Since then, it’s become a go-to spot in Central Harlem for “beer, booze, bites, and beats.”
“Black people in brewing and Black people in craft beer was something that really wasn't heard of,” Spratt told NowThis. “I felt like it would be something new and inventive, and being able to do business with my friend and then bringing Kevin on board and doing business with him, and it was just a small circle of people, and we all graduated from HBCUs, so it really was just ordained. It was supposed to happen exactly how it's been happening.”
When they were first opening Harlem Hops, the trio turned to Tonya Hopkins, a food historian known as “The Food Griot,” to learn more about the history of beer. “If you Google it, it'll just tell you that it started in a Mesopotamian region of Africa,” explained Harris. “They were brewing beer in all parts of Africa: west, south, east. Every part of Africa had their own form of brewing, way before the Egyptians even got to it. So we were the developers of the first American lager … It's in our DNA innately. You know, as Blacks, especially, beer is a part of us, and we are part of the history of beer, and that's the part that we wanna speak out loud and proud about and let other people know.”
During February’s Black History Month, 98% of the bar’s beer menu came from Black-owned brands, according to Bradford.
The beer served at Harlem Hops is made with local, fresh ingredients from farms in the area. “The brewery will make it that day, and we will bring it in that same day and serve it,” Bradford said.
The founders have also created a nonprofit organization, Harlem Hopes, that provides scholarships to Harlem residents planning to attend an HBCU. “We truly believe that education is freedom,” said Spratt. “We don't wanna just serve the community, we want to be of the community. We want to serve our young people. We want them to understand, no, we're not just here working with a bar, but we're also here to serve you and to provide you with an opportunity.”
As for that sense of community, Harris likes to describe it like the TV show “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name. “We just want everybody to know that when they come here, they're being well taken care of.”