Women in Beer with Melissa Walter
The craft beer scene has plenty of bros waxing on about hops, but more and more women are making beer, too. And if they’re Love City Brewing’s Melissa Walter, they’re making change while they’re at it.
Melissa is the co-founder of Philly’s own Love City Brewing, a vocal supporter of getting more women into the beer industry, and an advocate for safer, more inclusive bars everywhere. She joins us to talk about how she went from therapist to brewery owner, why she prioritized covering employee benefits and creating a philanthropic program from day one, and what it looks like to build a bar where everyone feels welcome.
Yes, of course, we need to make money, we need to keep the doors open, we need to keep the lights on. But beyond that, I’m like, why do you need five million dollars this year? I’m not saying that making money is terrible, but I’m saying you can build these things in, grow a little more slowly, be a little more conscious… You live in this place, you should take care of it.—Melissa Walter, co-founder of Love City Brewing
We talk about:
- How she’s creating community for women in beer. “There are women in the industry, we just have to find them and bring them together.”
- Why diversity always matters. “I think any industry should look like the community in which it is involved.”
- What it looks like to make accessibility a foundational requirement. “Our front entrance is a ramp; everybody comes in the same way: you go up the ramp, done. So, people who use a chair or don’t use a chair, same entrance, same accessibility as everybody else. All of our bathrooms are gender-neutral, so anybody can use any bathroom whatsoever.”
- Why all Love City staff go through sexual harassment intervention training. “The things that I’ve read from other places are that if they do take advantage of this training it’s like they’re admitting something is wrong. And I’m like, ‘ah…no? You’re doing the thing to make sure things don’t go wrong!’”
- Why Love City decided to give back from day one. “You live in this place, you should take care of it.”
- Love City on Twitter and Instagram
- Melissa on Instagram
- Pink Boots Society
- Safe Bars Philly
This episode of Strong Feelings is brought to you by:
Harvest, makers of awesome software to help you track your time, manage your projects, and get paid. Go to getharvest.com/strongfeelings to get 50% off your first month.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher Harvest is my favorite tool for tracking time and managing workload, so no one on the team gets overbooked and burnt out. Harvest integrates with so many other project management and bookkeeping tools—like Asana, Jira, Github, and Xero—so it’ll fit right in with whatever your team already uses. You can try it for free at GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings, and when you upgrade to a paid account, you’ll save 50% off your first month. That’s GetHarvest.com/StrongFeelings. [theme music plays for 11 seconds and then fades out] Hey, everyone, I’m Sara!
Katel LeDu And I’m Katel.
SWB And this is Strong Feelings! A podcast about work, friendship, and feminism—and what happens when you bring them all together. Today, we are going to be talking about beer. [KL laughs] Yeah.
KL Our favourite. [SWB laughs]
SWB Our favourite. [both laugh] We’re going to be talking a little bit about beer and what it’s like to be a woman in the craft beer industry! Our guest is Melissa Walter, who is the cofounder of Love City Brewing right here in Philly. She’s really great, but before we get to that, [sighs] Katel, I think we’ve got to check in. It has been a week. How are you doing? [KL laughs]
KL It has been a week. It has felt like an extremely long week for me because we started a coach training last weekend.
SWB Uh huh, we did. [KL laughs]
KL And I mean, first of all, it was all weekend—Friday, Saturday, Sunday. And second, it was just a lot for me personally. A lot of new info, a lot of…being outside of my comfort zone in both good and bad ways.
SWB [laughing] Yes. [KL laughs] There was definitely good and bad. We should talk about this. [both laugh]
KL So, learning coaching skills is something I’ve been thinking about for a while and you and I have talked about. And I think with a bunch of the things that we’re doing together like Collective Strength events and teaching workshops, coaching feels like a really obvious skill set to get better at. And after realizing this is something we were both interested in, we started this training program last weekend. And it was just, frankly, a wild experience.
SWB It was. It really really was. You know when we had Lara Hogan on the show back in June, she talked about having done a coaching program and how it wasn’t the most inclusive environment. And then…we went and did the same course. So, like…shame on us. [both laugh]
KL I mean, sometimes you’re like, okay, I’ve got expectations, I’m going to go see it for myself.
SWB Right. I still was honestly shocked at how little they did to create a safe space in the room for the kinds of vulnerable work we were doing. There was one moment where I really lost my mind. We were all sitting in a circle—there were 28 of us—and they just picked someone and put them in the hot seat and they were like, “okay, everyone is just going to shout out things that that person is, just shout out stuff that is about them.” [KL laughs] Not based off of anything, not because you had an experience working with them, just based off your quote-unquote “intuition” and how they come across by looking at them. I was like, wait…what? [KL sighs] That just sounds like a really huge way to make assumptions and stereotype people! I was so uncomfortable. And, of course, the first person that they put into that hot seat was a young woman of color, and…people said some wild shit! I couldn’t believe some of these things that were coming out of people’s mouths. It was supposed to be productive, It was supposed to be teaching us something and I still don’t really understand what the purpose of that was except for like…humiliation?
KL Yeah, I honestly don’t either. I am not an expert here, but I think there are likely many other ways of practicing intuition or championing other people. I mean, I don’t even know if that’s what we were doing at that point. [laughs]
SWB Right. I mean, it was supposed to be telling people positive things. Like, “Katel, you are kind.”
SWB “Katel, you are courageous.” [KL sighs] Which…those might be positive traits or they might be compliments in one sense, but it felt so random. It also felt so uncomfortable to have people just tell you about yourself. I don’t feel good about that.
SWB But then I started noticing things that felt…suspect. Like, “you are loyal.” A) nobody in this room actually knows if that’s true or not.
KL No. How could you?
SWB These are all strangers. You can’t just tell a random person that you’ve not talked more than two sentences to that they’re loyal.
KL That’s weird, right?
SWB But then also—so, I don’t know if it’s true—but also…hmm. If you’re saying that, let’s say, to an Asian American woman, are you basically just falling into stereotypes about subservience?
SWB And who is that useful to?
SWB And did you ever stop and think about the ways that an exercise like that could be used to reinforce stereotypes or to just project your shit onto somebody else?
KL 100%, yeah. I mean, I had a knot in my stomach the whole time just feeling kind of frozen as I watched it all unfold. And truly, I felt like I couldn’t even make eye contact with you because I felt like I just couldn’t hide my shock and horror. [both laugh]
SWB It’s so funny because I kept trying to look over at you [KL laughs] because I was trying to be like, am I the only one feeling like this? [KL laughs] And we were sitting apart from each other because we didn’t want to just keep working with each other—
SWB —we wanted to make sure we were working with new people. So, I just was not sure where your brain was during that activity, but I was just aghast. And I almost just walked out of the room half way through.
SWB I almost just was like, I am not doing this. In my mind, it’s like telling people who they are. To me, that does not feel empowering.
SWB It feels… categorizing.
SWB I don’t want to be told who I am.
SWB I want to be able to define who I am. Even later on, there was a session where we were doing some practice coaching thing and one of the assistants from the program—so, she’s trained as a coach—she was like, “Sara, you’re a bold woman. You’re a powerful woman.” And I’m like, “okay, true.”
KL Mhmm. [laughs]
SWB Indeed I am.
SWB I don’t want you to tell me who I am! I want to be able to set my own identity. And if you had an interaction with me where you noticed something about me and you were able to speak to what you noticed me do or say and then speak to here’s how I perceived you. That, to me, makes me feel seen.
SWB But to just tell me, “Sara, you are this.” No matter what comes after that, it doesn’t matter what you’re saying—good or not good—it doesn’t feel good to me. It makes me feel just…small.
KL Yeah. And that’s the thing. Even if the words are positive, it does not—that does not translate to making someone feel good or empowered. The whole thing was pretty horrifying. And after that big group exercise we did all together where one person was being picked on, we, of course, broke up into smaller groups where everyone had the chance to be the subject of this. And I thought I was going to burst into tears during it! And I didn’t, I sort of made it through, but there was definitely someone in my group who cried. And you know how I feel about crying—I love to cry—but I just felt like, no. Not there and not because of that bullshit.
SWB Right. There is crying that is healthy and good; letting out emotion is fine.
SWB There is nothing wrong with crying, there’s nothing wrong with her crying in that moment. But it’s one thing to go through a transformative experience where you learn something about yourself that brings you to tears or where you share a moment with somebody else and that brings you to tears, but in this environment, it did not feel like you were processing some deep thing, it just to me felt like this very violating and nonconsensual kind of interaction.
SWB And…that is not the good kind of tears. It’s kind of like the being made fun of on the playground tears!
KL Yeah! Absolutely right. And like I said earlier, I think there are many other ways to get to the point I think that exercise was trying to get to, and that was just not the right move.
SWB Gosh, coming out of that, I’m just so engaged in coaching methods and entwisted in learning more about how to really help people and to learn some different kinds of skill sets and different kinds of listening; I think that’s so powerful. And I’m also so disappointed [laughs] in that particular approach and the way that it just didn’t feel like boundaries were really taken into account.
SWB Or that the fact that this is such an intimate human environment wasn’t taken seriously.
SWB I don’t know.
SWB I just don’t know what to feel.
KL Yeah. That was tough. [laughs]
SWB Except I do know that I am tired because it was, it was—
KL [laughing] Yes.
SWB —three very intense days and then it was Monday morning again, hi!
KL Yeah! Like, okay, back to work!
SWB Yeah. I mean, I guess thinking about it I just think so much about the responsibility that anybody has when they put on an event. Like when we run a live event for Collective Strength, those are also pretty intimate, vulnerable experiences. Or at least they can be! People are talking about difficult subjects. And we spend so much time thinking about the space that we’re creating together. Like what is that vibe? How do you make people feel comfortable? What are the boundaries? For example, we never put anyone on the spot and make them say something to the whole group—
SWB —or be in the hot seat like that. That is always an opt-in thing. And I also think about things like what are the expectations of behavior? They’re very explicit, the code of conduct is something we talk about every, single time. You know? It doesn’t mean that it’s perfect; I feel like I learn something new every time we put on an event and we get feedback here and there about little things like, “oh, have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought about that?” But we also get a lot of feedback that people notice, that they can tell that we’ve thought about the details. Some of that is logistical things like the flow of people checking in and getting food, and the dietary options.
SWB But a lot of it is also the creation of that welcoming space, which the logistics play into that. Good logistics make someone feel more welcome. And the way that we have a very open dynamic between us. All of these things work together! And people notice that we’ve thought about these details. And even though it’s just a free meetup, we are taking it seriously that we are really taking responsibility for what we are putting out there, and taking responsibility for people’s comfort and people’s safety. And I think that that really fucking matters! I just don’t think you should run events if you’re not willing to do that. [laughs]
KL Yeah, I do too. And a) we truly want those things like boundaries and expectations, we want those to exist. So, if we’re not creating a space that we would want to be in, that would just be fucked. And b) running these events, that puts us in a position of power! And not considering feedback thoughtfully with care just feels reckless.
SWB Yes, power dynamics!
SWB I think power dynamics need to be discussed so much more than they are.
SWB You know, I remember at one point over the weekend we were in the hallway and you referred to the facilitation as “irresponsible.” [KL laughs] And I remember how that just hit me like a ton of breaks. Yes, it’s irresponsible. Because we’re in this really intimate environment. If you can imagine, in this kind of workshop, everybody has to practice coaching, which means they need people to coach, so you end up talking about yourself and really intimate stuff in that setting.
SWB So, that’s a lot to ask people to do! And I think that if you’re going to do that responsibly, you need to really be thinking about people’s boundaries and thinking about setting expectations, and thinking about all of the ways that things might go wrong, and making sure that you are preparing people, reducing harm—all of those different things. To me, not doing that is incredibly irresponsible and reckless. And, of course, if you are then going to come out of that program and become a coach and never think about these things—
SWB —that, to me, seems doubly reckless. It’s like exponentially worse, right?
KL [laughing] Yes!
SWB Because it’s not only what happens in the room, but it’s also what are training people to go and do? If you’re training people to go out there in the world and do this thing that is a very intimate relationship with somebody without thinking about any of these pieces that you need in order for it to be safe or good, what kind of coaches are you creating—
SWB —or encouraging?
KL Right. I mean, that compounds. I think about myself and it is not a secret, I am very open and I am all about being vulnerable, but I have to feel safe to do that. And it takes time and it takes setting expectations. For me, it takes accountability, and I think this is something that I want to take forward and take away from that.
SWB Yeah. It reminds me of that episode we did with Priya Parker months and months ago now. If you haven’t listened to it, I really recommend it. She has this book called The Art of Gathering. It’s all about how we come together—in meetings, workshops, even parties, whatever. But she talks a lot about the responsibility that we have as people who are organizing or leading in these kinds of environments. She talks a lot about this idea of being “chill” and the problem of being “chill.” When you’re chill in your organization and your planning, that is actually not chill for your attendees.
SWB In order for your attendees to have a chill experience, you should actually be un-chill, which I really like. [both laugh]
KL Yeah, I agree. [laughs]
SWB So, I know I said this episode was going to be about beer. And it is, but also this is 100% what Melissa’s interview is about too because she doesn’t just make beer, she also runs Love City’s tasting room here in Philly, which is effectively a bar. And in this interview, she talks a ton about things she does to make that space more comfortable and safer for more people. The training that her staff goes through around things like sexual harassment. And that, to me, was really inspiring because you could just see that she sees this as a big responsibility. She’s not just thinking, oh, whatever, it’s just some beer tasting room. She’s thinking really intentionally about responsibility, risks, and she doesn’t want to create a reckless environment! [laughs] Because I think we’ve all been to that bar.
KL Yes. And you’ve got to live those values and really bake it in from the start and I love hearing how Melissa does that. [short transition music plays]
Interview: Melissa Walter
SWB Melissa Walter is the co-founder of Love City Brewing, a Philly-based brewery founded in 2016. She is also an advocate for getting more women into the beer industry and making the industry more inclusive to everyone. Melissa, welcome to Strong Feelings!
Melissa Walter Thank you so much for having me; this is really great.
SWB I’m so excited to have you right here live with us—
SWB —in the studio!
KL I know.
MW In Philly! It’s just up the street—
KL It’s so exciting.
MW —so I figured I should come down in person. [laughs]
KL Yeah! So, first up, can you tell us a little bit about Love City and how you got started with it?
MW Yeah. So, Love City was a dream of my husband and mine for a long time. We I think first talked about it in 2013 and it just took us quite a while to make that dream a reality. But it finally is here, it’s open, it’s a really great place! So, he has the brewing background. He worked at Iron Hill Brewing Company for many, many years, so he kind of knew how to build a brewery from the ground up. My background is completely different; I was a therapist for many years and had no real business background, but took steps to educate myself. So! I feel like I have some of an idea of what I’m doing now…sort of, [others laugh] but it’s been great. Love City is—when we originally conceptualized it, obviously good beer is number one. If the product is not there, then what are you even doing? But the rest of it from my background and my experience, I wanted to make it a very inclusive, welcoming, and warm space. And I’m happy to hear from people now that it does feel that way.
KL Yeah! So, you mentioned that you had to get up to speed in the brewing world. [MW laughs] What was the learning curve like?
MW Oh man, I’m still on it! [all laugh] Definitely on that hill, [laughs] not crested it yet. But I mean, I love learning stuff, so if it’s a challenge, I’m like, “okay, great, we’re going to figure this out, I’m going to go and take some classes, it’s going to be awesome!” It’s a new lesson every day! I mean, I’m not a bookkeeper, I’m not a numbers person, but I am now! I learned very quickly how to do that. The Temple Entrepreneurial Series really did help in getting the business plan more fine-tuned and getting that in front of people.
KL Yeah. So, you weren’t always in this business [MW laughs]—
MW Not at all.
KL —and before you were doing something completely different. What was the point in time where you and your husband were sort of like, “okay, let’s do this, let’s open this.”
MW Yeah. So, his career was kind of taking a different direction with Iron Hill. He would have been on the road a lot and traveling a lot and he was like, “eh, that’s not really my thing.” And I was having life crises of my own at that time and I was like, “okay, this is feeling like too much for me to try to continue with this work and give of myself to other people when I really…I need it all for me right now. I need to focus on my own mental health.” In 2015, I lost both my brother and my father in the space of nine months.
SWB Oh wow, I’m so sorry.
MW Thank you. It was a really intense year—
MW —and I just knew at that time, “you know what? This is not good for anybody. It’s not good for me, it’s not good for the clients that I’m seeing.” So, thankfully, it just all kind of coincided—because life works that way—coincided and worked out that we found some momentum with Love City, Kevin’s career was going in a different direction, I was feeling really not able to continue with mental health work, and so it all came together to make it happen.
KL So, how did you make it happen? What did you need to do to get it literally off the ground and started as a business where you were doing a day-to-day thing? [MW laughs]
MW Lots of money, [laughs & KL laughs] breweries are expensive! [laughs] Honestly, that was our first three years basically of even having this as a concept was where are we going to find the money, where are we going to find the money? We were able to find a group of… actually friends and friends of friends who were behind us and were willing to invest in this company. We also did get a small business loan as well, so that was hugely helpful. And then from that, it was just “okay, now we find a building,” which took way longer than it should have. It’s all these moving pieces that ironically all have to happen at the same time. So, you need money to get a building, nobody really wants to talk to you until you know where you’re going to be, you can’t get alcohol licensing until you know where you’re going to be, but how do you do that without the money? So, it’s all just like…it was a mess of Tetris trying to fit everything together.
KL Yeah. It seems like everything is very interdependent.
MW So interdependent, yeah.
KL There’s all these moving parts, and it sounds scary at times.
MW Oh yeah! [laughs & SWB laughs]
KL [laughing] Were you—
KL Were you ever overwhelmed or like, “what are we doing?” [laughs]
MW Yes. Often, [laughs] I would say. We put everything on the line! We had minimal personal funds. We were like, “okay, the bank owns our house three times! We have no personal assets anymore because we put it all into this business, so it’s really like we have a ton of skin in the game, so it just has to work!” There were [laughs] so many, so many times—I’m not going to get into all the construction horror stories, but the one horror story that I will get into was when we had to cut some of the concrete in the floor to put the new drains in for the brewery and…it all started falling in! There was a giant sinkhole under our building that we were like, “oh, surprise! This is the thing that we have to deal with now.” And just things like that that I was convinced that this was it, this was the thing that totally ends this and the project is done, but we made it work! [laughs] We pulled it out!
KL Philly sinkhole!
MW Philly sinkholes everywhere! [laughs]
SWB That’s not super surprising, [MW laughs] Philadelphia does have a lot of sinkholes.
MW Fun fact. [laughs]
SWB But the space is lovely!
MW Thank you.
SWB I really like it!
MW Thank you.
SWB So, for those who have not been there, who are not in Philly, it’s in this lovely old warehouse space, right?
MW Mhmm, yeah. It used to be a manufacturing facility for parts for the railroad, which is super cool. It’s right there.
SWB Yeah! And it feels warm and bright in there and just very….relaxed, and not that overwhelming beer nerd vibe, which… it’s fine, get nerdy on beer, that’s great.
SWB But there is a point at which breweries have felt to me just—
SWB —too many beer dudes wanting to have beer conversations—
SWB —to the exclusivity of everything else.
MW 100% agree, yeah.
SWB How did you make a space that wasn’t like that? [MW laughs]
MW I mean, the physical space is important first of all. You mentioned the building—it’s this big, old, railroad type building with big, high ceilings. So, the infrastructure is really beautiful, but, obviously, we did have to do a lot to modify and make it ready for the public. One of the things that we always kept in mind in construction was, “how are we going to make this space accessible to everybody?” Our front entrance is a ramp; everybody comes in the same way, you go up the ramp, done. So, people who use a chair or don’t use a chair, same entrance, same accessibility as everybody else. All of our bathrooms are gender-neutral, so anybody can use any bathroom whatsoever—wheelchair accessible stalls, that kind of thing. So, building that in from day one was important in construction. And as far as like the vibe? It’s kind of a weird alchemy. Honestly, I think my background helps a lot in that because I’m not a beer nerd. I enjoy good beer; I also will drink a Bud Light when I’m at a picnic. God, the beer world is probably cringing right now. [all laugh] But it happens! Brewers still drink Bud Light. So, I’m no industry insider, so certain things that I probably don’t even notice because it’s just like my general daily life that I’m like, “okay, well we don’t have to do it this way.” I think having other options for people is huge. Obviously, our beer is number one and we’re really proud of what we make. If you’re not into beer or if you’re gluten intolerant, we do have options for you. We do carry Pennsylvanian made wines and liquors as well. So, it feels like a space that anybody can come to, whether or not you’re a super beer nerd or not.
SWB So, I also wanted to ask a bit more about working with your husband.
SWB Because I think some people work great with their partners. Some people should not work with their partners. [all laugh] How do you make it work?
MW [sigh] Oh, it’s a never-ending conversation! [laughs] I feel like just now we’re starting to get into our vibes and our routines and we’ve been open for eighteen months. So, it’s a long process of figuring out who is doing what and when and how. And we are very collaborative—we have our roles, but it’s not a hard and fast barrier. If he’s doing something in the brewery, he will ask my opinion like, “oh, do you think this type of beer would do well?” And I believe he really does respect that even though I’m not the “brewer” quote-unquote. And the same goes for me; I’m kind of HR, marketing, tap room, finance, and everything else. So, when he needs something, he can come to me and be like, “I need to spend x on y, what do you think?” We’ve always been good at communicating, so I think that’s just the key for anything.
SWB Yeah, it seems like a whole lot of other division of labor.
SWB You already have to do that in a partnership and then you do it again for work.
MW Oh yeah! And the home division of labor we’re working on too! [laughs & SWB laughs]
MW Also a never-ending conversation.
SWB An ongoing topic for sure! So, something I have seen lots of times when it comes to particularly husband-wife businesses and particularly in restaurants, hospitality, I’ll often see the husband role being very public-facing—almost taking that star role—and then the wife role being more behind the scenes, doing all the books and the HR, which you said you’re doing.
MW Mhmm, yeah.
SWB But you said you’ve been really busy in the company. I know that you’ve been really involved in not just the marketing of the company, but talking about things you want to see happen in the industry—we’re going to talk about women and beer, for example. And I’m curious if you ever felt pressured to be more in the background or do people tend to go to him first? Do you experience anything like that?
MW So, this is me being out of my comfort zone. [laughs] I love talking one on one, I’m great individually. When it comes to groups, crowds—like big stuff—I’m always like, “oh, god, I’ll just hang out in the background.” But owning this business has definitely forced me out of that zone. And it’s stuff that I am passionate about and that I want to see happen, so I feel like I have to be out there. If this is my goal and this is what I want to truly see change in the world, then I just kind of have to. Discomfort or not, you just get out there and work through it. And people coming to him first? I’ve seen it. It happens less now I think than it did initially. [SWB & KL laugh] So, that’s good! [laughs] I mean, I will say 99% of our people were awesome, but there were a handful that we worked with in construction and then banking and all that stuff that was just kind of like, “really? Okay… You know I’m handling all the books over here, right? You know that’s me?”
SWB There’s nothing like a conversation with somebody who goes, “well, why don’t you talk that over with your husband [MW & KL laugh] and let me know.” And I’m like, “bitch! [MW & KL laugh] I can make a decision right here!” [all laugh]
KL Exactly. [all laugh]
MW Thankfully, I’ve never heard that, but that subtle crap is just terrible.
KL Yeah, it infiltrates everything.
MW It does. It’s terrible.
KL So, something we’re touching on a little bit is being a woman in beer where it’s very male-dominated. Can you tell us a little bit more about the industry and your experience there?
MW I wish I had data! I wish I had data on the industry, but unfortunately, we don’t yet. There was just actually a study that came out talking about the racial and somewhat gender diversity in the brewing industry, but it was mostly focused on race. So, how many women brewers are there? We don’t know. How many women-owned companies are there? We’re not really sure. So, it’s hard to say. I personally think it’s getting somewhat better. I think that there are plenty of visible women out there in the industry. Thankfully, there’s the Pink Boots Society, which contributes money towards educating women in the industry and just kind of a community of support and whatnot. But, obviously, we all know it’s still very male-dominated. From my experience in Philly, it’s been pretty good actually. There are not many women in the actual physical brewing jobs in Philly, but there are plenty of women in the industry. There are a lot of resources out there and people to connect with. So, that’s been good.
KL When you were getting started, did you ever feel like it was difficult to feel like you were being taken seriously?
MW Yeah. I think that also came from my very different experience coming in as a therapist and not really having any beer background professionally whatsoever. It was a little bit like, “is this because I just don’t really know beer yet or is this because they think I don’t know anything because I’m a woman? Or what is this about?” Yeah, it was hard to tease that out.
KL You put on an event earlier this year—a festival called Bold Women and Beer. Can you tell us about what that was and why it was important to you to put that on?
MW Yeah, it was so much fun! We are already planning for May 2020, so get ready! It was the first women-focused beer festival in the state of Pennsylvania. There have been others around the country, but this was the first that we know of in the entire state, so we’re super excited about that! There are women in the industry, we just have to find them and bring them together. So, we started with members of the Pink Boots society, so anybody that makes any portion of their income via beer can join the Pink Boots Society, and then we have that list of membership to pull from and say, “hey, do you have anyone who would be interested in coming out to this festival and pouring beer and showing off what they do for a living?” So, we really wanted to bring all the women together and showcase all the women that are in the industry already.
KL That’s awesome, we should mark our calendars for that. [MW laughs]
SWB I would definitely go to that. [KL laughs]
MW And we got really good bands and we’re already working on this year, so want to make it more—we definitely are making it bigger this year. We’re trying to close down the streets, so have Buttonwood and Hamilton Street closed, make it bigger, invite more breweries, invite vendors, more bands, so.
SWB Something I love about Philly is the commitment to the block party. [KL laughs]
MW Oh my god, the block party!
KL I know!
SWB It’s so good.
KL It’s so true.
SWB It’s a real thing.
KL It is, it is.
MW It’s fabulous.
SWB So, you mentioned that there’s a recent report that came out on racial diversity.
SWB So, there’s more data on that than on gender. What does it look like from a racial perspective?
SWB I have some guesses! [all laugh]
MW Not good. The answer is not good! [all laugh] Yeah, I don’t have the actual numbers, but I know in general, front of house is okay in terms of racial diversity. So, the people that are actually serving, that are pouring the beers, that are serving the food is okay. Breweries—like actual, physical making the beer, canning the beer, that kind of thing, is pretty abysmal. Ownership is maybe a little bit better than the actual brewery, but it’s still pretty bad in terms of racial diversity.
SWB Yeah, it just seems like an industry that because it’s had so much growth and so much interest—
SWB —in the last, I don’t know, two decades or something, right?
SWB That it just seems prime to also really deal with maybe some of its…
MW Oh, it’s been time! [laughs & KL laughs]
SWB …history. [laughs]
MW More than time to [laughs] deal with this kind of stuff.
MW Thankfully, there are now more resources. The Brewer’s Association, which is the National Trade Organization, does have a diversity ambassador and a diversity committee. In the state of Pennsylvania, we have the Brewers of Pennsylvania, which is our state guild. And I’m actually on the diversity and inclusion committee for that, so we’re looking at ways to make it look like the rest of the state. I think any industry should look like the community in which it is involved.
KL Yeah. And speaking of community and going back to the groups that you are involved with, why is it important to you to be part of those communities and to build them up? What have you gotten out of it?
MW People ask me, “why are you doing this work?” And I’m like, “I…just…I have to?” It’s hard to articulate because it just feels like the thing that everybody should be doing. And, unfortunately, I recognize that it’s not, but it’s obviously been a part of my life for a long time. I got into therapy with a very strong social justice idea; I’m going to help people and it’s going to be great. So, I’m never going to let that go, that’s just part of my personality and who I am. So, being in this industry, I’m not leaving that part of my personality out. It has to come with me and I have to do something with it. [laughs]
SWB Yeah, I like that idea that it’s just always there.
MW & KL Yeah!
SWB I relate to that. No matter where I am, I’m always thinking about this shit.
MW If you were working at, I don’t know, wherever tomorrow, you would probably still be the same person.
SWB Yeah, absolutely. So, I want to get into some of the other stuff that I think has made Love City unique, or at least special to me. One of them was I was reading an article about how this summer, you had your staff trained through something called Safe Bars Philly. I would love if you could tell everybody what Safe Bars Philly is and why that was part of your curriculum.
MW So, Safe Bars Philly is a program that does trainings for bars and restaurants on how to recognize and intervene in sexual harassment. Philadelphia Center Against Sexual Violence is the one that puts on these trainings here in the city and I think it’s hugely valuable. Obviously, when you add the element of alcohol to anything, [laughs] it sort of kicks everything up a notch. So, knowing you’re in a bar, there’s lots of alcohol around, these are behaviors that happen in the world in general, but now you’re here in this tight environment with booze, so like ahhh risky. It just made so much sense to me that if we can take advantage of this, we absolutely should.
SWB How common is it, when you’re talking to your peers in the industry or when you’re talking with other people who work in bars and restaurants, how common is this kind of training? Is this something that people are really implementing often, or are you a little bit more on the leading side of that?
MW [sighs] Unfortunately, I think there are five bars in the entire of Philadelphia that have gone through this training, which is super disappointing to me. I mean, it’s not that bad! It’s two hours one day, it’s not that expensive. There’s really no reason, I think, for people to not take advantage of this. The things that I’ve read from other places are that if they do take advantage of this training it’s like they’re admitting something is wrong. And I’m like, “ah…no? You’re doing the thing to make sure things don’t go wrong!” [laughs]
SWB But something is wrong!
MW It’s a fact!
SWB Something is wrong!
SWB We have a problem of sexual harassment and sexual violence—
MW We live in this world.
SWB —in this world—
SWB —and in this city. The idea that somehow your bar is special—
SWB —and that would never happen here…
MW You’re completely harassment-free!
KL Well, and as you said, it exists and it happens in the world. It’s everywhere.
MW Yeah. I think it was helpful on two levels. One, on just the skills level—it’s just great for life training! [laughs] I feel like I as a human being and individual now can go into the world and be like, “ooh, I have tools, I have things that I can do if I see something weird happening.” So, they talked a lot about deflecting or distracting the person. If there’s something happening and it seems a little weird, just kind of walk up and be like, “hey, how’s it going? How’s your night? Can I get you some water?” Just things like that. For people that are more direct, you can be more direct with people. Or just delegating to another person if you don’t feel comfortable jumping into that scenario. So, three skills, easy to keep in mind! Difficult to implement, easy to keep in mind. So, just at the skills level, it was hugely valuable. But I will say, possibly more valuable was having the staff hear each other’s stories.
MW We have a pretty diverse staff—we’ve got men, women, younger, older—and listening to 99% of the women talk about their experiences in the world and in the restaurant industry and then looking at the guys’ faces and them being like, “oh my god, this is bad. This happens and it’s bad.” And these are people that they worked with for over a year, they’re pretty comfortable with each other, they trust each other, so I think that was…huge.
SWB It’s always interesting to me when you can see it dawn on some guy’s face. “Wait…really? It’s really that bad?”
SWB It’s like…where have you been?!
KL [laughing] Yeah!
SWB So, you’ve done this training and, obviously, you have this background in therapy, this is something that’s important to you—to make this space, like you said, inclusive, which means safe. Are there other things that you’re keeping in mind beyond training the staff that are intended to help make sure that the people who are coming to Love City to have a good time actually have a good time?
MW I think it’s a combination of, obviously, the space itself and being inclusive and being set up in a way that’s conducive to that. I think it’s hiring the right people that are warm and welcoming and not going to talk down to people or just make them feel uncomfortable in any way. I think it’s the types of events that we have and just being very conscious of how things come across. And yeah, anybody can rent our space, but if we’re putting our name anywhere near it, it better be [laughs] right.
SWB So, something else I noticed about Love City is that you do this quarterly giving program and that seems like something that’s pretty important to you. So, I’m curious if you can tell us about that. When and how did it start? Why is that part of the way Love City works?
MW That was…that was me. [laughs & SWB laughs] I was like, “this just has to happen; [KL laughs] it has to be a part of what we do.” Because coming from the background that I come from, I know how much need there is in Philadelphia. We do try to keep it pretty local. I know that nationally and regionally there are huge things to be dealt with as well, but we’re in Philly, we want to give back to Philly. So, I baked it into the business plan from day one, which is also hugely helpful because it lets people know what to expect. Our investors are all on the same page because it’s like, “hey, look, this is baked in here and this is what we’re going to do every single year that we are in existence because it’s important to us.” So, the first year, we actually asked our social media fans and followers to help us choose those organizations. They nominated people and then voted and then we sort of got it from the collective that was around us. For 2019, [laughs] we asked our staff to nominate organizations and we voted on them. I think we’re going to tweak it a little bit for 2020. I’ve heard a lot that people wanted to engage more with the non-profit, so I think we’re going to go down to two, but engage on a deeper level. So, quarterly sounds like three months is a long time, but it’s really not a long time at all. So, to give ourselves six months to be able to say, “okay, for six months we’re donating 10% of all of the sales of this particular beer back to you, and also we would like to do things like volunteer with your organization or host events in our space for you, or things like that.”
SWB Right. I think one of the things I’ve definitely seen with non-profits is that sometimes people come in and they want to help, but without that deeper—
SWB —understanding of the organization—
SWB —without a deeper commitment to the organization, they can’t really help.
SWB They can’t really do anything for them.
MW That’s true.
SWB So, six months makes sense.
MW I was kind of feeling that way about this year. This year, we did have some awesome organizations because they were super close to staff hearts, so they were already involved in those things, but I was already feeling like “well, how are we going to engage in a way that feels not transactional, in a way that more like relationship building and engaging and things like that?” So, I think that’s where we’re headed.
SWB Now you mentioned that this is something that you baked in from the very beginning, and I’d love to ask about that because I think a lot of businesses kind of have it in their head that that would be great, once this happens or that happens. Once we hit this certain size, once we hit a certain level of profit margin, etcetera, thennnnn we’re going to think about that. And you said baking it in from day one was, in fact, easier in some ways.
SWB I’m curious about how did you make that choice? What did your investors say about it?
MW I think not coming from a business background was actually really helpful in this sense [laughs] because yes, of course, we need to make money, we need to keep the doors open, we need to keep the lights on. But beyond that, I’m like, “why do you need five million dollars this year?” You know what I mean? I’m not saying that making money is terrible, but I’m saying you can build these things in, grow a little more slowly, be a little more conscious about the other things you take on, and you’re also already doing something that’s hugely beneficial to the place where you’re deriving benefit from. You know what I mean? You live in this place, you should take care of it. It’s like sweeping up your block or something. [laughs]
MW Terrible analogy but—
SWB Because some people don’t do that either! [laughs & MW laughs]
MW I know!
SWB And you also mentioned it’s 10% of the sales of one particular beer at a time.
SWB And is that enough? Are you really noticing that on the bottom line? Do you feel like…because I know the food and beverage industry doesn’t always have the biggest margins. Is this something where it’s like you kind of have to feel it a little to make an impact?
MW I mean, would it be great to have an extra 10% in revenue? Sure! But it’s not that much of a hit that we can’t do all of the other things that we already want to do. You know? It’s more important to me to doing this giveback constantly than to have a little bit of extra money.
SWB Yeah, yeah. I just feel like the mentality shift is so valuable. By thinking about it from the beginning, you’re like, “I don’t know, we never spent the money!” [laughs]
MW [laughing] It’s not even there, who cares! It’s over here in this other pile. And the same thing goes for me. I always get so annoyed with the industry about hearing about benefits for your employees. Like “oh, when we get a little bigger, we can offer benefits.” No. I care about my employees, I care about my staff. They are getting their benefits now—it’s not about three years from now. And it’s just silly to me that you don’t factor those things in when you build your models out. That doesn’t make any sense to me.
SWB Yeah. We could get into a long conversation about— [all laugh]
MW That’s a whole other topic!
SWB —erosion of employee benefits and the instability of the labor market. [MW laughs] But it’s so nice to see businesses realizing you can have both of those things—
SWB —you just have to actually have a plan that supports it.
MW Yeah, exactly!
MW You can do anything. Anything is a choice. You can just make the choice to do it and then figure out how to make it work. We did it from the beginning, which I grant you is easier because it’s already baked in, but you can choose to do it tomorrow if you really want to.
KL I like hearing a lot of that just because I think people don’t often think about the slow and intentional approach as being maybe a higher payoff in the end.
KL So, I think that’s awesome.
MW I think it definitely is.
KL So, we’re almost out of time here, but before we go we wanted to ask for a little bit of advice.
MW Oh no. [laughs]
KL First up, for listeners who are working in a male-dominated field, what can they do to start creating community for women and other genders who might need that?
MW I’m sure even in the most male-dominated industry, there are women somewhere. Find them, and talk to them, and hopefully be friends with them, and start your community there. That’s a self-care thing, that’s also a resources thing, that’s just where you’ve got to start because one person can’t do it alone.
SWB How did you first start connecting with and finding other women in the industry? How did you build those initial relationships?
MW Honestly, having the Pink Boots Society was hugely helpful. I basically had a list of people to reach out to and choose from. It’s even people you just come across like bar owners, for example, that are like, “oh, I know so and so from this brewery” and “oh, yeah, you should talk to her.” So, it’s just mining the network that’s there. It’s a lot of work but I think it’s worth it.
SWB It is work to put yourself out there in that way—
SWB —and always be doing networking thing, but…
MW Ugh, I hate it. If it’s networking, I’m like, “do I have to?” [KL laughs]
SWB But having community is so valuable.
MW It is.
SWB So, second advice question. You have done a lot of work to keep Love City connected to your core values and core beliefs; there’s a lot of that that we’ve talked about baked in from the very beginning. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling there in terms of aligning what they do on a day-to-day basis—they got to work at some company—with their own values?
MW When it’s not your thing, it’s harder. You do have to walk a line between what your company needs and wants and what you need and want. But I think there’s always little ways to do stuff like that. Whether it’s tearing down the gendered bathroom signs and just putting up new ones or asking if you can do that. Just being that person that can take ownership over some of those things. Again, not trying to save the world and do everything for everybody, but if it’s a value of yours that’s important, there’s got to be at least a small way that you could finagle that into your position?
SWB Make other people just a little uncomfortable.
MW & KL Yeah! [all laugh]
MW If they’re uncomfortable, that’s not your fault! [laughs]
Kl Yeah, start there! Well, Melissa, thank you so much for joining us today. For our listeners in Philly, you can check out Love City in person at 10th and Hamilton in Callowhill. But for everyone else, how can they learn more about Love City and you?
MW lovecitybrewing.com is our website. We’re on all social platforms @LoveCityBrewing. My personal Instagram is @LoveCityMelissa. That’s us!
SWB And you’ll find me and Katel at Love City having a beer [MW laughs] very soon.
KL That’s right.
MW I hope so.
MW We have Happy Hour, [laughs] so hopefully, we’ll see you there. [all laugh]
KL We’ll be there.
KL Thank you so much.
SWB Thank you, Melissa.
MW Thank you, this has been great, thanks. [short transition music plays]
Fuck Yeah of The Week
SWB Okay, Katel, it’s that time again. Are you ready with a fuck yeah?
KL I am! So, remember earlier we talked about crying? [laughs]
KL And not always the good kind?
KL Well, I want to give a fuck yeah to the good kind of crying because I just did it very recently and I did it openly and fully and…I did it in front of you.
SWB Can I just say that you did it literally in this recording studio? [KL laughs]
KL I did, just moments ago.
SWB Fifteen minutes ago! [both laugh]
KL And at the end, it was like a big sigh of relief and…I did it in front of a friend! Fuck yeah to that as well because you actually held space for it and you said, “it’s okay,” not “what’s wrong?” and that went a long way.
SWB It is okay.
SWB You needed some time.
KL I did.
SWB Yeah. Fuck yeah to that! I think it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to take up that space to do it. Something I want to actually get better at is being able to hold that space and let people sit with their feelings—
SWB —which is important to me.
KL Yeah, I feel like I’m hearing some more stories of people just kind of crying in public and I’m all about it!
SWB Ughh, yes! I don’t know if you remember, a week or two ago now there was this clip of Alexander Ocasio-Cortez going around crying about climate change.
SWB She was moved to tears about climate change.
SWB And there was this whole thread on Twitter about how this just shows why there’s a stereotype that women are too emotional for politics because they cry at things like this. And I’m like, [KL laughs] what are we talking about it? Why can’t she—first off, she’s allowed to cry.
SWB I think it actually shows a lot of strength to be able to push for the things she believes in so clearly and so consistently and also open up emotionally, that actually takes a lot.
SWB But also, fucking climate change? Climate change is going to upend the lives of millions of people!
SWB It already is starting to do that!
SWB People’s lives are threatened. We should all be heartbroken over that!
KL I could not agree more. I mean, I have cried recently about climate change. [laughs]
SWB Yes! Yes because it’s terrifying!
SWB I think pretending that it isn’t doesn’t do anybody any good! I think that’s actually one of the big problems—
SWB —in government and in business is this idea that everybody can be cool and detached about stuff that…why should we be cool and detached about it?! It’s actually real human cost.
SWB And not being able to access that feeling and that pain and not tapping into the reality, I think it sort of keeps things at a distance. So, we don’t actually think about how important they are because we keep them at the policy level.
KL Yeah! And if you think about if you don’t go through that, and you don’t process it, and you don’t let that crying happen and feel the relief and catharsis after it, maybe you can actually move towards a solution or move towards something better.
SWB It is! It is so much easier I think to move forward once you’ve allowed yourself to really feel what you feel.
SWB And we didn’t call this Strong Feelings on accident, [both laugh] it’s something we really believe in!
KL It really is!
SWB So, fuck yeah to crying.
KL Yeah, fuck yeah to crying. Well, that’s it for us this week. Strong Feelings is recorded in Philadelphia and produced by Steph Colbourn at Edit Audio. Our theme music is “Deprogrammed” by Blowdryer. They are an awesome Philly-based band that you should check out at blowdryer.bandcamp.com. Thanks to Melissa Walter for being our guest today, and thank you for listening! If you liked our show today, don’t forget to subscribe and rate us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts. And also don’t forget to get some strong feelings delivered right to your inbox! Sign up for our newsletter at StrongFeelings.co. See you again next week!
SWB Bye! [theme music plays for 15 seconds and fades out]