Philly Beer

How Philly’s new woman-owned brewery rekindled hope, despite 2020

Triple Bottom Brewing’s first year was cut in half by the coronavirus, but the business — and its mission — have survived.

The Triple Bottom team celebrates one year in business

The Triple Bottom team celebrates one year in business

Triple Bottom Brewing
tesshart

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A couple weeks ago, Triple Bottom Brewing celebrated one year since we opened our doors.

The before times made up almost exactly half our experience as a brewery. We made plans for joyful gatherings: Collaborations with other women-owned businesses! Neighborhood street festivals! Our first wedding! We lined up new beer releases in preparation for an exciting first spring.

Pandemic times have found us preoccupied by survival. Not just survival of the brewery, but of ourselves and our team.

Yet we’re still going. I’m buoyed by our team’s shoutouts on group text, our neighbors sending each other beers with their stimulus checks, our new cans making their way out into the world. I’m buoyed by what I still imagine Triple Bottom will be when we grow up. I’m buoyed by the fact that we’ve made it a whole year — THIS whole year — and we’re still the brewery I imagined we could be.

Triple Bottom Brewing cofounder Tess Hart (L) and general manager Sola Onitiri, just before the September 2019 launch

Triple Bottom Brewing cofounder Tess Hart (L) and general manager Sola Onitiri, just before the September 2019 launch

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn

It’s bigger than beer

Triple Bottom Brewing was founded with a social mission. We’re a fair chance business, which means we actively seek to hire people who might otherwise be excluded from economic opportunity.

We spent nearly four years building the foundations of our company culture — imagining a place where people respected each other’s differences, lifted up the good in everyone, learned a lot, and had a great time being together. We studied trauma-informed care, learned from social justice leaders, listened to our neighbors, and built an ecosystem of advisors to help us create a diverse, just, and joyful place to work. It took effort, tons of time, lots of curiosity, humility and hope.

Our team ended up being remarkable. They come from a huge variety of experiences, and many have overcome challenges such as homelessness and incarceration. And they’re all rockstars.

In an industry dominated by white men, our workforce is 50% people of color and 50% women. From day one, they connected with each other — and with the vision of what Triple Bottom could become. After training, one team member told me they could imagine how scary it was to kindle this vision, and then hope others would help keep it aflame.

“But don’t worry,” the team member assured me. “We’ve caught the fire.”

Pandemic pivots to find new biz

Of course, the pandemic derailed all of this. We’d just made our final construction payment and had no money in the bank. We furloughed our team immediately so they could get on unemployment.

Within two days of the city’s mid-March shutdown, we banded with a group of local producers to launch the Joy Box delivery service, and quickly brought in a mobile canning line to help us transition to an entirely new business model. Our community showed up in a huge way — lining up to pick up beers at our window and sending messages of support and solidarity.

Everything felt sadder, though. Without our team, without our ability to host neighborhood gatherings and fundraisers, I worried we would lose track of our mission. Sales have been cut in half, and that feeling of scarcity is wearying. It can be hard to connect with the big vision — that everyone in every community should have the opportunity to craft something great — when the days are filled with apprehension.

But 2020’s hardships also sparked societal movements that give us the hope and energy to carry on.

A movement toward anti-racism

The pain and catharsis of June’s widespread protests for racial justice jolted many people into examining the inertia of white supremacy for the first time. While I worry that some of the early statements released by businesses were empty words, I am excited by the possibility that many organizations will begin to drive meaningful change from the inside out.

At Triple Bottom, where we’ve been committed to anti-racist actions since our inception, we certainly still have progress to make.

Some steps we’re taking: talking about race and racism more explicitly as a team. Launching the Triple Bottom Supper Club to spotlight the talents of women-identifying and Black, Indigenous and people of color chefs. Working with Mama-Tee to install a community fridge. Developing a new storytelling series with other social justice organizations in Philadelphia (stay tuned). We check in with each other a lot along the way.

And we’re not alone. We’ve seen employees holding their bosses to higher standards of equity and inclusion, and leaders actually taking notice. We’ve noted more interest in fair chance hiring. I’m excited by all of this. I hope it sustains.

Valuing the people who do the work

Every single person on the Triple Bottom team — both full time and part time — accumulates paid time off, can join our company-subsidized health plan, and earns a living wage¹.

This is not the norm in the restaurant industry, where tight margins rule. In Pennsylvania, it is legal to pay someone $2.83 per hour if that person is making tips. It is still legal to do that right now, when restaurant workers are putting their lives on the line to serve someone a meal, while getting fewer tips because fewer people are dining out.

In the last few months we’ve all realized the tremendous void left when our favorite neighborhood spots and special occasion destinations are closed. But the closure opened space for the industry to examine the status quo, and realize there’s lots of room for improvement.

At Triple Bottom, we began offering health insurance to everyone as we started bringing team members back to work this summer. We remain committed to paying a living wage, even though it’s even harder to make payroll each week. And in the last few months, we’ve seen more bars and restaurants pledge to do the same — whether as a result of deep introspection or publicly getting called out.

We’ll all need the support and solidarity of our customers to make these changes sustainable. As more food and drink businesses reprioritize costs to ensure fair wages, we as patrons may need to shift our expectations of the value of a drink or a meal. I believe we can do it. The pandemic showed we can forge new paths forward when all of our assumptions and routines are shattered (even if it’s exhausting!)

We can change the industry for the better if we approach the challenge with the same urgency we’ve been approaching survival. Because how can our businesses survive if the people who work for us cannot?

Looking to the future

One year in, and I’m worn out, but still filled with the hope and drive that launched Triple Bottom.

I hope our brewery can continue to imagine what it means to be an inclusive and just workplace, producing truly special and fun and delicious beers for our community in a way that actively welcomes new voices and values the talents and ideas of all people.

I hope we can contribute to the collective imagination as we map out a world in which fair wages and inclusive workplaces are the norm, not the exception.

Society has proven it can adapt when it has to. Now let’s adapt because we choose to. Let’s create a local economy where everyone has the opportunity to craft something great. It will take an active effort, every day.

At Triple Bottom, we intend to keep working. A year is just the beginning.