By: Malcolm Mayhew
|BREWED was born out of a desire to revitalize the city through people. Owner Joey Turner and his colleagues believe that all people have value.|
|CJ Mills is homeless and totes this wagon full of supplies on Magnolia.|
|Here Joey Turner meets at Brewed with his wife Lori, Dayna Corley, Lorenzo Cobos, CJ Mills and David Corley.|
|Kenneth Wiley (right) spent 37 years in prison and now has gainful employment at Brewed. The gastro-pub survived its two-year anniversary in mid-October, a feat in the restaurant business, and Lorenzo, CJ and Joey all met for coffee to celebrate the past and daydream about what’s to come.|
| photography by Alex Lepe |
“CJ” Clyde Johnson Mills walked into BREWED, a trendy gastro-pub on Fort Worth’s Magnolia Avenue, hoping to run into one of the owners. He ordered a French press cup of Colombian coffee for $2.71, his favorite and a rare treat for him. CJ is homeless. With long strawberry-blond hair and matching beard, toting a small wagon full of supplies that reads: “NEVER QUIT! Jesus is Lord,” he wears tattered clothing and has a booming raspy voice. He didn’t really fit in with the average customer at BREWED—women in white jeans, designer tunics and hobo bags, and men in suits meeting clients—but he is a close friend to Joey Turner, one of the eight owners.
Joey was not expecting him. He was in a meeting about starting a networking group for entrepreneurs, non-profits and creative types in Fort Worth similar to The Grove in Dallas. Joey is always up to something and dreaming big, but his “street friends” are his first priority, so he paused the meeting to introduce CJ to everyone.
Joey and CJ were thrilled to see each other.
“Man, you look good,” CJ said to Joey.
“You look pretty snazzy yourself,” Joey replied.
CJ is a veteran who has spent more than 30 years on the streets. Joey met him five years ago when CJ was living in a sophisticated tent off I-35 and Rosedale. Joey introduced himself.
“I was really trying to live my life differently and find time to meet some street people and get to know them rather than just give them a drive-by handout, not really even considering getting to know them,” Joey said.
They’ve been great friends ever since.
CJ is one of the many reasons why the business as mission, BREWED, opened two years ago. The coffee shop/eatery proudly calls itself “the locals’ living room,” and that means anybody and everybody can come and hang out as long as they wish in one of its cozily decorated rooms, complete with old record covers on the walls and fireplaces. The owners intended for the space to encourage creative discussion and collaboration across the social strata.
“BAM [Business as mission] is broadly defined as a for-profit commercial business venture that is Christian led, intentionally devoted to being used as an instrument of God’s mission to the world and is operated in a cross-cultural environment,” said the book, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice.
Which is probably why BREWED is conveniently located in the popular redeveloping part of town, Fairmont —a stone’s throw from MHMR, The Women’s Center as well as other shelters and social service centers.
“I think the Millennials are starting to want businesses to be more than just about profit. [Work] is more than just a paycheck,” BREWED’s former founding manager Miranda Holland said.
Its philosophy is rare in Fort Worth, but a part of a movement all across the country. Just think TOMS (the shoes), a for-profit business that is sustainable, but with a purpose and a mission. Since 2006, TOMS’ founder and CEO Blake Mycoskie has donated more than 10 million pairs of shoes to children worldwide. He has since launched his eyewear line and a coffee roasting company that provides clean water to developing countries. The more money he makes, the more he gives back to the world.
“A big part of what we do is to give back to the community. Not necessarily money because it is year one, and we aren’t rolling in the dough…The main [but not only] work we are able to do with the community is with the people we hire,” Brewed co-owner and founder of The Net, Melissa Ice, said.
So it was serendipitous when one of their closest “street friends,” Bob Quinn, a former Wall Street banker, CEO and recovering heroin addict, introduced them to the program Next STEP’s coordinator Stephen Goodman. The owners at BREWED felt the program, which placed earnest and sincere ex-offenders in a job through an intensive screening and training program, was a perfect fit for their mission.
Workforce Solutions Next STEP is a pilot study funded by a U.S. Department of Labor grant that started November 2011 and ends June 2015. The study is meant to find solutions for the current national unemployment problem.
Next STEP organizer and Texas Workforce director of capacity, building and training, Debby Kratky, applied for the competitive grant but knew she had better chances of winning it if she targeted unemployment of a very specific group with the idea that employment will keep them from returning to old habits.
After 17 years at Fort Worth’s East Side Texas Workforce, she’s seen frustrating patterns with ex-offenders and homeless people alike—most have the sincere drive to stay out of prison and off the streets. They have a great work ethic, but their records and empty resumes thwart their good intentions. So after looking at high unemployment numbers and studies on the astronomical rates offenders return to prison within three years, she worked them into her grant proposal.
She never knew she would win this lottery.
Kratky’s Next STEP was one of seven accepted out of 300 applicants, and one of three that works solely with ex-offenders. Indianapolis and New York City are the other two, but Tarrant County is the only one working with employers in the private sector like BREWED.
The owners of BREWED were happy to partner with Next STEP because of the structure and screening process these ex-offenders went through. And not all of their “street friends” had succeeded as employees.
“We had some homeless people not work out in the beginning because they fell back into addiction. [We] didn’t have the tools to work with them,” Miranda said.
She also said BREWED didn’t have its identity as a mission set in place yet. And it hid the dark past of its street-friend-employees thinking that would help them start over and succeed. But the restaurant culture isn’t always a great place for recovering addicts because of the late nights and drinking that can go with it.
When its next set of employees came through, it hid nothing, risking rejection from its middle- to upper-class customers.
Most accepted them with open arms.
One Door Closes, Another Opens On July 26, 2012, a school bus hit and killed Bob on Lancaster Avenue just months before BREWED opened its doors for business.
Always positive, uplifting and encouraging others, he had become one of Joey’s best friends. They met weekly at Starbucks to dream about life and what BREWED could become. Joey said Bob not only encouraged him to move forward with his own business, but also many others to stay sober and get jobs.
Not long before he died, he had put together the pro forma and business plan for BREWED. He helped Joey give a presentation at a Social Enterprise Workshop at TCU and introduced Joey to the idea of working with Next STEP.
“He dreamed with us. He dreamed about Brewed,” Miranda said.
And just months after Bob died, ex-offenders Gloria Hulsey, 50, and Kenneth Wiley, 60, were walking out of prison for the first time in years. Gloria had been in twice for dealing methamphetamines, and Kenneth had been in for 37 years for robbery and murder.
Through the Next STEP introduction, Bob unwittingly paved the path for both to get and keep their first honest jobs after having many doors shut in their faces.
“People hear about your background, and they slam the door in your face. They judge you. I tried for a year and gave up,” Gloria said.
Both Gloria and Kenneth celebrated two years of freedom this year. Gloria got a second job on her own selling advertisements for the Thrifty Nickel and has stayed sober longer than she has since 21 years old. She got her children back and is watching them finish their last years of school.
Both Joey and Miranda have said they are by far the most dependable, consistent and caring employees.
The Building and Location It was time to turn their dream into a business, and Joey looked to CJ to help him find the building. After all, Joey and his seven new business partners had no restaurant experience. But CJ did as a cook in a steakhouse.
Also, CJ develops a tight budget and a strict meal plan with his SSI disability checks. What is left over he uses to buy water, underwear, toothbrushes and toothpaste and carts them around in his wagon for homeless people battling addiction and mental illness on the Fort Worth’s Southside. He knows how to save and spend money.
He told Joey the restaurant space would show them “favor,” meaning they would make compromises.
“I really took that to heart and shared it with the team,” Joey said.
They first looked at a building on Vickery, but the landlord wasn’t willing to put in a kitchen vent among other accommodations, so they moved on.
It was a suffocating summer day when a musky shoe-box-shaped shell opened up on Magnolia. Joey led CJ there to take a look. It was ugly, but the realtor said the landlord was willing to give them an amazing deal, which included a grant to build a patio and parking lot.
The two looked at each other and smiled.
“I didn’t know if the deal would workout or if my partners would like the building, but deep down, I was convinced this was my space,” Joey said.
The Dream BREWED was born out of a desire to revitalize the city through people and buildings. Joey, Melissa and their colleagues believe that all people have value. Their job is to acknowledge these assets, not focusing on deficits, and work with those.
“Jobs are the first thing we need to do. Usually, we start with food and clothes, and job is at the bottom. The idea is to flip it around,” Joey said.
Through the community they are building around their brewpub, and the few people they give a second chance at life through work, they hope to change the face of Fort Worth.
“This business is a conversation with the city of Fort Worth. How can we lift the foundation of this city? Start a conversation, [and] get people thinking about it?” Melissa said.
They know it will be a slow process, but they are not going to give up.
“Once you’re tired of hearing something over and over, someone is just hearing it for the first time,” Melissa said.
After their dream took shape, they needed something tangible to work with: a business.
“We had to be the craziest people in the world to think we could pull off something of this magnitude. We had no idea how daunting the task would be, but we have been told that perhaps the uniqueness of BREWED was created due to our lack of knowledge of the blueprint in restaurant development. We broke all the rules,” Joey said.
Lorenzo Cobos thinks so. He spent 15 years on the streets, hitchhiking all over America searching for truth, meaning and work before he got sick and moved home to Fort Worth. He had a culinary arts certificate and some experience, so BREWED employed him as a cook.
“There is a sense of community there [at BREWED] that is unique to Fort Worth. There is a tolerance for outsiders even though it is a yuppie crowd. That’s what makes this place unique. It is where the upper class connects with the lower class. They have a genuine tolerance and open-mindedness about people that aren’t like them. I’ve been all over the United States and have not encountered a group like them.”
Humans are made of many colorful layers, some darker or different, but not less than others. Like humans, civilizations and cities are made of many colorful layers too. When you peel away the wealthy, beautiful couple walking down the avenue, the pretty storefronts and nice things on the shelves, the upscale restaurants filled with diners, what’s left underneath are the homeless people and empty buildings. The owners—the Corleys, the Clarks, the Turners, and the Ices— kept that bottom layer in mind and built their business off of that foundation.
BREWED survived its two-year anniversary in mid-October, a feat in the restaurant business, and Lorenzo, CJ and Joey all met for coffee to celebrate the past and daydream about what’s to come.
“It’s not about a cool, hip new restaurant. It’s about leaning into your neighborhood to find ways to add value and serve,” Joey once wrote in an essay about his journey to open BREWED.
What gets blurry is: Who is helping whom?
By: Malcolm Mayhew