The Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, more affectionately or notoriously (wink) known as Bed-Stuy, is the heart of Black Brooklyn. In a neighborhood with such a storied history, it feels different there, almost as if the brownstones, apartment buildings, tree lined blocks and parks are dying to recall stories that they’re unable to tell themselves. But the people who live within the nearly three square miles of its Central Brooklyn confines can’t wait to tell you where they’re from and best believe they will.
Nestled on opposite sides of Tompkins and Putnam is Bed-Vyne Brew, half brewery, half wine store, but everything community. We caught up with Mike and Rotimi, two of the three owners of Bed-Vyne where we talked about more than soccer, we discussed that while living in a rapidly changing area where wineries and tap brew may not normally be associated with its residents, the residents embraced and turned it into common ground and the place to be during the summer in Brooklyn.
Tommie Battle: How did you get into the business of brewing and wine?
Michael Brooks: My background is in pharmaceuticals. So I did that for 10 years. Then, at some point I reached a glass ceiling. So, I decided to do my own thing. So I did consulting for a few years. And, you know, doing that, you know, obviously, a certain level of thing, and then, you know, I mean, my network came up with this big project, and a friend of mine was like, “Yo, I want to open a wine store.” So when I decided to invest money for the first year, I was like, You know what, I'll take a chance, or you just my experience in pharma sales and I didn't think much about it. I'll risk it. It didn't cost us much, and in the first month we doubled our money. I never looked back.
TB: So how did the neighborhood embrace you?
MB: It was fantastic. Before we opened we decided to throw a party for the neighborhood, just introduce ourselves to it. We threw a Rose party across the street where they had a nice backyard, and invited the whole neighborhood. And we just had Provence Rose. We just educated the neighborhood about where Rosie originates from. Our mindset was that we're coming into a community and we're here not just to extract resources from the neighborhood. We're here to be part of the culture and keep the money sustained in this neighborhood. So the surrounding area can grow and start providing services, you know?. So the whole point was to start developing commerce in this community. Instead of extracting resources in the community, actually keeping the money here. We wanted to set an example.
TB: How did you make it through 2020?
MB: So the one thing I would say is, the reason why we made it through was, you know, we have a business model that doesn't just rely on one thing, right? We all have backgrounds and marketing, and someone will understand that you have to, you have to have balance. So you can't just be too heavy on one thing, right? And so what helped us was, we had an infrastructure in place to take orders and automate, via mobile app, and also our website, and that's what helped us not only sustain us to recover, but help us make an impact here. Because of that, we were able to get through COVID.
TB: Are you going to use that business model going forward?
MB: Obviously, you always want to keep making improvements, you want to be scalable. We definitely want to be more robust, so we're always looking for ways to improve.
TB: What is your favorite product?
MB: It’s hard to say what's the best one of the store or really our favorite, it depends on the category. Our most popular wine is Prosecco, Prosecco is like the number one category for sparkling. The volume is insane. We have our own private label Prosecco. For reds, typically, it's Malbec as the most popular, so we have our private label Malbec from Argentina. You know? Then we also Rose at this time of the year, we have a couple of those.
TB: How did you get past the stigma of African Americans not being knowledgeable about wine?
MB: I'll tell you a funny story. When we first put up the craft beer bar here, right? We opened a wine store first in 2011, we opened this bar in 2013. There was a comment in one of the real estate publications like "Craft beer in Bed Stuy. We'll see how that works." We already knew that craft beer was a booming market in the US at the time. So it's really based out of ignorance. The issue that I have is that a lot of people think that just because we were Black that we are mindless consumers, right? That's not the case. We're not mindless consumers. We have discernment, just like anyone else.
TB: What makes this corner the corner to be in Bed-Stuy during the summer? What makes this little block so special?
MB: There's energy right here in this corridor. It's not only here, I think it's all the way up to Fulton Street.
Rotimi Akinnuoye: What I would like to say about that is, you know, one of the brothers pulled me aside on Sunday, and he was like, "Yo, you guys brought magic here." I was Iike: "No, the coffee shop was here, Common Ground, Peaches Hot House, you know?" He was said "No, this corner is something special," and I think what it is with us we are part of the community. Often with a lot of businesses you don't know the owners, you don't know what they do, you don't know where they live." I'm on the board of the Bed-Stuy YMCA, I'm on the board of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We've raised over $20,000 for Campaign Against Hunger. I think people feed off of that energy like Mike says, people feel "these guys really care."
MB: We are inclusive, not exclusive.
RA: We've had like five engagements here, and then they call this Black Girl Magic Way because there's 15 Black Women owned businesses on this stretch, which is unheard of here in New York. It's a big deal.
Bed-Vyne Brew is located at 370 Tompkins Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216, and Bed-Vyne Wine & Spirits is at 385 Tompkins Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11216 or visit them online at https://bed-vyne.com/