New Jersey Couple Hopes To Usher In More Black-Owned Breweries

In the United States, there are approximately 8,200 breweries serving customers. Unfortunately, only 60 or so of those breweries are Black-owned. Luckily, one man in New Jersey is hoping to change that and provide a future for Black entrepreneurs.

Tucked in a corner of Montclair, Denise Ford Sawadogo of Jamaica and Leopold Sawadogo of Burkina Faso operate their very-own operation, Montclair Brewery. Across the menu, the Sawadogos highlight Black history with brews like "Black Is Beautiful" and "Black Mamba" inspired by the late Kobe Bryant.

“It is important for us to add our culture into our beer,” Denise Ford Sawadogo said.

“That was one of the reasons for opening. We said we didn’t want to open and just be like every other brewery and do what everyone else is doing.”

Leo Sawadogo learned about the brewing industry through his mother. In Burkina Faso, he stood out as one of the only to enter the industry.

“I’m probably one of the first men from Africa who tried brewing beer,” he said.

“It’s just not a custom for men to brew beer in those countries.”

Leo Sawadogo continues to stand out as he incorporates elements of his upbringing. Many of the brewery's drinks fuses together ingredients from the Caribbean and Africa. The Sawdogo's approach to their business played a huge role in the current success.Following the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the couple saw an uptick in business at the brewery.

“We were flooded that weekend and that week afterwards,” Denise Ford Swadogo said.

“We ran out of things because we had no idea that was coming. All of a sudden everyone wanted to support a Black-owned business.”

Despite the recent success they've experienced, the Sawadogos are looking to bring others in to the industry. As Leo puts it, he doesn't want to be the "only one."

“It is very important. It is very sad for me to walk into the Brewer’s Conference, and I’m the only (Black) guy there walking around, or there’s few of us,” Leo Sawadogo said.

To combat the dearth of Black-owned breweries, he hopes to see Black-ownership increase in the coming years. As Leo puts it, Black-ownership is the key to fighting injustice around the world.

“There’s a saying in my country: ‘You’ve got to learn the man’s game to beat him at his own game.,’" he said.

“We’re going to go from (owning businesses) to fighting every injustice around the world.”

Photo: Getty Images

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