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This Restaurant in Silver Lake Is Only Featuring Booze From Black Winemakers and Brewers

[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]ollowing the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide outcry at police brutality against Black men in the United States, people were asked to do whatever possible in their personal lives and professional spheres to combat systemic racism in the United States.

For John Himmelstein and D’nell Larson, the owners/partners of Silver Lake's Gingergrass, that takes the form of opening a new outdoor beer-and-wine tent in the parking lot of their 16-year-old  Vietnamese restaurant that exclusively features Black winemakers and Black brewers.

“We were trying to figure out a way of doing something sustainable to support Black businesses,” Larson says of the moment last spring when she and Himmelstein decided to redirect their buying power towards Black business owners as a means of backing them.

Brown Estate/House of Brown Chardonnay

The menu offered inside of the new tent currently features five brewers and seven winemakers, with two more about to join the expanding list.

Wines include the wares of Willamette Valley-based vintner André Hueston Mack’s Maison Noir, known nearly as well for his clever bottle labels as his great Pinot Noir; a renowned Zinfandel-Cabernet blend from Brown Estates/House of Brown, Napa’s first-and-only Black-owned winery; wines from Grammy-winning drummer Oscar Seaton Jr.’s Seat Pocket label; a Rosé from Dom Perignon vet Donae Burston of St. Tropez’s La Fete Du Rose; and Aslina Wines, made by South Africa’s first Black female winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela.

Featured brewers include Crown & Hops in Inglewood, Sacramento’s Urban Roots, and Downtown L.A.’s Boomtown Brewery.

It is the owners’ hope that shining a light on and spending capital with these companies helps nurture their success in a field full of disadvantages for small businesses.

8TrillPils from Crowns & Hops in Inglewood, which supports a grant for Black-owned businesses.

“We really saw how inaccessible these products were,” Himmelstein recalls about the many months needed to bring the idea from inception to implementation. “No one knows about this stuff. There’s no real distribution, at least through our traditional means of getting things."

“It should not be this hard to get this product,” Larson adds. “Which is very good and already very much in line with what we were selling. It’s definitely out there, it’s just not that accessible.”

The menu is also an opportunity to provide Silver Laker residents with another opportunity to support Black businesses locally, as the neighborhood isn’t currently bustling with Black-owned businesses, and giving exposure to products people should know.

“We’re in Silver Lake, not a super diverse demographic, you know?” says Larson. “Crowns and Hops are in Inglewood, where people may know them. But people in Silver Lake might not. They’re not getting distributed.”

The owners tell TACO that they don’t want their efforts to be about Gingergrass or the couple behind it, so much as they want to support independent Black businesses and actively embrace anti-racist business practices.

Crowns & Hops' BPLB Hazy IPA, which stands for "Black People Love Beer."

They’re also aware that Black winemakers aren’t the only demographic dealing with invisibility in a white-dominated industry. Discussions have taken place about doing something similar to bring increased attention to LGBTQ+, Latinx, and women winemakers.

“This is where we want to start and that is definitely where we want to go,” Himmelstein says of the beverage program. “I think the diversity is out there and if we can start it here and go somewhere else that would be phenomenal.”

Larson notes that many of the winemakers and breweries themselves are sponsoring funds, scholarships, and non-profits that she hopes will see extra benefit from increased business, as well.

Going forward, Gingergrass is working to add more Black winemakers and brewers to the outdoor menu, in addition to launching eventual collaborations with brewers, organizing bottle release events, and watching the program grow.

“We both felt like we had to do something,” Larson says. “We’re trying our best to make change and support as many people with this as we can. We want these makers to have more people buying their products.”

Gingergrass ~ 2396 Glendale Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90039 ~ (323) 644-1600

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