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Kansas City’s newest brewery isn’t just the first in Missouri owned by African Americans, it's 'sacred soil'

Interior photo showing three men sitting around a small tabletop with two glasses of beer on it. They are smiling and looking at the camera.
Vine Street Brewing Co.
From left, Vine Street Brewing Company co-founders Kemet Coleman, Woodie Bonds Jr., and Elliott Ivory with their craft beer creations on the ground floor of the new brewery at 2010 Vine St. in Kansas City, Missouri.

From their new spot on the south end of the Historic 18th and Vine district, Vine Street Brewing Company’s owners want to create an inclusive, multicultural atmosphere with artwork, community service, music and — of course — beer.

Kemet Coleman admits he wasn't keen on the taste of beer, or the culture around its consumption, when he became a guest services representative for Boulevard Brewing Company in 2013.

“I tried maybe a Boulevard Wheat or something,” Coleman said. “I really didn't know the difference between any of the styles, or what was possible with beer.”

Coleman remembered liking the beer, but the real inspiration to jump into the industry came when he realized the historical connection between Black culture and brewing beer.

“When I first discovered that beer was an African invention, that really blew my mind,” said Coleman, who is also a jazz performer and rapper. “The ancient Egyptians were an evolution of that. It goes tens of thousands of years back in time. African women were essentially the first brewers.”

Now, two years after announcing he and business partners wanted to bring craft beer to the Historic 18th and Vine district, The Vine Street Brewing Company is having its grand opening.

The brand’s logo, a beer goddess named Maris, pays homage to that history by depicting her with full lips, a bold Afro and bushy eyebrows.

“There’s glaring underrepresentation in the brewing industry,” said head brewer Elliott Ivory, who co-founded Vine Street with Coleman and Woodie Bonds Jr.

“Progress requires a collective effort. We’re grateful the KC scene comes with friends and supporters, both within and outside of the industry," Ivory said.

Coleman recently earned an invitation to the White House by becoming part of the 1% of Black-owned breweries in the U.S. He was asked to join the Young Men of Color Roundtable, a conference on minority entrepreneurship.

“Honestly, it was an honor to be at the White House as the mayor’s selection to represent Kansas City,” Coleman told KCUR’s Up To Date in May.

‘Sacred soil’

Vine Street, which is Missouri’s first Black-owned brewery, is in a 4,800-square-foot facility that used to house one of Kansas City’s first public works institutions, the Street Department.

The building’s 150-year-old limestone walls still don graffiti from decades of abandonment. Leaving them in place was something Coleman said was purposeful when planning the redesign. He called the place “sacred soil.”

“We’re bridging the past and present, and hope to foster a sense of pride and belonging for everyone who walks through our doors,” said Coleman. “The ground that the brewery is on is a very significant part of American history and Black history. So, we wouldn't have done it any other way. It pays homage and actually reflects the history of the jazz district and this building.”

 Exterior photo of a stone building with arched windows and arched roof.
Vine Street Brewing Co.
The Vine Street Brewing Company headquarters, at 2010 Vine St. Graffiti from its days as a makeshift shelter for homeless people still remains. Co-founder Kemet Coleman said the designs were left visible to create an authentic aesthetic that mirrors the culture and history of the area.

After a 10 a.m. ribbon cutting on Friday by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas and others, guests will get the opportunity to see Vine Street’s two-story taproom, an outside beer garden, and a brew room equipped with four fermentation tanks capable of producing 14 kegs at once.

The celebration begins at 3 p.m. with live performances from local musicians on the south end of the historic Jazz District, at 2010 Vine St.

Coleman believes the grand opening is a huge step in the continued revitalization of Kansas City’s historic jazz district.

“We are going to add a new element to Kansas City's most famous street,” said Coleman. “There should be no reason why a street that's internationally renowned became one of the more blighted streets in downtown. So what we do can really set a great standard for the future.”

Besides the beer, the renovated space will house the Warren Harvey Art Gallery and The Prospect KC, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing healthier food to residents in east side neighborhoods.

For Coleman, having other Black businesses in the building means the venture is about more than just pale ales and lagers — it's about bringing vitality back to a once thriving neighborhood.

“I think this brewery can be a place where people come together from both sides of Troost and the state line. So, for all of the folks who are looking to do projects in the jazz district, this is a path forward,” he said. “It's an opportunity that’s going to be great for the city.”

As KCUR’s race and culture reporter, I work to help readers and listeners build meaningful and longstanding relationships with the many diverse cultures that make up the Kansas City metro. I deliver nuanced stories about the underrepresented communities that call our metro home, and the people whose historically-overlooked contributions span politics, civil rights, business, the arts, sports and every other realm of our daily lives.
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