This essay was originally published via ImpactPHL Perspectives, a multi-part series which explores the many facets of the impact economy in Greater Philadelphia from the perspectives of its doers, movers, shakers and agents of change. This version has been edited for style only.
Three years ago, almost to the day, I was making last-minute edits to our crowdfunding page and trotting bottles of our home-brewed beer around town — preparing to introduce the big dream of Triple Bottom Brewing to Philadelphia.
I told people what I believe: that beer brings people together, breweries build community, and a job can change a life. We’re now two months into operations — elated, exhausted, and still passionate believers in the foundational ideas that carried us through more than three years of planning, fundraising, zoning, and construction.
Triple Bottom Brewing is Philly’s fair chance brewery. Our team brings a wide variety of experiences and perspectives to the table. We’ve been deeply intentional about reaching out to communities of people who are traditionally excluded from the mainstream economy in order to build an inclusive business, and have developed critical partnerships with Project HOME, Mural Arts Restorative Justice Program, and the Youth Sentencing & Reentry Project to recruit and support our team members.
As our name suggests, we have three bottom lines: beer, people, and the planet. We pursue each bottom line diligently but have discovered that our care for people, and our vision that everyone in every community should have the opportunity to craft something great, is the piece of our mission that resonates most with our customers and community. And that makes sense. In a place that has the highest poverty rate of any major city in the US, as well as the highest rate of people on parole or under supervision, the chasm between communities who have abundant resources and communities who struggle to get by is visible every day. There are very few spaces where people from different communities work together on equal footing and even fewer where that companionship and collaboration take place so openly, alongside our guests and neighbors.
The space we’ve built feels distinctive and special. For our team members, it is a place of possibility, a living wage, and probably sometimes just a long day at work. For our guests, it’s delicious craft beers, a great time with friends, and a chance to support their community with every purchase. And for me, it is a spark that — united with many other sparks — could ignite real, lasting change for Philadelphia.
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I’ve wrestled a lot with whether what we’re doing at Triple Bottom Brewing is enough. I believe so fiercely in our mission, and yet I look at Philadelphia and know we also need sweeping change to eradicate poverty. We need safe, affordable housing, better schools, and a more equitable justice system. But poverty, ultimately, is about who has money and who doesn’t. And, absent large-scale reparations, the safest, most reliable way to make money is to get a job. In the face of such a daunting problem as poverty, creating a single job can feel small, but it also feels like the best thing I can do.
We’ve all been on the job search before. It’s tough no matter who you are. And imagine what it might be like if you had a record, no work experience, or no permanent address. Imagine if you didn’t know anyone else with a steady job, and didn’t have a friend or family member who could help you get your foot in the door.
There are dozens of organizations in Philadelphia working hard to fill that gap and help people find that opportunity, but there aren’t enough employers willing or able to take the time to reach beyond their traditional recruiting practices, develop a culture that is inclusive and welcoming, or invest in training and growth. That’s why we need businesses like Wash Cycle Laundry, The Challenge Program, The Monkey & The Elephant, and Triple Bottom Brewing. All of us are intentionally extending opportunities to hardworking, talented people who might otherwise be excluded from the mainstream economy. We all have different approaches, but the impact of our individual efforts collectively can set in motion a radical shift in the accessibility of opportunity in Philadelphia.
At Triple Bottom Brewing, our fair chance model is paying off. Hiring was efficient and successful because our partner organizations provided an initial screening before referring candidates to us. Our opening received generous press coverage, largely because our brewery is bigger than beer. Our neighbors patronize our taproom because we’ve listened to their ideas for how to build an inclusive, welcoming space. Most of our team members were completely new to the beer industry, but now all of them can explain how beer is made, welcome our guests and share our story with them, and make our business stronger because they feel safe sharing their suggestions with us.
Building and running Triple Bottom Brewing has also been tremendously difficult. We’ve completed trauma training and designed our space and HR policies to be trauma-informed. Our costs are higher because every team member makes a living wage and earns PTO. We’ve put a stake in the ground to define what we stand for — and if and when we ever fall short of that, we know criticisms could be fierce. It’s truly terrifying to start a business, but, two months in, I feel grateful (almost) every day to be doing this work.
We’ve created 15 new jobs — each a potential pathway to financial security. Philadelphia needs thousands of these pathways, and I believe we can create them. We’re already fueling conversations that change mindsets and inspire action. Customers running their own businesses talk to us about what steps they could take to embrace a fair chance model. College students we’ve shared our story with are now writing fair chance business plans in their classes. Incarcerated men whom I had a chance to meet in a social enterprise class at SCI Phoenix are brainstorming the positive impact they can make when they return home.
Sparks are flying. This is going to catch fire. But we need to fund that fire. We need to be patient, take risks, consider investing in collective impact, not just individual impact. We need businesses to commit to creating opportunities for growth and financial security. And we need social service organizations to provide partnership and direction. We can significantly reduce Philadelphia’s poverty rate. It takes more than a village – it takes a city. Philadelphia can rise to the challenge.-30-
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