Earlier this month, Georgia’s Republican candidate for governor Brian Kemp held a press conference at Atlanta’s Monday Night Brewing. The brewery has gotten a lot of pushback from the public for that and said it regrets the decision now.
It’s an example of the often-difficult lines between businesses and politics.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses organized the morning press conference Sept. 5. It’s a small business association that wanted a place to announce its endorsement of Kemp.
“I want to thank the guys at Monday Night Brewing,” Kemp said at the event. “I’m proud to say I’ve been here before. I’ve seen the tour. It’s an impressive facility and a great part of the local economy for having me today, I’m very honored to be back.”
Monday Night has been a member of the NFIB, but the people who run the brewery said they are ending that relationship and weren’t involved in the endorsement. They joined, they said, when they needed lobbying help to loosen small brewery regulations.
“We didn’t really do the homework also of understanding their full policy platforms,” said Jeff Heck, Monday Night chief executive and co-founder. “Some of those we take issue with.”
Heck said at the time, they couldn’t get help with the lobbying campaign from the Georgia Chamber.
The brewery has hosted a lot of different political events for both parties, and in the spirit of fairness, they said they decided to host this one, too.
Kemp’s team didn’t pay for the space or get any free beer, but Monday Night didn’t stop its brewing operations either.
“We don’t charge people for stopping by during our normal operations,” said Joel Iverson, another co-founder.
Afterwards though, Atlantans spoke up on social media. Many announced boycotts of the business, citing some of Kemp’s campaign rhetoric.
Following the blowback, Monday Night’s leaders say they regret their decision to host.
“I think in retrospect, we would not do it again,” Heck said. “Not because he’s a Republican or any of his particular policy platforms, but because of the impact it’s had on the people that we want to serve and be working and living and playing alongside of in the city of Atlanta.”
Heck said Monday Night doesn’t endorse or donate money to political candidates. In fact, they have had a Democratic event scheduled for some time now.
On social media, those nuances got lost, and Monday Night is trying to clarify. On Friday, a list of “core beliefs” was posted on its website.
“The reality is, if you don’t say what you really believe as a business, then you’re going to be defined by everyone who walks through your door,” said Iverson.
Heck acknowledged that they had a “blind spot” on this.
“The thing that we missed was understanding just how polarizing Brian Kemp’s campaign has been,” Heck said. “And some of the things that he has said through the primary campaign really inspired a lot of fear and worry, particularly among people of color and minorities.”
Nathan Humphrey is the Georgia state director for the NFIB who reached out to Monday Night about the event. Humphrey said he never asked Monday Night about their political affiliations.
“You shouldn’t have to have conversations with people like that when you’re making a choice,” he said.
He said it’s tough for businesses because they can catch flak for refusing to host people and for hosting people based on politics.
“It’s unfortunate that our society has come to this, where you’re kind of scared of your own shadow,” he said. “No matter what you do, you can get in trouble. I don’t think Monday Night was picking sides at all. They would extend the same invitation to anybody of any political persuasion.”
“It’s disappointing that one side would punish them to even just opening up to hearing what another side has to say,” Humphrey said. “It’s unfortunate that it even turned out that way.”
Kemp’s spokesman Ryan Mahoney called this “the radical left. They will attack innocent business owners, kill jobs and undermine economic opportunity to elect their candidates and advance their extreme agenda. It’s incredibly sad — but telling — that this is happening in Georgia.”
Going forward, Monday Night’s leaders say they’re hosting listening sessions with neighbors and the community.
“We also want to give greater weight than we did in this instance to the things that matter to our neighbors and the people we exist to serve,” said Heck. “That was the big miss this time.”
They’re also not likely to host any other events with political candidates, he said.