No good deed goes unpunished — at least by Bottle Cap Group, it seems.
When Ink N Ivy, an Uptown Charlotte restaurant owned by the culinary conglomerate, was notified about a staff member’s racist behavior, the establishment’s management acted swiftly and terminated the offender. That should have been the end of the story, except that Ink N Ivy’s ownership reportedly undercut their socially responsible decision, and subsequently started retaliating against people who called out the ugly incident in the first place.
“Eat, drink, party,” the Bottle Cap Group’s website states. The consortium is behind Charlotte-area restaurants such as Whiskey Warehouse, Jacks Corner Tap, Brazwells Premium Pub, Rosemont, Oak Room and Ink N Ivy. The restaurant group made headlines in March when one of its South End eateries, Hot Taco, was hit with federal fines for minimum wage violations.
Bottle Cap Group’s website also claims to be devoted to “highlighting diversity,” but on the night of June 16, that commitment to diversity came under intense scrutiny.
Ink N Ivy Finds Itself at the Center of Controversy
Queen City Nerve publisher Justin LaFrancois was covering the Black Lives Matter protests sweeping Charlotte’s city streets when he heard from several people that there were problems with a member of Ink n Ivy’s security staff.
“Ink N Ivy Charlotte,” LaFrancois posted on Facebook and Twitter. “I’ve got 6 witness reports of one of your security guards walking a woman to her car and bragging by saying, ‘Yeah, I just had to throw 20 n***** out.’”
“It was said last night by a large white man with a full beard and light brown/dark blonde hair on your security staff,” the post continues.
Several people in the restaurant, hospitality and brewing industries saw the post, and many shared and commented on it. Though she initially refrained from commenting, Jackie DeLoach remembers seeing it and being surprised.
“It’s surprising because I am not used to that kind of [racist] language,” says the owner of Hattie’s Tap and Tavern in NoDa. “I grew up outside of [Washington] D.C. and you just don’t hear people say that there. It’s been something new for me being in the South; it’s just used so commonly and I find it repulsive.”
“I guess a bunch of people saw it and posted it and said, ‘Ink N Ivy what are you going to do about it?’” DeLoach remembers.
The Restaurant Takes Action
It didn’t take long for Ink N Ivy to respond. Following an initial back and forth in which the restaurant said the alleged culprit’s description did not fit any of their employees, they posted a message on social media.
“Ink N Ivy quickly began in an internal investigation last night after reports of racial discrimination in the workplace. We spoke with witnesses and identified the accused employee, determined the seriousness of their actions and they have since been terminated,” the statement read. “Thank you to the Charlotte community for bringing this to our attention. Ink N Ivy continues to be a community of equality, diversity and inclusion, one where hate and racism have no place.”
The establishment got a lot of online praise for their swift action, DeLoach offers.
“They handled that situation in a matter of hours, and I was really impressed by it. I think that their comments and statements [were] very professional. Everybody was like, ‘Yay Ink N Ivy.’”
The accolades had barely echoed when it all went south.
Bottle Cap Group Retaliates
On June 18, DeLoach commented on a friend’s Facebook post that commended Ink N Ivy for their rapid and responsible actions: “Too bad Ink N Ivy then went onto Justin’s original post and contacted the employer of EVERY person that made a comment on that post.” DeLoach wrote. “Own up to it and do better Ink N Ivy, but contacting companies and threatening to stop carrying their products because someone commented “agreed” on the original post?”
So, what had happened in under 48 hours?
On June 17, DeLoach had met up with her good friend Lindsay Hayes, marketing manager for Catawba Brewing Company’s Charlotte taproom. It was then DeLoach learned that Ink N Ivy had retaliated against Hayes for commenting on LaFrancois’ post, contacting her employer and telling them that Bottle Cap Group will no longer carry Catawba Brewing’s product at their restaurants.
“[Bottle Cap] said that, ‘Your employee made a negative comment on our page, and because of this, we are no longer going to carry your products in our locations.’” DeLoach maintains.
Hayes has been with Catawba Brewing since August 2019 and became the company’s taproom marketing manager in January 2020. She posts frequently on her Instagram, where she shares her favorite beers and recommendations with more than 12,000 followers. She confirms DeLoach’s story.
“Obviously, I was upset,” Hayes says.
Catawba Employee Targeted for Facebook Comments
Hayes had initially responded to LaFrancois’ original post calling out Ink N Ivy’s racist security employee. Hayes says she doesn’t remember the wording of her post since she deleted it once her boss informed her of Ink N Ivy’s retaliatory actions.
“[My comment] was much along the lines of ‘Thanks for calling this out. I will not step foot in that place ever again.’ I was just supporting that Justin was [calling] this out and [letting] everyone else know about it in the Charlotte community,” Hayes says.
Ink N Ivy never contacted Hayes directly, she maintains. Instead they emailed Hayes’ bosses, Catawba Brewing CEOs Jetta and Billy Pyatt. The Pyatts are a married couple who run Catawba with Billy’s brother Scott Pyatt. It was Jetta who reached out to Hayes.
Jetta said she was told that Bottle Cap had called Adams Distribution, which is Catawba’s distribution company, and said that they will not carry Catawba anymore for any of their locations because of Hayes’ comment.
But the apparent attempt to get Hayes fired failed. It turns out that the Pyatts and Hayes are very close knit. Hayes feels Catawba is more like a family than a job.
“Jetta said, ‘I know you did not mean for this to happen.’” Hayes remembers, adding that her boss simply asked her to remember that she was representing the company whenever she posted on social media platforms. Hayes’s role as a beer influencer as @hoppyhayes on Instagram has been one of the pluses that she’s brought to the table as Catawba’s marketing manager, she says.
A Hypocritical Mindset
Business owners lashing out at criticism on social media is unfortunately par for the course in Charlotte, DeLoach offers. She feels that business people too often post reflexively to defend their turf, lashing out without realizing that tantrums and trolling can be bad for business.
“It comes across as unprofessional,” she says. “[People] should definitely look at the whole picture, not just the short term. People read these things and take them to heart.”
Despite seeing a fair amount of bad online behavior, DeLoach is shocked that Bottle Cap Group would retaliate against a company whose employee calls out racism.
“They were saying, ‘Hey, look at us. We got rid of the bad egg.’ And then for them to retaliate and go to these people’s employers and complain about them, I think it contradicts their original statements,” DeLoach affirms. “I think it’s a cop out.
“If I had an employee that was making racist comments, I would want to know about it right away,” she maintains.
A Microcosm of a Movement
Actions such as Bottle Cap’s alleged retaliation can have a chilling effect on the struggle to end racism. In Charlotte we are at a tipping point where allies of Black Americans need to step out of their comfort zones and confront racism where they see it.
Despite the backlash, Hayes believes she did the right thing, leveraging white privilege to illustrate issues plaguing the community. Ignoring situations like the racist behavior at Ink N Ivy will only make everything worse, she says.
“That’s why Black Lives Matter is so important right now because people are finally speaking up,” Hayes maintains. “We’re calling [racism] out for what it is and not being silent about it anymore.”
Queen City Nerve has reached out to Bottle Cap Group’s district manager Richard Williams via email. In addition to soliciting for comments, we asked, “Can you confirm that your company contacted Catawba Brewing and their distributor saying your company would no longer carry Catawba Brewing’s product after Ms. Hayes commented on our publisher’s Facebook post?” At the time of publication, there has been no reply.