First Black-owned brewery to open in Jazz District

Vine Street Brewing, first black-owned brewery to open in Kansas City Historic Jazz District
Elliot Ivory, Kemet Coleman, Woodie Bonds of Vine Street Brewing Co.
Photo provided by Vine Street Brewing Co.

By Abby Hoover

Kemet Coleman wears a lot of hats – the Kansas City native is an artist, actor, urbanist, entrepreneur and activist – but today his hat is embroidered with the face of Maris, an afroed woman with the likeness of a tulip glass, and the mascot Vine Street Brewing Co.’s favorite American Pale Ale.

Vine Street Brewing Co. is coming to 2000 Vine in Kansas City’s Historic 18th & Vine District with a mission to craft beers and experiences fermented in the spirit of Jazz and Hip-Hop culture.

Founded by Coleman, and partners Woodie Bonds and Elliot Ivory, the trio will also be the city, state and immediate region’s first Black-owned brewery. They want the brewery to be a steward of the city’s rich cultural heritage, as well as an appealing safe space that welcomes all.

They’re planning a soft opening for June or July, but will continue to expand their offerings, events and partnerships in coming months and years. 

“My focus is really just helping to shape the cultural identity of Kansas City and, you know, not get us back to the glory days or the golden age of when Jazz was bustin’ on every corner – I think we’re a different city now – but really just shedding a light on what’s possible and what’s been accomplished in Kansas City, and what our potential is.”

He does that in his own way, which is through the arts and music, but also through community building and bringing people together.

For this project to finally get off the ground, the first people he had to bring together were his co-owners and brewers, Bonds and Ivory.

“I first got the bug of beer and brewing when I was working at a brewery in 2013, and after my time there I said, ‘This isn’t finished, this isn’t done,’” Coleman said. “And so I really kept going with it and I stayed being a beer geek, if you will, after that time and I really wanted to stay connected with the community and I knew a lot of brewers and still had a bunch of friends that worked in the brewing industry.”

He never left, although it went on the back burner for several years as he focused on advancing his music career, getting married and raising his children.

“I really started in 2013 but it kind of came to a head in 2015 when I tried my first attempt, working with a buddy of mine who used to brew back in the 90s,” Coleman said. “We didn’t really have our stuff together, and then I went to Shomari to see if 2000 Vine could be an option for another concept, and again, they weren’t ready. We weren’t ready. There was a lot that needed to get done before we could even do that.”

In 2020, the idea emerged with renewed energy.

“The chain of events is like, I guess, Kemet had this crazy ass idea, and then Kemet remembered that he met Woodie at a beer festival that was really cool – Hip-Hop Soiree – Woodie really put on one of my favorite beer festivals by far, just being amongst like Hip-Hop music and all these different breweries that had amazing beers and it was just really good vibes.”

Coleman said to himself in 2016 when he met Woodie that if his brewery idea ever started, he’d have to be part of it.

“I said if I want to do anything beer related, I want to do it with this guy,” Coleman said. “I reached out to him and said, like, ‘Hey man, I’ve had a lot of soul searching during this pandemic. For whatever reason, I keep seeing a brewery in my future.’”

At 34 years old, Coleman sees it as he’s young enough to make a crazy decision like this, but he’s old enough to realize it’s now or never for the long-held dream.

Bonds thought about it and ultimately decided he was on board, so long as he brought Ivory with him.

“I don’t have skills on the brewing side,” Coleman said. “I know everything about how it works – not everything but I know the basic stuff that the general public probably doesn’t know about brewing – so when he told me he wanted to bring a partner on I’m like, ‘Perfect.”’

While Coleman will manage the front of house, which he calls his “bread and butter,” Bonds and Ivory make a great team in the brewery because they’re often in disagreement. 

While other craft breweries are known for certain styles, Vine Street Brewing Co. will have a wide variety.

“We are a bit more of a mix, just like Hip-Hop and Jazz is really just a mix of pretty much any style that we like,” Coleman said. “The consistency is in the diversity of ingredients, basically. So like, we’ll take a wheat and then we might make it hoppy, or we’ll take a pale ale and make it taste like a pale ale you’ve never really had before.”

They’re already working to perfect their first menu.

Maris – Pale Ale

“One of those includes a beer called Maris. It’s our pale ale, a super crushable pale ale. I love pale ales, but I like to drink a pale ale in like spring or fall, and it’s getting to summertime, but like this pale ale is good year round,” Coleman said. “We also have a hoppy wheat that’s called Snakes in the Wheat, and that one has been very popular out of the people that have tried it. We also have another one called Snuggle Buddy, and that one is a Belgian spice ale, which sounds viscous and sweet, but this one is very crisp and refreshing and, and again, very crushable.”

A lot of their beers are approachable, but have a diverse flavor profile.

“Our brewers are complete opposites,” Coleman said. “When it comes to their styles, Elliot is more crisp, clean, concise. You know, dry with a little sweetness underneath. That’s his style. Woodie’s style is definitely very creative, very bold. He also likes to push the envelope when it comes to ABV (alcohol by volume). He likes the 7% and up, seven to 10 range, and Elliot’s more like a four to six range. So those two together is like a really cool combination.”

Vine Street Brewing Co. will be located in the former Water Department building at 2000 Vine Street. Built over 150 years ago, and abandoned for nearly 40 years, the building and neighboring building to the north are limestone relics on 1.4 acres.

Coleman met Shomari Benton, Tim Duggan and Jason Parson, who are restoring 2000 Vine St., a few years ago. Since 2016, the development team has invested more than $800,000 of private funds into the project, notably with no Tax Increment Financing (TIF) dollars. Eventually, the two buildings will be mixed-use office and retail development that includes opportunities for local business incubator spaces, potential food options and a flexible outdoor space.

Although the brewery won’t sell food in the brewery, another tenant, The Spot, is moving into the 2000 Vine building, as well, offering food and caffeine. The two businesses will share a common space.

“The second time I tried to start this brewery concept I actually looked at this exact space that we’re moving into, ironically,” Coleman said. “And so at that point, I think that there wasn’t a roof on any of these buildings. They didn’t have windows. I think it was just the shell.”

Coleman’s first apartment was at 21st and Vine streets. Spending time as a young adult in the 18th and Vine District, he came to appreciate its history and saw its potential.

“It’s in close proximity to downtown so eventually, I kind of figured like, ‘Listen guys, this is blighted right now, but not only do we have all this rich jazz heritage, but you’ve also got a great proximity to downtown and great views of downtown, as well.”

He has wanted the district to become a focal point in this town since then, calling it the most sacred real estate the city has.

“As I was deciding on where I wanted to, I guess, hang my hat, 18th and Vine was top of the list, as well as just the Troost Corridor, being someone who grew up on Troost,” Coleman said.

Realizing his goal of bringing a Black-owned brewery to the historic district has been a dream come true for Coleman.

“It’s very surreal, to be honest with you. This time last year, especially when the pandemic started, I felt really lost, really torn on what direction I wanted to take my future in,” Coleman said. “I spent a lot of time thinking about where I wanted my career to go and how it can have the biggest impact. That is the goal for me, to really have an impact and really create catalytic change in Kansas City.”

The experience has brought on a mix of emotions for Coleman.

“When it comes to all the history here in Kansas City, all the history of this nation, and where we are as a country as it relates to our relationship to race and our role in it, it’s very sentimental, it’s exciting, it’s surreal, it’s unbelievable, it’s nerve wracking, it’s all of those things,” Coleman said. “But I think at the end of the day if we keep our heads down and stay focused, I think we’re gonna have a really cool situation here where the city can finally have a place to come together and not really worry about east and west as much.”

They want to plan tour routes around the historic 18th and Vine District, starting at Vine Street Brewing Co., to really show off all the district has to offer. They’ll eventually offer brewery tours where people can learn about the brewing process, learn to pour and taste beer. Coleman also envisions live music and a place to hang out and catch a vibe. 

“Music has never left my body – it’s a package deal with me – so yeah, definitely gonna be a musical component weaved into everything we do,” Coleman said. “I kind of feel like even the way that we approach recipes and brew beer and do collaborations is definitely very in the spirit of music, and collaboration as well.”

They also want it to be a space where people can feel comfortable having conversations, meeting up with friends and being social.

“We have tried really hard to make sure that education is a component to this experience for people because we know that we’ll probably have a lot of people who are just reintroducing themselves to beer, have maybe been accustomed to domestic styles – that are in my opinion, also delicious –  but not the full extent of what craft beer is,” Coleman said. “Even if you don’t think you like beer, just come down because you can see this isn’t just a bar, this is a place where the beer is actually produced and made and that itself is also interesting.”
Their goal is to have a grand opening in June or July, pushed back because of construction expenses and supply chain issues. The community has begun supporting Vine Street Brewing Co. already by pre-ordering branded merchandise and signing up for their newsletter. They’ll have more merchandise coming soon to their website, vinestbrewing.com.

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