An “Instagrammable” “boozy sandwich shop” in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section is serving up controversy for its mockery of poverty amid the neighborhood’s gentrification.
About 100 people turned up at the shop on Saturday to protest the owner, Becca Brenna, a Toronto transplant, for touting a bogus “bullet hole-ridden wall” at the shop, and the intent to serve Forty Ounce Rosé in paper bags.
The brand of wine is bottled to mimic 40-oz. malt liquors, such as Colt 45 or Olde English. Malt liquors are beers brewed with sugar for an extra alcoholic jolt. In the late 1980s, the 40-ounce bottle was aggressively marketed to urban Black and Latino communities. Its consumption remains a stereotype associated with low-income minority communities.
Brenna’s choice of serving the 40-oz wine in paper bags “has been criticized at other bars for making light of poverty — an issue Crown Heights and other gentrifying neighborhoods are grappling with,” according to Gothamist.
Protesters gathered on the sidewalk in front of the shop chanting, “Bye bye, Becky!”
“That’s not what the neighborhood needs,” Ayanna Prescott, 30, a lifelong Crown Heights resident, told the New York Daily News. “The neighborhood needs child care. It needs schools.
“And a ‘boozy sandwich shop’ with fake bullet holes is totally disconnected.”
According to The New York Times, in Crown Heights “the Black population shrank to 70 percent from 79 percent from 2000 to 2010, and the white population almost doubled to 16 percent.”
Brennan was not present at the protest but issued a second apology on Saturday.
“I deeply apologize for any offense that my recent comments might have caused,” she said in a statement. “I did not intend to be insensitive to anyone in the neighborhood, and I am sorry that my words caused pain. I made light of serious issues and that was wrong.”
Summerhill opened in June, but on July 17, Brennan sent out a press release to New York publications “highlighting elements of the restaurant that, to anyone familiar with the endless push-pull of neighborhood demographics in New York, read like a checklist of gentrification red flags and worst-practices,” according to Eater.
The press release states, in part:
“Summerhill is Crown Heights’ most Instagrammable, ‘let’s just crush on some watermelon cocktails’ hangout. With a boardwalk vibe, and a killer cross-breeze, it’s easy to forget you’re sitting across the street from a Key Food and not the Rockaway Beach.”
It also states: “Brennan was a corporate tax attorney with dreams of opening a boozy sandwich shop until she discovered the perfect piece of real estate around the corner from her Crown Heights apartment: a long-vacant corner bodega (with a rumored back room illegal gun shop to boot).
“Yes that bullet hole ridden wall was originally there, and yes we’re keeping it.”
Brennan said the idea to advertise bullet holes came from a comment on the website Brooklynian, where commenters trade gossip and details about new businesses. An anonymous commenter wrote in September, “If I’m not mistaken this was the corner store where you could buy a ‘certified pre-owned’ firearm back in the day.”
It was a rumor Brennan did not fully investigate.
“I don’t have any backup to that, but when you think about it as a joke like, yep, that’s a bullet hole,” she told Gothamist.
In regard to her thoughts on the symbolism of the 40-ounce wine bottles, she said:
“I’m not an authority so don’t feel comfortable commenting on anything other than my business — a new bar and restaurant that locals (/my neighbors) seem to really enjoy and appreciate.”