Chula Vista Brewery
“Veteran owned,” notes an easy-to-miss sign on the Third Avenue storefront of Chula Vista Brewery. In fact, brewery cofounder Tim Parker retired from the Navy at the end of 2019, following two decades of service, during which the enlisted sailor successfully made chief petty officer.
294 3rd Avenue, Chula Vista
Military retirement ceremonies tend to be celebratory occasions, typically highlighted by career photo retrospectives. That part proved a challenge for the camera-shy Parker. “Most people got all these pictures of themselves in uniform, but I’m like a ghost,” he says with an easy laugh. “I’ve always been out of the spotlight. It’s not really my nature to be in front of the cameras.”
However, this has changed in recent months, as Parker has transitioned from being deployed on a ship much of the time, to being a full-time presence at the brewery he launched with his wife, Dali, in 2017. He’s become more visible in the brewery itself, on the brand’s social channels, and in the press. Media coverage has increased, in part because Chula Vista Brewery has become better known as an award-winning San Diego beer company. But lately because Parker’s emerged as a rarity in the craft beer industry: an African-American brewery owner.
“I think it’s funny,” he says, “Most people didn’t realize until recently that it’s a black-owned brewery. Most people didn’t even realize that it was veteran owned.”
In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, allies of the movement have put a spotlight on supporting black-owned businesses.
Tim Parker, pictured in a recent Chula Vista Brewery Facebook post
But last week, Chula Vista Brewery received a different kind of attention: a spate of vitriolic customer reviews lodged on Facebook, Google, and Yelp, charging the brewery with discrimination against Trump supporters and with racism.
The original reviewer was South Bay resident Patrick McKerney, a racecar mechanic and East County native who visited the brewery with his wife, Michelle, on June 14. That night, he lodged a Facebook review, writing in part, “Completely got treated like crap from the moment we walked in… The host said a racial comment under his breath as we were walking to the table… Never felt so violated in my life. Horrible experience. All because I had a Trump hat on.”
Additional reviews, posted by friends of McKerney, soon followed, echoing the allegations: “This place is racist,” and “You’re a disgrace to America.”
It might have ended with the original post, Parker says. “Honestly if it was just one review, and he was filing a complaint, I would chalk it up as one of those, 'okay you can’t please everybody' things.” However, when multiple “fake reviews” turned up on multiple platforms, “that’s when I felt like, all right, I’ve got to say something.”
The brewery responded directly to McKerney’s review: “We don't care about political viewpoints, we accept everyone… However we will not tolerate fake reviews [or] allow any slander to our business simply because of your bigotry.” It then posted a notice to its fans, announcing “Don’t believe the hype,” along with screenshots of the “fake reviews.”
That’s when the internet took over. Chula Vista Brewery’s post was shared to several local Facebook groups and by the Los Angeles-based Worst Beer Blog, which has 17,000 followers on Facebook and 27,000 on Instagram. McKerney likewise shared the response to his own Facebook page, where his friends commented and re-shared.
By Monday, fans of the brewery had mobilized to defend it, adding dozens more reviews across platforms, and engaging in comment battles with McKerney and friends. Beer fans added positive reviews praising the brewery’s beer, owners, and staff, while McKerney’s supporters added comments including, “Not allowed to wear Trump hats, they hate white people or even Mexicans who look white.”
However, as the conversation devolved, the negativity did not remain one-sided. Brewery fans attacked McKerney directly, labeling him a racist, threatening his business, and banning him from other breweries. One commenter suggested he and his wife wore Ku Klux Klan hoods during sex.
A still angry McKerney willfully engaged with his distractors, but decries those invoking his wife, or reposting pictures of her children. “I’m more mad now because they keep involving my family and kids,” he says.
While the McKerneys and Parkers cite several minor issues occurring that afternoon, including a lack of ID, covid-19 space restrictions, a $22 food order charge, and the size of a cup of water, McKerney contends the negative review was ultimately prompted by disrespect shown his wife. He says the brewery host, a black male, looked at Michelle, who is Filipina, then back at Patrick, a white man in a Trump 2020 baseball cap, and muttered, “Why whitey?”
Brewery co-founder Dali Parker, a chicana South Bay native, was present during the McKerneys’ visit. She says the host flatly denies making any racial comments, telling her, “I was raised better than that.” She adds that neither the McKerneys nor member's party registered any in-person complaint at the time, and the rest of the party stayed and continued to drink for hours.
Patrick McKerney insists he would have dropped the matter entirely if he’d been refunded the money spent, and been issued an apology instead of having his review challenged. He did not know the brewery is owned by people of color, and objects to the racist label being applied to him. “My wife is Asian,” he says, “all my friends are black and Mexican. I don’t know how I’m racist!” He says this is the first online review, positive or negative, he’s ever made, but he felt he couldn’t let the perceived disrespect slide. “I believe it’s because I had that fucking hat on. It’s got to be either political or racial.”
The Parkers insist no one in the brewery noticed the Donald Trump hat, and Tim maintains many Navy friends, and several of the brewery’s best customers, are Trump supporters. He doesn’t think the onslaught of negative reviews will scare anyone away or hurt the business going forward.
“Actually, it kind of backfired,” he says, “Business has picked up since then.”
Moving on, his focus will be on opening a second, larger Chula Vista Brewery location: a 10 barrel brewpub and BBQ restaurant in East Lake, due by the end of the year.
“My goal is always to move forward,” he says, “and bring people with me if I can.”