Brewing Up LGBTQ Unity in Coastal Virginia

by Kelsy Chauvin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday February 22, 2021

Co-owne Whitteney Guyton
Co-owne Whitteney Guyton  (Source:1865 Brewing Company)

It may sound daring to open a business during a pandemic. But if you're going to, it may as well be a brewery and bar.

That's what's on tap for 1865 Brewing Company, a new LGBTQ-welcoming brewery slated to open in Hampton Roads, Virginia, in 2021. Co-owner Whitteney Guyton says her new venture probably sounds bold at the moment, but really, it's a long time coming.

Guyton and her business partner William Comer have been in the planning stages for 1865 Brewing since late 2019. In those days, talk of COVID-19 was just starting to emerge. And as a self-described "serial entrepreneur" with a string of ventures under her belt, Guyton leaped full throttle into her latest project.

Building Inclusivity

The brewery's origin began with Guyton and Comer's tour of Phoebus, the City of Hampton's historic waterfront neighborhood. A vacant red-brick storefront at 9 S. Mallory Street instantly charmed Guyton.

Even better, the brewery would fit perfectly in this neighborhood known for its nightlife, within a city that proudly supports its LGBTQ community.

"The good thing about the gay community here is that we are a real community," says Guyton. "We don't necessarily have an area here or an area there. We all just come out together and support each other."

That's music to the ears of Hampton city officials since the local Citizens' Unity Commission strives to "ensure unity, equity, and inclusion in our community," according to the Commission's executive director Latiesha Handie.

Handie has been integral in raising Hampton's Human Rights Commission Municipal Equality Index score from 15 to 77 (out of 100) since she took the helm in 2017.

The high HRC ranking results from the Commission's and City Manager's strategic programs and collaborations, including working with the Hampton Police Department's LGBTQ liaison to carry out fair law enforcement and communications. Handie's team also partners with the LGBT Life Center, Hampton Pride, Outlier 757 magazine, and other groups to help "affirm and empower" the community.

"Why are we so committed to building inclusivity for the LGBTQ community? It was the sheer concept of making sure that everyone in our community has an outlet to feel connected," says Handie. "And so we do a very good job on building our inclusivity."

To help entrepreneurs like Guyton, Handie says, "We partner with [Hampton's] economic-development department to support small and minority businesses, to make sure that we're offering information about diversity, and to deliver any resources they need. With minority-owned businesses, making sure that you're instituting inclusive practices is always a plus."

Freedom Starts Here

As a budding home-brewer, Guyton envisioned the Mallory Street space as a brewery and taproom. Backed by Comer's construction business and her wife Darmeshia Guyton's interior design expertise, plans for the 1865 Brewing Company were born.

The team settled on a name that would honor the area's centuries-old roots and tie the legacy of liberty into the present. The year 1865 marked the end of American slavery with the 13th Amendment, and for Guyton, it's also the year when freedom truly began.

"Our tagline is: "Freedom starts here," says Guyton. "I'm not saying it's finished. But it has to start somewhere. The freedom of 1865 started a lot of things — not just the end of slavery, but to me, it started the ideals of humanity. From 1865 in America, we started becoming a little bit more human."

It's a high concept, but Guyton believes that summoning the idea of freedom is key to a shared experience.

"I want you to come into 1865 and to feel your freedom from the stress of life. Here, you're going to feel like family; you're going to feel at home. That's our vibe," she says.

Guyton says the speakeasy-meets-juke joint style will charm visitors, as will the custom murals and other design touches. The building's exterior will depict multicultural blues singers in a turn of the 20th-century party scene. Behind the bar, Virginia artist B. D. Stellmacher, Jr. created a mural with multi-racial characters during the Civil War.

"It's not a black-white thing," she says. "I wanted people from all walks of life and cultures to identify and feel comfortable."

A Taste of 1865

(Source: 1865 Brewing Company)

With Brewmaster Randy Jones's help, 1865 Brewing will pour seven or eight house brews on tap and sell growlers, cans and bottles.

The company also has filed for a trademark on new "brixtzers" (pronounced "brix-ers"), a new kind of beverage that's similar to beer but made with less yeast and has fewer carbohydrates. The concept stems from Guyton's health-conscious approach to brewing, using fresh fruit to keep the drink "light, crisp, and refreshing." She says her team is already filed for a U.S. patent for 1865 Brewing's proprietary brixtzer brewing equipment.

Guyton plans to program live music regularly in the new space, along with tastings and home-brew classes. She also has plans for an urban-gardening collaboration with Hampton University, a member-rewards program, and forums for LGBTQ kids and families.

"We are always Pride-related," says Guyton, who, along with her five children, is active in local Pride events. "We want to be a community for all children, so they can be themselves. We are a safe space."

By day, 1865 Brewing will be open for coffee from local roaster Column 15 and breakfast bites. Food trucks will be on rotation each day, serving up tacos, barbeque, Chicago-style wings, sausages and seafood.

With an eye on the future, Guyton has already invested in another building down the street, where she's planning to open a distillery and tasting room that, she says, will feel more "retro glam."

Guyton's Phoebus business ventures will further fuel Coastal Virginia's best-kept secret, including the historic American Theatre and Charles H. Taylor Visual Arts Center, helmed by out artistic director Richard M. Parison, Jr.

By the time the pandemic winds down, the new additions are sure to glow up Phoebus and rebuild the community, as Guyton says — together.

Kelsy Chauvin is a writer, photographer and marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in travel, feature journalism, art, theater, architecture, construction and LGBTQ interests. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @kelsycc.