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Melvin Brewing facing backlash over 'bro-culture,' sexual assault accusation

By Katy Cossette Content warning: This story contains references to sexual assault Melvin Brewing is facing backlash after a report of sexual assault against co-founder Kirk McHale and a contact page making light of molestation came to light. Until March 6, the contact page on Melvin's website featured the header "Show us on the doll where Melvin touched you." This phrase is in reference to an exercise used to help children discuss sexual assault they have experienced through having them point on a doll. Eric Henderson, a Melvin spokesperson, said the header was never brought to his attention until March 6. He said this is because Melvin has little traffic on its contact page. A screenshot of the page was widely shared on social media and received responses from women saying Melvin’s leadership condones sexual harassment and assault.

Screenshot of Melvin's now-removed contact page on Facebook. // Courtesy of Tara Almond
Some women commented about a report of sexual assault by a co-founder of Melvin. A Menace Brewing employee reported on November 20, 2017 that she had been groped by McHale, who is listed on Melvin’s website as being a co-founder and "head donkey." This was shared to Melvin employees in an email from management on Jan. 11, 2018, which was obtained by the Front and confirmed by an employee.   Menace is across the street from Melvin. McHale was visiting from the Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Melvin location. Ariana Dorshkind, a Menace Brewing employee, is friends with the woman who reported being groped. "Jeremy Tofte, owner of Melvin Brewing, was sitting right beside McHale when it happened. The two came in with their own Melvin beer, cracked it open, which is incredibly illegal, and McHale proceeded to grab my friend," Dorshkind said. Dorshkind said her friend took the proper steps to report the assault, including contacting Melvin’s human resources department. In the email to employees, co-founder Jeremy Tofte and financial manager William Morrow said a Menace employee reported that McHale put his hand around her waist and touched her rear and upper thigh area.
Screenshot of Kirk McHale posing with hops in March 2016. // Photo from Melvin's Instagram
“Melvin Brewing is strongly encouraging Kirk to seek appropriate training, counseling, and rehabilitation as necessary to help assure that an incident such as this does not reoccur,” the email said. “Until such a time that Kirk has completed this... he will not represent Melvin Brewing in any way.” Some restaurants, bars and bar crawl groups in Bellingham have been pulling their support for Melvin. In response, Henderson said Melvin is implementing a more comprehensive harassment policy that will soon be distributed to all employees and affiliates. In addition to providing counseling to the Bellingham staff, they have started using the services of an outside training company for employee sexual harassment training, he said. People have shared screenshots of the previous contact page and posted on Facebook to rally against Melvin in response to the inappropriate behavior and site content, with more than 3,500 people talking about it on Facebook as of Sunday, March 11. Tara Almond, a Western alumna, made a Facebook post about the contact page, and said she feels strongly about the issue. “It can be a really painful thing to relive your trauma, so I thought it was in really poor taste,” Almond said. On the site, there were statements like, “touch us, and we’ll touch you back, but don’t expect a relationship out of this” and “don’t get too attached.” In addition to these, one of the hoverable drop-down options for “I’m touching you because” was “I’d like to opt-in for a date with Tofte.” “That’s the kind of emotional victimization of women that the bro-culture thinks is so funny,” Almond said. Almond sees this as contributing to larger issues that make it hard for survivors to share their experiences. “It’s so hard to come forth and make a public statement like that. For one, it’s a personal story, and it can be very embarrassing,” Almond said. “You also run the risk of becoming a target for harassment. So if someone has the guts to put that out there, I’m gonna tend to believe them.” Tofte said the company regrets their decision on the contact page. “The family at Melvin Brewing in no way supports or tolerates sexual violence, harassment, or sexual predation in any form and we deeply regret our poor judgement made on the website,” Tofte said.  
Melvin Brewing storefront in the Fountain District of Bellingham. // Photo by October Yates
Melvin has also received criticism for insensitive and inappropriate marketing. Dorshkind said she was a fan of Melvin at first, but that changed as she became more familiar with the business. “That excitement quickly crumbled when I saw them constantly displaying cultural appropriation in their marketing and their decoration,” Dorshkind said. Melvin has a restaurant in their hometown of Jackson, Wyoming, called “Thai Me Up.” “Additionally, they were using hurtful slurs that poked fun at people with disabilities, like using the term ‘glutards’ on their menu. Of course, it was the second I heard about the harassment incident back in November that I fully and angrily disapproved of their business,” Dorshkind said. The term has since been taken off their menu. The Front is awaiting a response from Melvin in regard to their marketing that has been seen as culturally insensitive. Dorshkind said Melvin has lost their right to stay alive as a business in the Bellingham community, let alone adding a second location in Fairhaven on May 1. Dorshkind said she and other women who are close with the woman that McHale groped have made it their personal mission to spread the word to stop supporting Melvin. “If their business is feeling the hurt of the backlash from the people of the community, then that means we’re doing something right,” Dorshkind said.  

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