On the Facebook page for Special Ed’s Brewery, a new business slated to open soon in Galt, the business description comes with a warning: “We do everything tongue in cheek, so don’t take offense to anything we do or say.”
On Monday morning, following a social media uproar over the business name and related slogans – including beer bottle labels that read “ ’tard tested, ’tard approved” – no one seems to be laughing.
People who were initially excited that the first small brewery might be opening in Galt soon grew angry once details of the business became clear. One of the brewery’s slogans reads, “Ride the short bus to special beer,” in seeming reference to buses transporting developmentally disabled children. Special Ed’s also has a proposed beer “Back of the Bus Brown Ale,” which appears to refer to the Jim Crow-era policy that helped launch the civil rights movement.
The owners of the business, Edward and Cheryl Mason, did not return phone messages and Facebook messages seeking comment Monday. No one was at the business in a Galt storefront Monday morning.
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Special Ed’s is slated to be a homebrew supply store and small brewery serving beer to the public. The most recent post on the business’s Facebook page suggested the name might be changed to Ed’s Special Brewery or Ed’s Special Brew. Photos of the beer labels, a brewery sign and other posts remained on the company’s Facebook page Monday.
“I never wanted the intent to be that I’m insensitive or some of the horrid things I’ve been called today,” said a post, apparently written by Edward Mason. “I just wanted to have some fun with my name.”
Based on the wave of feedback, it may be too late for a name change. Several people on Facebook said they would boycott the business and angrily denounced the name and related slogans while responding to posts on the brewery’s page.
“I might be biased because I have an 8-year-old girl with Down syndrome, but it seems like a really bad business decision. You’re definitely alienating a lot of people,” said Nguyen Pham, owner of Sunh Fish, in an interview Monday. “I have friends messaging me, and they think this is crazy.”
Pham, whose business supplies seafood to restaurants and sells to the public, added, “I feel like the word ‘retard’ or ‘’tard’ is much more hurtful because you’re dealing with a segment of society that can’t defend themselves.”
One Galt resident who called for a boycott of Special Ed’s even before it has opened said she is willing to hear him out before moving forward with the campaign.
“This is absolutely heartbreaking. I was really embarrassed that this was in Galt, where I have lived for 17 years,” said Tricia Bowden, whose 22-year-old daughter is autistic.
Bowden said Edward Mason agreed to meet with her Tuesday morning to discuss the name and slogans and hear out why so many people were hurt by them. She said Mason told her that his friends gave him the thumbs-up to move forward with the name.
“My hope and my best guess is it was a joke to him and only a joke,” said Bowden, a parent educator who works with severely disabled young adults. “I would love to get to know him and love to be his friend because I feel like all of his other friends let him down.”
The city of Galt said in a statement Monday that “the review and issuance of a City business license is not a discretionary process.”
“In this situation, the City does not have the legal ability to regulate the name of a business or control the manner in which the business chooses to market its products and services,” the statement read.
Many names in the craft beer industry have a lighthearted, feel-good element to them, whether it’s Bike Dog Brewing in West Sacramento or the upcoming Big Sexy Brewing in Sacramento. Names of specific beers sometimes push the limits, such as Soft Dookie by highly regarded Evil Twin Brewing in Brooklyn or Hoppy Ending Pale Ale from Palo Alto Brewing.
But the joke can go too far, said A.J. Tendick, co-founder of Bike Dog.
“Craft beer has a history of levity, humor and not taking yourself too seriously. However, there is no humor in disparaging a disadvantaged portion of our society (or by gender, color, religious beliefs, etc.),” Tendick wrote in an email to The Sacramento Bee.
Tendick added: “Any brewery needs to determine what identifies them and how to communicate that to their potential customers. I’d advise this business to start this process over to land on an identity that communicates who they are in a positive way. If it was an honest mistake, an immediate heartfelt apology and pledge to make it right would go a long way. And then make really good beer because quality goes a long ways to making people forget your past missteps.”
Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, was alerted to the growing controversy over the weekend. McCormick said Special Ed’s had only recently applied for an Alcoholic Beverage Control license and was still months away from being able to serve and sell beer.
“I’ve been in the industry a long time and I’ve seen other examples of this,” McCormick said. “Personally, I would call it poor taste and unfortunate. … When you’re starting a business, you want to alienate as few people as possible.”
Nashelly Chavez contributed to this report.