A day after fielding criticism for her decision to advertise a cocktail in front of a "bullet hole-ridden wall" and 40 oz. rosé, the owner of Summerhill, a new "boozy sandwich shop" in Crown Heights, told Gothamist that she wanted to apologize for "unintentionally calling out gun violence."
"I truly never meant it in that way, but I recognize that it was insensitive," Becca Brennan, the 31-year-old attorney-turned-restaurateur said. "I was excited to keep the wall as a shout out to the different businesses that occupied the space before us but my intention was misinterpreted and I'm sorry for that."
"I also want to clarify about our bottles of rosé," Brennan added. "We serve them in ice buckets and we have them on our menu because rosé is delicious, and it’s a great deal for what amounts to more than a standard bottle of wine. We have no intention of serving them in any other way."
Brennan told Gothamist earlier this week that the decision to preserve the wall damage at 637 Nostrand Avenue and describe it as bullet holes for promotional purposes was a "cheeky" one. She also said that "I'm going to go get some paper bags" for the rosé.
This prompted negative feedback on Twitter, Instagram and Yelp, where many readers accused Brennan of making light of poverty and violence in a neighborhood in the throes of rapid gentrification. Some commented on Instagram photos of the 40s, and critiqued Brennan's Instagram response to Eater's coverage, which appeared to joke about the outlet's identifying her as white.
Others accused Brennan of "slum cosplay" and lacking "irony or self awareness."
"It's like you're not thinking about the black people or the long-term residents in the community," said 55-year-old Natherlene Bolden, who is black, a founding member of the Crown Heights Tenants Union and a resident of the neighborhood since 1978. "Or maybe you are thinking about them but they don't matter."
Asked Monday to comment on the symbolism of the 40 oz. rosé and the impact of gentrification in Crown Heights, Brennan said via email that, "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."
Today, she announced her intention to "take this as a learning experience for the future."
"I know I can do more and I intend to do more because we are very proud to call Crown Heights home," she added. "Over the next few days, I plan to talk to my neighbors about positive ways we can be more involved, including with other local small businesses, artists and charities. I want Summerhill to be a point of pride for everyone."
Thanks for all the internet love, you guys! Owning a small business isn't easy, but it's days like today and regulars like you that make it totally worth it.
A post shared by Summerhill (@summerhillbk) on
More than a dozen patrons sat around Summerhill's horseshoe shaped bar on Tuesday night, eating and drinking. Brennan was not in, and staff declined to comment on the record. A man and woman thanked one of the cooks on their way out, assuring him they'd be back.
"It's the kind of place that would never survive," said one bar patron, a white woman who declined to provide her name. "I'm not sure she [Brennan] is part of the fabric of the community."
Earlier in the day, a printed copy of the Gothamist story appeared taped to a wall on the corner of Bedford Avenue and St. Marks Avenue, two blocks west of Summerhill, scrawled over with the message "This is what they think of Crown Heights." And on Tuesday morning, signs with "Summerhill" over Brennan's quotes and words like "racist" and "gentrifier" appeared on Nostrand Avenue between Prospect Place and Dean Street, and on St. Mark's Avenue between New York Avenue and Nostrand.
"It is up to white people to call white people on their shit," said the person who created the posters, a 31-year-old white woman who has lived in the neighborhood for five years. (The sign creator spoke on the condition of anonymity, saying, "It's not about me, it's about Summerhill.")
"Through words, images, and objects, Summerhill sends a unified, blaring message to the neighborhood: this is not for you—you only have meaning as a prop," the woman added.
Other Crown Heights residents and business owners said they did not find the "bullet hole" marketing, or the 40s, egregious.
"Let's just say, if you never brought it to my attention, to be honest I wouldn't have noticed," said 34-year-old Ron Sanders, a lifelong Crown Heights resident, standing outside Summerhill on Tuesday night.
Sanders, who is black, said that he is more interested in the attention that the press release has generated—"the story"—than he is offended by what others perceived as racism or classism.
"Hey, the more people here paying to see it, that's bread in your pocket, that's how I see it," Sanders added. "She could have not said it. She put herself out there."
Harwan Salha, 18, works at Nostrand Organic, a deli that rented Summerhill storefront several years ago. Salha confirmed Brennan's account, that the deli had been priced out because of a rent hike.
"That bar on the corner is supporting my business, too, lately," he said of Summerhill. "And we support her business too, you know? [Brennan's] great and she's good with us and we're good with her."
Locals are planning to host an "open forum" outside of the bar on Saturday afternoon, organizers confirmed.