Photo Credit: William Billy Comer
Inside Virginia's Hampton Roads' First Black-Owned Brewery: 1865 Brewing
Virginia‘s Hampton Roads is welcoming the area’s first Black-owned brewery, owned by entrepreneurs, William “Billy” Comer and Rodney Malone. The two-story building where the new 1865 Brewing Company is housed will include a cigar lounge upstairs in the upcoming month.
The Black-owned business known for its beer, coffee, and bar food was named after the 1865 Emancipation Proclamation where African slaves in the United States were lawfully freed. William Comer tells Travel Noire that although the historical year inspired the restaurant’s name, that many enslaved people first arrived in Virginia shortly after their liberation.
“Me and the owner of the building got to talking, and he really wanted me to have the property,” Comer said. “After some research, I wanted to open the brewery even more because we’re so underrepresented in this industry. We only make up one percent of our breweries across the US.”
The journey to opening the 1865 Brewery Company for Comer was strenuous and felt impossible in the beginning, especially under the guise of the global pandemic that made constructing a restaurant from a barebones building to a hip pub not easy.
William Comer took an entire year to prepare the establishment for opening with all the needed health regulations, consumer products, and brewery equipment that is necessary for a brewing company to stay operational.
“A year later, we are open, and I’m sitting in the office with customers currently in the front,” William Comer proudly stated. “I want to represent something outside just being the first Black-owned brewery. The ‘1865’ in the restaurant name honors the first freed slaves that were released in Fort Monroe, Virginia.”
Located at 9 S. Mallory St. in Hampton, the 1865 Brewing Company provides a family-friendly space for customers who want an eclectic mixture of cold brews after a long day. The open floor plan allows for communal events and much interaction between locals who pass on by.
Also, there is a juice bar and non-alcoholic menu for those who don’t indulge in tap-drawn craft beers. Private events can be organized for those looking to celebrate a corporate event, holiday party, or birthday celebration.
“I really wanted to give up because one thing you don’t realize is that, [you know], being new to the industry, how expensive equipment is and staffing a building is a huge process.”
Billy Comer weathered through the storm that could have prevented him from ever opening the 1865 Brewing Company. The new business has brought in many Black families and has given Comer the opportunity to reconnect with his local community in a way that he wasn’t able to before. Now, he can host community-building events for Hampton Roads families and possibly inspire the next Black entrepreneur.
“There were so many uphill hurdles,” Comer said. “I had guys teasing me about the brewery not opening next year, that type of thing. So, it’s important for me to keep my head high and stick with it. You know, you can basically do anything. The sky is the limit.”