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Beer brouhaha: Florida brewery cancels two Trump events after social media backlash

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 10/8/2020 By Phillip Valys, South Florida Sun Sentinel
a group of people crossing a street in front of a building: Holy Mackerel Brewery in Wilton Manors, planned - and now-cancelled a Trump fundraising events that was scheduled for Oct. 8 and Oct. 13. © Carline Jean / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Holy Mackerel Brewery in Wilton Manors, planned - and now-cancelled a Trump fundraising events that was scheduled for Oct. 8 and Oct. 13.

There’s a brewery brouhaha at Holy Mackerel Beers in Wilton Manors after two planned – and now-canceled – President Donald Trump events raised the ire of the city’s LGBT community.

Wilton Manors residents and LGBT rights groups bombarded Holy Mackerel’s Facebook page Wednesday morning with negative reviews and angry messages calling for a boycott of the taproom and barbecue restaurant. At one point, the brewery shut down its Facebook page to stem the flood of messages, owner Frank Barecich told the Sun Sentinel Thursday.

“We’re being attacked,” Barecich says. “We’re literally getting bombarded with hate messages. Out of nowhere, it went from zero to 100. All we knew about [the political events] is that they were typical reservations for large parties.”

The first Trump event, an Oct. 8 Hawaiian-themed “Champion Patriot Challenge” by a group calling itself Trump Victory Leadership Initiative, invited visitors to “connect with great and like-minded conservatives.” The second event, the Fourth Annual BBQ & Brew, hosted by a group named Trump Team Broward, asked patrons to “proudly wear your TRUMP and Republican candidate gear!”

By Wednesday afternoon, hours after the social-media kerfuffle, Holy Mackerel canceled both Trump events and posted a mea culpa on its Facebook page. “We … unfortunately booked a reservation that ended up being a political event,” Ehab Atallah, Holy Mackerel’s director of operations, wrote. Atallah also left his personal cell phone number in the post. “We here at Holy sincerely apologize to anyone that feels like this business offended them in any way.”

a store in a brick building: Two photos taken on Thursday afternoon show political signage in the front window of Holy Mackerel Beers in Wilton Manors. © Michael Rajner / South Florida Sun Sentinel/South Florida Sun Sentinel/TNS Two photos taken on Thursday afternoon show political signage in the front window of Holy Mackerel Beers in Wilton Manors.

An Eventbrite page listing the Oct. 13 event at Holy Mackerel was still active Thursday afternoon. Barecich says he has repeatedly emailed the website to take the listing down, but says it’s the responsibility of the organizer, Trump Team Broward.

Atallah says he wasn’t aware the events, booked last week, were political or pro-Trump, and argues they were duped by the organizer.

“The organizers who made the reservations juked us in order to get their events held, both of them,” Atallah says. “We were caught in the line of fire. We learned about the Hawaiian theme for the first time yesterday when the Trump event flier was being shared.”

LGBT activists and residents clashed about the pair of Trump events on Facebook. Some posters gave Barecich and Holy Mackerel a pass for overlooking the events, while other LGBT activists doubted the brewery was oblivious, arguing the taproom only canceled both events as a reaction to negative reviews left by commenters.

Commenters pointed out that Holy Mackerel is open to the public on Thursdays, but the Oct. 8 Trump gathering had been billed as a private event.

“They should be closing the restaurant out for the private event. But it’s open tonight for a normal day of business?” says Michael Rajner, a Wilton Manors resident and LGBT rights activist. “They haven’t been truthful and they just want to spin this to make themselves look good.”

In response, a self-described “peaceful rally” in support of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden is being staged across the street at 5 p.m. Oct. 8 – the same time the Trump event had been scheduled.

Atallah says an organizer of the Oct. 8 event visited the brewery in person last week, telling managers he canceled a trip to Hawaii and needed a venue for 30 people. The Oct. 13 event requested enough seating for 80 visitors and planned to bring catering from a Pompano Beach restaurant, Bobby Rubino’s.

“We would never do these events because of the world we’re living in today, with the pandemic and restrictions given to us by the CDC,” he says. “We serve barbecue. Why would we allow barbecue from Bobby Rubino’s?”

Barecich says the brewery has a policy against hosting political events, nor does the brewery take a stance on political issues.

“We’re a neutral party,” Barecich says. “When it comes to politics, it’s something we don’t get involved with.”

On Thursday afternoon, a campaign poster for a Wilton Manors mayoral candidate could be spotted on the inside of Holy Mackerel’s window, beside the front doors.

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©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

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