Meet the brothers who started Pennsylvania’s first Black-owned brewery

BY Ben Ebuka Oji February 5, 2024 12:38 PM EDT
Richard and Mengistu Koilor (Two Locals Brewing)
Richard and Mengistu Koilor the founders/owners of Two Locals Brewing Co.

Despite Black people making up approximately 13 percent of the country’s population and accounting for about 12 percent of beer consumers, Black brewers are significantly underrepresented in the United States, comprising less than 1 percent, as per a survey conducted by the Brewers Association, a trade organization representing independent brewers in the United States.

Arthur Moye, the proprietor of Full Circle Brewing Co. in Fresno, California, emphasizes that the key factor required to increase the representation of Black brewers is access to capital, considering the substantial financial investment required in the brewing business.

The obstacles notwithstanding, Black brewers in the industry are making significant contributions, and the Black community eagerly anticipates the emergence of new Black brewers.

January 2024 saw the launch of Two Locals Brewing by brothers Richard and Mengistu Koilor. This achievement marks the first Black-owned brewery in Pennsylvania, a significant milestone that the Koilor brothers deeply appreciate.

Two Locals Brewing Co. opened its brick-and-mortar space at University City Square on Friday, January 26th. Spanning 6,000 square feet, Two Locals Brewing aims to offer a unique “cultural” experience and a relaxing atmosphere. Operating hours are from 12 pm to 9 pm on Sundays to Thursdays, with extended hours until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

Two Locals Brewing is divided into a taproom and a brewery. The founders intend to allow customers to witness the live brewing process during the day and sample brews that are currently in development. At the brewery, visitors will also have the chance to delve into the stories behind each beer and discover the inspiration behind their names. In the taproom, guests can expect a diverse selection of music and large televisions showcasing movies and popular TV shows unless there is a significant sports game being aired.

“Although we love drinking beer and discovered a passion for making it, the lack of Black brewers and Black breweries is what put us on our mission to open this brewery,” Richard Koilor says. “We want to be an example that even if you have a passion where you are the minority, you can carve out a path for yourself and do it on your terms and with your flavor, style, and grace.”

“We want to see more black brewers and Black-owned businesses in an area that is heavily gentrified,” Koilor adds. “Our city needs representation in a positive manner.”

The Koilor siblings were raised in West Philadelphia and began their beer journey in 2016 by conducting experiments in their backyards and kitchens. It was during the racial uprisings of 2020 that they gained significant attention, thanks to a crucial connection with FCM Hospitality founder Avram Hornik, which allowed them to brew their beer at Mainstay Independent Brewing in Northern Liberties. This opportunity enabled the brothers to delve into different flavor profiles for their beer and expand their marketing and branding efforts.

Today, the formidable pair is working in their designated area, which happens to be conveniently close to their childhood neighborhood.

“When picking a location, we wanted to make sure that we were in West Philly because that is our home,” Koilor says. “We picked our spot because of our gracious landlord and the resources they had to help us open.”

Diners at the store can sample a variety of beer options, such as Lofa Lager and the popular Nubian Brown Ale. The Nubian Brown Ale is particularly noteworthy, as it boasts a complex malt base that brings out flavors of medium roast coffee, toasted nuts, and a subtle sweetness reminiscent of dark brown sugar. This exceptional brew earned a silver medal at the prestigious Philadelphia Homebrew Club Winter’s Warmers event in 2019.

In addition to their impressive beer selection, the brothers behind Two Locals have taken steps to enhance their offerings by partnering with Liberty Kitchen, a local food restaurant brand. Founded by co-owners Matt Budenstein and P.J. Hopkins, Liberty Kitchen brings their delicious meals to the Two Locals location. The meals are managed by Liberty Kitchen’s general manager, Zack Gangemi, and talented chef de cuisine, Nick Messina. This collaboration adds an extra touch of culinary excellence to the local store, ensuring that customers enjoy exceptional beer and delectable food in one convenient location. Executive chef Beau Neidhardt leads their standard menu, which offers a classic selection of hoagies, salads, cheese/meat boards, and tomato pies. Additionally, the Koilor brothers have infused their Liberian and Jamaican heritage into the menu, featuring dishes like the flavorful Liberian beans made with smoked turkey and chicken thighs and the delectable peanut braised eggplant, a vegan dish consisting of eggplant, tomato, golden raisin, and scotch bonnet peppers. Throughout the year, various African soups are also incorporated into the menu.