Opinion

Why this Paso Robles brewery owes Fresno an apology — and maybe even a beer

Take a look inside Firestone Walker’s new brewhouse in Paso Robles

Firestone Walker Brewing Co. is putting the final touches on a two-year, $15 million expansion of its Paso Robles brewhouse and new visitor center.
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Firestone Walker Brewing Co. is putting the final touches on a two-year, $15 million expansion of its Paso Robles brewhouse and new visitor center.

On one hand, we shouldn’t be so sensitive. Fresnans are long accustomed to being the butt of jokes. We should just let the disses roll down our broad shoulders and off our backs.

On the other, some insults need to be called out. Particularly when they come from PR flaks who work for corporations that pretend to like us and desire our business. Especially when said PR flak lobbed her insult while sucking up to a celebrity on social media.

Which makes the Fresno trolling of one Jemma Wilson not only incredibly stupid but also somewhat pathetic.

In case football and celebrities aren’t your thing, singer John Legend was at Bulldog Stadium on Saturday night to support his nephew, Mike Brown-Stephens, a Minnesota Golden Gophers receiver.

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Minnesota posted a picture of Legend on Twitter, which got everyone excited and generated all kinds of news alerts. Because, hey, it’s John Legend. I even joined in on the fun, mock wondering if the singer was looking for tacos. Because, hey, tacos.

Among the responses came this jab from @JemWilson84. It read: “I’m so sorry you had to go to Fresno though”

As far as insults go, this one is fairly mild. Fresno has put up with much worse. Our pride remains intact.

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If those were the words of some random person, then whatever. No one pays any mind. But when Fresno folks clicked on the @JemWilson84 profile, they discovered Wilson is the communications manager at Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

Which, in case you didn’t know, is based 110 miles away in Paso Robles – a place many people from Fresno like to visit. By no mere coincidence, the refrigerator sections of Fresno-area supermarkets, mini marts and liquor stores are well stocked with Firestone Walker beers.

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‘Maybe just be a good neighbor’

The higher-ups at Firestone Walker seem to understand Fresno and its thousands of beer drinkers is a key market for their products. Which is why they’re the presenting sponsor of Grizzly Fest, our largest music festival.

All of which leads to an obvious question: Why in the heck would someone with responsibility for communications and marketing for a large regional brewery take potshots at the region’s largest city and its legions of beer consumers?

So she can elicit likes from Legend’s millions of Twitter followers? Doesn’t seem like a very good reason.

Maybe she was only joking. Fine. Whatever. Still, you’d think someone in Wilson’s position would understand Fresno residents can be a little sensitive to that sort of stuff.

A few of those residents wondered the same thing Sunday. Among them were Fresno State professor of political science Lisa Bryant, who tweeted this to Wilson:

“Hi Jemma, Fresno is friendly and a good host to visitors. We also drink a lot of your beer. What is there to gain by trash talking Fresno? Maybe just be a good neighbor, like Mister Rogers would do.”

I can’t tell you how (or if) Wilson responded because she deleted the offensive tweet and went into Twitter hiding. Curious move for a PR professional.

I can tell you Wilson lists “sarcasm” as among her loves and says her tweets are “her own, because I have a mind too.” Also that she appears to be drinking beer through a straw in her profile pic. She also follows 559 people, which is wonderful coincidence.

A hoppy ending

My purpose here isn’t to harangue anyone or encourage any boycott of Firestone Walker products. That would be vindictive, and we’re a friendly, forgiving city. But I do feel Fresno is owed an apology. Maybe an apology with some sugar on top.

Here’s one idea: Firestone Walker could buy everyone here of legal drinking age a beer. (Just not an 805. Far too bland for our refined tastes.) Here’s another: Beef up the sponsorship budget for Grizzly Fest, so that promoters could attract bigger-name acts.

How would the bean counters at Duvel Moortgat, the Belgian company that owns Firestone Walker, recoup those costs?

Easy. Take the money from the marketing and communications budget.

WalletHub personal finance website ranks Sacramento in the middle and Oklahoma City at the top of a list of best cities to start a business.

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Marek Warszawski writes opinion columns on news, politics, sports and quality of life issues for The Fresno Bee, where he has worked since 1998. He is a Bay Area native, a UC Davis graduate and lifelong Sierra frolicker. He welcomes discourse with readers but does not suffer fools nor trolls.
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