Imbibe 75 People to Watch: Claire Sprouse - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Imbibe 75 People to Watch: Claire Sprouse

At times during the pandemic, the to-go window at Hunky Dory, Claire Sprouse’s Brooklyn restaurant and bar, has felt like the New York hospitality industry’s own COVID answer desk. “People come up with their problems and questions,” says Sprouse, “and then they just stare at me. And I’m like, ‘Okay, you want me to … oh, okay, we’ll figure it out.’ ”

Sprouse doesn’t mind helping. Early on in the New York shutdown, she forged herself a space on the front lines, inquiring after, demanding, and implementing anything that might be helpful to the city’s independent restaurants and bars in their day-to-day quest for political relevance. And she’s happy to share her daily-won knowledge. “I’m glad people feel comfortable talking to me and that they have access.”

For nearly a year, Sprouse’s life has been devoted to both general activism including support of Black Lives Matter protests—and an effort to keep her business both safe and solvent. She’s been creative, to say the least. A typical 2020 week at Hunky Dory might have involved pop-up chefs, political postcard-writing sessions, movie screenings, cider press parties, census drives, as well as the usual outdoor and to-go dining and drinking.

Meanwhile, she’s been busy putting together a hospitality coalition that will represent owners and workers who aren’t typically given a voice in the industry and government. Sprouse takes a long view on her dual roles as reformer and entrepreneur. The uphill battle to be heard is not a distraction; it’s preparation. “It’s good practice in what the future may bring in [confronting] climate change, when we need to be buckling down on those issues we’ve been thinking about for a long time,” she says.

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