Small Business

Small Business, LGBTQIA, cocoa wonkery

"Enabler? I barely know her!" Queer Chocolatier's First Podcast Interview

Meet my friend Chris!

Chris Clarke has a wonderfully engaging and entertaining podcast: Something About Food? The title is incredibly literal; something, anything to do with food comes up and listening to it as much as being a part of it feels as nourishing and comfortable as if you're reaching across the table to sneak a bite from a beloved's plate. Chris's warm, open, curious nature--along with her own food expertise from over three decades of being a chef--makes her a gifted interviewer and I'm extremely hopeful that our chat was the first of many.

It was a pure joy, being able to speak about Queer Chocolatier, travel, food, my wife, LGTBQIA2+ issues, and more food. I hope I made all of you proud as you listen to me wax poetic about all the things I love. And, if you like what you hear regarding Chris and her passion for getting everyone around the table for a chat, you should give her a subscription and review! Support your makers and creators, be it food or stories!

Check out our conversation, Episode #38 "The Enabler," at the following podcatchers:

On iTunes: http://bit.ly/itunes_somethingaboutfood
On Google Play: http://bit.ly/google_somethingaboutfood
On Spotify: http://bit.ly/spotify_somethingaboutfood
On Libsyn: http://bit.ly/somethingaboutfood_38
On Stitcher: http://bit.ly/stitcher_somethingaboutfood
On iHeartRadio: http://bit.ly/iheart_somethingaboutfood

Thanks again, Chef! Can't wait to have you come visit our Chocolate House in Muncie!

Small Business, LGBTQIA

Expanding my business has introduced me to Shadow Morgan

I feel like a walking shadow version of myself.

I think folx generally like to fancy themselves as good people, good friends, and good partners. Include me in that camp. But, deep down, we all know the few times we could have all been a better friend to someone (letting a call go to voicemail instead of answering) or a better person (I don't pick up every piece of litter I see, but I sure as hell take back my shopping cart to the space it belongs because I'm not a monster).

What I mean by Shadow Morgan, though, is I feel something different and shifted in addition to not feeling like a good friend or wife or person.

  • My energy is shifted. I feel less extroverted than what I usually feel.
  • My home-cooking is different and uninspired, mostly because of a lack of appetite.
  • My interest in anything new, unless it is complete escapism, has waned.

But I don't let calls go to voicemail anymore. Mostly because a lot of those calls have rightfully just stopped coming through.

Is it worth it?

I have this very question in my head that works like a nagging snooze alarm. It's nagging in the sense that it comes around way too often, but irregularly so. Usually at times when I am feeling particularly low.

Funny how I don't often ask this of myself when I have good moments and days.

It gets increasingly difficult to remember and focus on those good, solid wins and it isn't fair to make my wife the Keeper of Good Memories when I am the one who needs to have them in my back pocket. It also isn't fair for me to look externally for the answer of "Is it worth it?" when I am actually living out what I know is a dream.

The honest answer is a begrudging yes. Yes, sigh, it is worth it. Gosh!

What to do with Shadow Morgan?

I figure Shadow Morgan is not just a phase, and isn't just a contextual phenomenon that is tied to the expansion of the business. Yes, I'm sure stress is manifesting itself in some ways. I've certainly become grayer, but I actually like that (and it helps that Cheri likes it, too). But I think the truth might just be a bit beyond the stress of this stage of the business.

I think I may actually have depressive symptoms. 

And, purely speaking for myself as I do not care to speak for anyone else who experiences depression, I kinda think coming to this conclusion is a good and healthy step for me (although a confirmation rather than my amateur diagnosis would be wiser). I can explore more clearly my moods and thoughts as they come to me and I can practice a bit more reflection as to how I come to feel the way I do.

Do I intend to go on any steps to medicate myself or pursue therapy or eat nothing but turmeric for a month? 

Maybe.

I don't care for the mockery of those who rely on medicine to cope with their day-to-day lives. I also don't particularly care for the mockery of those who follow acolytes who peddle snake oil. 

I care for people. 

I know that lots of folx are hurting and experience that hurt in a myriad of ways. I know that a lot of people seek refuge in whatever way they can. To that end, I know that there are others who seek to take advantage of those who are seeking help.

Those manipulative assholes can go jump in a lake.

Depression in the LGBTQIA2+ community

Our community experiences significant mental health issues at a greater rate than the general population. Much of our mental health stems from society's treatment of queer and/or trans* folx. Yes, we can get married now, but that was never the main issue for the diverse queer and/or trans* community as much as it was for cis gay men. We still face stigma and discrimination, both on the micro and macro levels (see Oklahoma's new bill signed for "faith-based" agencies to discriminate against LGBTQIA2+ couples from adoption).

Major depression is one of the two mental health issues queer and/or trans* folx experience, along with generalized anxiety disorder. Which means it shouldn't really be too much of a stretch for me to come to understand that I may be experiencing depression that is just manifesting at a time that is also coincidentally stressful.

  • I've isolated myself more than I would care to, but I don't have the spoons for a lot of company either.
  • I find confirmation of my failures rather than my successes.
  • My overall self-esteem is lower than what I would call usual for myself (although, to confess, it was quite high to start).

But, ultimately, coming to see this for what it is will allow me to make adjustments in my life, to communicate these adjustments, and to better manage my own expectations of myself and others.

Shadow Morgan adds another dimension to Morgan, it doesn't replace me altogether, nor is it something to "cure" or "push through" to "get over." That language is fairly violent. It can cause a lot of self-harm to someone who hears those words as a constant message. 

Our happiness/comfortable-driven society can go jump in a lake, too, for all I care because we need to address mental health with the dignity and respect it deserves.

New expectations, but same end goal: Open a damn fabulous chocolate house

Opening the Queer Chocolatier Chocolate House is still worth it. I need to say it more emphatically, in all honesty. And the reasons are countless in number. One of them is pertaining to this post: I care for the well-being of myself and for our queer and/or trans* family. 

I'm no doctor, although on my way to becoming an entirely different sort of doctor (which I totally and thankfully bailed on), I learned over and over again the importance of communities, spaces, and places and our personal connections to them. Queer Chocolatier is more than just tasty, ethical chocolate. We are queer and we demand to have a space carved out for queer and/or trans* folx and for those who stand in solidarity with us. 

  • We will post access to resources, both in our chocolate house and on our website for the days you just can't quite leave your own home.
  • We will create a library for folx to hear stories that more closely reflect their own.
  • We will have Homo Decor pieces to warm your own spaces.
  • We will provide ways of connecting folx so that bonds can be created and strengthened.
  • And we will keep making damn fine chocolate along the way.

Reminding myself of the things Cheri and I plan to do with our chocolate house, and reminding myself that no one else is building what we are building, is a way for me to peek my head above the fog for a moment and keep in mind that, yes, this is all worth it. 

And even Shadow Morgan agrees. Albeit, begrudgingly. I'm okay with that.

Small Business

It takes a village to build a house...in the Village.

It takes a village to build a house...in the Village.

I'm a headstrong, stubborn queer woman.

Occasionally, I'm reminded of this but not always in a negative way.

Expanding Queer Chocolatier into a chocolate house is one of the most positive ways I've been reminded that my stubbornness in doing things on my own is not needed here. 

Doing things on my own is, largely, a trait borne out of being a only child. It also comes from a place of lack. And, I'm more than sure that my own self-assuredness and ego has a role to play.

But, I've learned (and am learning) that people want to help and rally around those they unapologetically love. 

Coffee cupping for the first time at Quills Coffee in Louisville, KY.

Coffee cupping for the first time at Quills Coffee in Louisville, KY.

The new year has brought a whirlwind of joy in the form of new knowledge and new connections. I'm learning so much from so many that my head is on a happy lil swivel. Seemingly everyone I meet has a way of contributing and bettering the upcoming Queer Chocolatier House. If it weren't for all of these folks chipping in, sharing, absorbing, blending all of their knowledge, expertise and passion, I would not only have a slow and lonely go of it, it wouldn't have the depth and richness it is bound to have.

I'm not only honing in on my chocolate passion and encountering other choco-philes (who host podcasts I listen to!),
I'm learning about business modeling from a friend I've known for a decade.
I'm learning about branding philosophies from a kind and creative soul I've just met.
I'm learning about coffee from roasters, equipment vendors, former baristas (including my wife) and former coffee shop managers.
I'm learning about queerness and gender from countless people everyday.
I'm learning about buildouts, remodels, and design from my father-in-law and my aunt along with others who are passionate about architecture and interior design style.

How could one person build that wealth of knowledge on one's own??

Maybe it is possible. But then to take that knowledge and act on it? That seems like quite the task. Luckily we have folks who believe in us and our vision for our contribution to our community that they are contributing financially and knowledgeably.

And I know I'll continue to need help along the way, and there are many ways you can join us in our venture.

The Village will be made all the better and sweeter for their efforts.

Thank you from the bottom of my headstrong, stubborn queer heart.

 

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Small Business, LGBTQIA

Unapologetic Transparency: Queer Chocolatier Makes The Wall Street Journal

Unapologetic Transparency:
Queer Chocolatier Makes the Wall Street Journal

Cheri Ellefson (left) and Morgan Roddy at their retail space for their business, Queer Chocolatier in Muncie, IN.

Cheri Ellefson (left) and Morgan Roddy at their retail space for their business, Queer Chocolatier in Muncie, IN.

Our business model sits on a bedrock of transparency. 

We are queer and we will make you indulgent chocolates.
We take great care in knowing where and how our source chocolate is made. 
We love to explain our processes, our practices, our relationship, our social/political/economic positions.

Transparency and openness is who we are and what Queer Chocolatier stands for.

Our venture into transparency was furthered by an article feature in the Wall Street Journal

Raw, unyielding financial transparency.

The article, in the Wealth Management section of WSJ, digs into our salary, debt, expenses, and goals. When posed with this opportunity, Cheri immediately realized that not only was it tremendous exposure, but it solidifies our passion about being open about who we are, whereas I was truly nervous. Cheri is the perfect guide and business coach. She was right, and I knew that she was right, but it took her belief in me to steady my nerves and recognize the marvelous chance to double down on transparency. 

With this article, perhaps we can demystify the small business process, build solidarity with those who constantly feel shame about their debt or worry about money, and also strengthen our relationships with new and long-time customers with our consistency and commitment.

It isn't easy building a business from scratch. We have self-funded our business and our aunt is our first financial backer by loaning us $500. We hit hurdles and have challenges, but we are persistent and we accomplish our goals.

Our long-term goals are large. We know reaching them will take a lot (hard work, luck, and financial capabilities, etc.). And sometimes I'm afraid. It really isn't easy and if it weren't for a beautiful community of customers who have repeatedly demonstrated their belief in us and in our product, I would have already crawled into a hole by now.

But I am in unapologetic love. With my wife. With chocolate. With our community. With adventure.

Ask us any questions you have. We will gladly answer. We are your Queer Chocolatier.

LGBTQIA, Small Business

Cake, Christ, Court, and Country: A Series of Short, Open Letters by a Queer Chocolatier

Dear Charlie and Dave,

Congratulations on your wedding! What a beautiful occasion to celebrate your love with the most special human on earth! Your love must be incredibly enduring to hold your bond so fast, especially with such events that have lingered since your nuptials. 

Within the last two years, my wife and I got married as well! We went very cheap, simple, and small for our ceremony, but we intend to have a grander celebration in the coming years. We both love cake. And I will speak for both of us (and the larger LGBTQIA2+ community) and say "thank you" for helping us weed out bakers that we won't need to patron!

You see, we all deserve the best. I'm guessing that you visited Masterpiece Cakeshop under the impression that it was of high-quality. I'm sorry that instead of getting high-quality you got high court.

To me, as a queer woman who owns a small business, transparency has been paramount to my operations. My customers know who I am to the core. They know they will also receive an outstanding product. I truly wish that transparency was how everyone and every business operated, but I'm shouting at the wind with such a wish. Maybe my transparency model will catch on through example rather than wish.

But, to the point, no one deserves to be discriminated against, especially during a time of celebration and a moment that will imprint itself on your memory until twilight.  Your case not only represents many queer and/or trans* folk, but it represents a large percentage of the frayed and worn social fabric of our nation. At least the patches that are not square, white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, and claim Christianity as their faith regardless of their misinterpretations of Christ's words and deeds. As Lourdes Rivera writes in her piece

"The Court cannot accept those arguments in the LGBT context without undermining hard-won gains in equality for women and other groups and inviting a regression to the dark parts of our past we thought we’d left behind: a world of segregated lunch counters, and women confined to the home."

This is all a rehashing of our value in society through the foggy lens of religion.

We are valuable. We are lovable. 

Remain courageous and remain unapologetically in love, Charlie and Dave.

In solidarity,
Morgan Roddy, Queer Chocolatier


Dear Jack,

I'm sure these are trying times for you as well. You hold a deeply-held belief and feel as though you are only defending your rights to creatively express yourself and maintain your religious freedom.

We actually have a few things in common. We are both passionate about our culinary creations. We are both white and cisgendered. We are both businesspersons, albeit you have certainly been in business much longer than I. And, on the face of your argument, I can imagine that I would not want to be compelled into doing something I do not believe.

But there is more than just the face of your argument. Its core, its roots, its bones are not only discriminatory but it is just really, really bad business, to the point that over 30 large businesses filed an amicus brief in support of the case's respondents. Not that you're without powerful, if not controversial, support of your own. You may contend that, even though the majority of America and the majority of small business owners find discrimination against queer folks to be utterly distasteful, we are in the wrong because we have been swayed while you remain resolute and firm in your beliefs.  

Fine. I'm not a Christian and, as a self-identified comfortable agnostic, I can say that I am not guided by a religion. You've got me there.

But I am often moved by the words and deeds of Christ and I am especially taken by those who preach the gospel through actions instead of words.

The message of Christ was neighborly love.

And I am thoroughly befuddled why a cakemaker--someone who makes a product that is nearly universally loved--who claims to be a follower of Christ can perform some monumentally unloving acts. Not only are you performing un-love, you and those defending your case in the highest court in the land are making a significant effort to codify your unloving, discriminatory business practices.

I know that my queer self will not discriminate in my business practices. I would even prepare a box of truffles for you, despite your "sincerely-held beliefs" that my marriage is an abomination. I consider myself lucky that you would simply not choose to do business with me since it is clear from the outset who I am and what my business is about.

It is about solidarity, fierce and unapologetic love, and chocolate. 

Jack, I hope your collective efforts prove to be a modern-day parallel of Sisyphus. 

Unapologetically yours,
Morgan Roddy, Queer Chocolatier


Dear Tony, 

(Wait, can I call you "Tony" or should I just stick with Justice Kennedy? I'm sorry for my fluster. You're the first Justice I've written, despite my deep and abiding love of RBG.)

You've got quite the hot seat on the bench! All eyes will be on you and your position on the Masterpiece Cakeshop v Colorado Civil Rights Commission. Folks like me are not exactly comfortable with this arrangement, but we are hopeful all the same.

We watched you give Hobby Lobby--and conservative businesses and the religious right--a victory in taking away women's access to birth control through employer-sponsored health insurance coverage. But, a great many of us also celebrated your position in Obergefell: 

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

You tempest of the Court! How you pitch us to and fro!

All feelings aside (or as many as will be patient enough to sit for a brief minute without jumping back into the fray), you have quite the case in front of you. The questions of how corporations govern themselves, how government and businesses and individual customers engage with one another, and the friction between free speech (or religion or expression) and anti-discrimination are not easy ones to mull over, but you fully begin that process today.

I begrudgingly recognize the personhood of corporations that our nation seems to hold as true. That seems to be of a particular import in this case as Jack Phillips contends mightily that it is his beliefs that are under assault, his expression that is being coerced by the State of Colorado.

Is that the same as Masterpiece Cakeshop holding those positions? Can the corporate veil simultaneously protect Phillips while he also seeks to shed it? Can he possibly begin to, and please forgive me Justice Kennedy, have his cake and eat it, too?

I will be waiting anxiously until the coming year until you indulge us with your views on this case. As a businessperson, a queer person, and as an American. 

Respectfully yours,
Morgan Roddy, Queer Chocolatier


Dear America,

We are in a fit. And I am exhausted by it.

If you think queer men don't deserve a wedding cake, that they deserve to be discriminated against, that religion is above law regardless of the notion that religion can and is used by some as a thin veil to display power rather than a platform to display love, then how can we move on as a nation?

Perhaps we need to have a sit down chat over some chocolate to figure this out. Together. 

We must do better,
Morgan Roddy, Queer Chocolatier

LGBTQIA, Small Business

#HeyMuncie!: Queer Chocolatier Goes to Market!

#OutAndOpenForBusiness

Queer Chocolatier centers on the the tangible product of quality chocolate truffles but it also rests on the foundation of an identity that claims space. In some ways, this is nerve-wracking. But it also is refreshing and rewarding!

I am a queer, married ciswoman and I'm going to make you delicious chocolates.

And I am equally proud of my cocoa alchemy as I am of my queer identity.

However, I am acutely aware that not everyone will share my pride. We live and move in an increasingly balkanized society that pushes people to choose sides. By and large I support choosing sides. Furthermore, I believe in the idea of claiming your space first; if I am anchored and grounded in where I stand, others can use me as a landmark and decide whether to stand alongside me or not.

This past weekend of vending at two local farmers' markets was my first time staking my claim in a physical space, outside of the internet, and putting myself out there as the Queer Chocolatier.

And Muncie warmly welcomed me! 

The indomitable Moth Danner runs the Muncie Makers Market and was beyond welcoming me to her roster of vendors!

The indomitable Moth Danner runs the Muncie Makers Market and was beyond welcoming me to her roster of vendors!

It was just one weekend, but I have the sense that Queer Chocolatier taking space meant something to folx. In some cases, people simply wanted good chocolate and I'm not mad! I love talking to people about my chocolate, how I make it, where I buy my source chocolate, how I've come up with some flavors (including flavors inspired by my wife).

This is the price she pays for being my inspiration.

This is the price she pays for being my inspiration.

In other cases, folx came to my booth to talk about identity and business and community. Some came under my canopy to say "Thank you!" or "This is such a cool concept!" 

That matters. 

It matters because queer lives matter. Trans* lives matter. Solidarity matters.

Know that if you are queer, trans*, gender non-conforming, genderqueer or genderfluid, of if you fall anywhere in the spectrum of marginalized sexual and/or gender identity, I stand in solidarity with you. If you're in East Central Indiana, come visit me at Minnetrista's Farmers' Market or at the Muncie Makers' Market and indulge in truffles!

And be unapologetic about taking up the space that you do! 

Small Business

Small Business Shenanigans: How to start a small business, Myths and reality

Hustle.

But, really, it isn't easy. 

I have no business experience whatsoever, nor do I have many mentors in the way of opening small entrepreneurial ventures. I do have a master's degree but instead of being helpful in starting a business, my MA often led me to regressing back to the nefarious imposter syndrome that I'd contracted from literally every grad student ever.

Instead, I plunged down the track and, at each hurdle I encountered, I asked for help. My inner monologue was begging for permission from individuals, companies, agencies, the universe, but I simply asked a smorgasbord of questions.

I trusted that people who were paid to do their jobs knew more than I would about that hurdle I was about to smack with my nose. I have a sickly sweet customer service voice that I can conjure on demand. I'm pretty fucking charming when I need to be, I mean, all the time.

But I also did a lot of research. 

Balancing trust and doing reconnaissance prevented me from becoming completely naïve or completely bitter.


myths of starting an online business

There seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstandings about opening online businesses in particular. Such myths deserve dispelling and I will do my best to provide some of my learning experiences here to help quash them.

MYTH: Online businesses don't require permits/licenses, etc.

REALITY: I had to obtain my business license from the IN Secretary of State, my sales tax license from IN Department of Revenue, my food permit license from my County Department of Health, all while not owning a brick-and-mortar. The Small Business Association website helped me outline the course of action on how to obtain these licenses and permits.

MYTH: Online businesses are "easier" than having a brick-and-mortar because you don't have the overhead costs involved in running your business.

REALITY: Overhead is certainly a barrier to entry in starting businesses. In the case of starting small businesses, especially food-related businesses, overhead can be a nonstarter. Living in a small city as I do, resources are also on the scarce side; per my County Department of Health, there are only two (2) certified kitchens that I could be permitted to use to make my chocolates.

Sure, there are some sharing relationships where a food establishment will allow small makers to use their facilities during off hours and while this can indeed be a symbiotic relationship of sorts (small maker gets to rent space and equipment much cheaper than purchasing it, establishment gets extra revenue and potential mentoring experience) it can also provide its own set of challenges. Considerations would include any time, product, and personality conflicts.

In my case, I am going the route of the certified kitchen. It certainly meets my needs and is absolutely cheaper than purchasing or leasing building space as my own independent spot. I also have the potential to forge new relationships in this capacity with the building's community and other makers who use this space. Ultimately, all of my chocolate confections are made in a certified kitchen that I have access to, but I don't have control over, and I would be hard-pressed to label this "easy."

In addition to the kitchen space, because I am an online business owner who makes and ships product, I experience a blurring of the lines between "home" and "office." All of my paperwork, shipping and packaging materials, and homo decor materials are housed in my home office (which is predominately our kitchen table and needs to be cleared off by dinner time).

I will look forward to having the level of success that would support having a brick-and-mortar base from which I can still operate my online sales. That will be the ideal arrangement and we can throw this concept of "easier" out the window.

MYTH: Online businesses are "easier" because you don't have set hours.

REALITY: KILL THIS MYTH WITH FIRE!!!

"Easier"? Again? What about business is easy???

If you can't manage time, tasks, and relationships, regardless of set business hours of operation, business is going to be that much harder if not utterly daunting. Here, grad school experience came in handy because I was used to setting goals, planning, consiste.... where was I going with this pack of lies?

Time management is my biggest personal challenge. I've had to develop this skill and, honestly, it is still very much a work in progress and not a linear one at that.

Set hours of a brick-and-mortar is nothing more than an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.

MYTH: You don't have to deal with people with an online business.

REALITY: It is a lonelier venture, but people and relationships and interactions are still key to business success, online or brick-and-mortar. For me, specifically, I am a people-person to a fault and much prefer interacting face-to-face with folx. Also, that was a huge understatement, in case you didn't realize.


Myths abound in starting a business, especially a small, online business. If you have any passion in starting your own business, congratulations! You've won half the battle in starting one! 

The next half is still a beast. Don't let myths get in your way! And, if you need a sounding board just to bounce around ideas, drop me an email and let's chat.