queer women

A Year In Review for Queer Chocolatier

Happy Birthday, Queer Chocolatier! 

Queer Chocolatier shares a birthday with my late grandmother who would be 88 years old today. I launched the business on this day to honor the person responsible for molding my early chocolate experiences. Today, one year after opening up and professionally working with chocolate, I am light years from where I thought I would be. 

And I couldn't be happier. Or more exhausted. Or more nervous. Or more determined. 

Basically, I'm more of everything. I'm turned to all the way to eleven.

As we approach the opening of the Queer Chocolatier Chocolate House in the next few of weeks, I am taking a few moments to reflect upon this past year of all the growth and shaping of Queer Chocolatier. 

Enjoy this video review of our first year of being #outandopenforbusiness
 



Cheri and I knew it would be important to start a business that we weren't finding as customers. We appreciate good quality products made my passionate folx, but we also wanted to become a business that would take those key components--quality and passion--and add them to our political mindset and be unapologetically transparent to those who engage with us.

We started as an online business and added farmers' markets as ways to meet people and sell our products as well as our vision. It was an incredibly endearing process to make new friends and to be bare about who we are and what we stand for. I used to study farmers' markets as a sociologist so being a vendor at one was a complement to another chapter in my life. But being a scrappy young business the first few weeks led to a quick spurt of growth by obtaining a retail store front, despite still renting a kitchen and having lots of office supplies still at home.

Having a retail space and weekly markets allowed me to add more truffle flavors to my offerings. In addition to my every day flavors, I incorporated monthly and seasonal flavors as well, along with the occasional fun flavors to play with. We started to receive a bit of press, first with the Ball State Daily News and, just before Christmas, Cheri and I were featured in the Wall St. Journal. What an extraordinary wrap up to the end of 2017!

We also started offering Guided Chocolate Tasting Events in our cozy retail space. We wanted to make the experience of eating chocolate to be intentional, enlightening, fun, and more thoroughly delicious. During these events, we were even more transparent about where our chocolate comes from, our philosophy regarding business, and we were able to deepen relationships with folx in and around Muncie. There are doubtlessly individuals with more expertise in chocolate than I have, but I am endlessly curious and passionate about chocolate and I want to share that with anyone who might be in arm's reach or shouting distance.

As such, my wife pushed me beyond my limitations and encouraged me to leap to the next branch in our business evolution: finding a brick and mortar space to build out my very own kitchen. A Chocolate House to call our own and to make everyone's. With a Chocolate House, we could expand our chocolate offerings, spread more knowledge about chocolate, and hold space for those who just want to be welcomed as they are. 

I loved the idea but I wasn't sure I had the confidence to accomplish this on my own. I was scared. I don't have any experience in opening a Very Serious Business and I don't have much in the way of mentors or all-important resources. But my wife believed in me enough to keep pushing and came up with our financing idea of opening our business up to microinvestors. We had eleven separate $1,000 investments plus an angel investor join us in our journey.

Excuses and feet-dragging were replaced with YouTube and asking questions and getting comfortable with being ignorant in a lot of areas of regulation, construction, and business-to-business relationships. I decided to be open about not knowing things and trusting professionals who are paid to know the things I don't. Granted, this leaves a person vulnerable, and I was and am vulnerable, but in most cases I ended up being helped by trustworthy individuals. Even when I run into challenges from other folks, it isn't necessarily because they aren't trustworthy, but maybe they are in their own journey of transparency and are vulnerable to being seen as not knowledgeable. It is frustrating, but I have grown in my ability to be persistent. I am proud to say we will be out and open for business within a few weeks. 

Going into my second year of business is not really much different than when I was about to launch. I still feel like I'm in over my head but I love chocolate and don't want to stop working with it. I also love people and want to cook for them and share with them my passion for food. I hope those things about myself never change. But this upcoming second year will be marvelous and I am eager to discover the ways in which I will be surprised in how Queer Chocolatier grows.

LGBTQIA

Thoughts on Pride from a Queer Chocolatier

Thoughts on Pride from a Queer Chocolatier

In the forty-nine years between the Stonewall Riots and today, the LGBTQIA2+ community has experienced wave upon wave of changes, from new letters of identities being included in our community acronym to the SCOTUS ruling in 2015 that same-sex marriage be federally recognized and from a reboot of Queer Eye and to black and brown stripes being sewn into the rainbow flag.

The month-long celebration of our queerness and trans*-ness in the heat of June sunshine has also changed from its inception. Some of the changes render Pride celebrations hardly recognizable from the early riots, yet much of the emotional outlets and connections remain as true to message as ever: “We’re Here! We’re Queer!”

My wife and I have attended three Pride marches in two states in the last three years. We weren’t married during the first year we marched alongside one another under the brutal Indiana summer sun but, again thanks to SCOTUS, we wed later that same year. Indy Pride was extraordinary that year due to the outpouring of support in the face of the passing of RFRA--Religious Freedom Restoration Act--which was a blatant attempt to codify statewide discrimination against queer and trans* folx.

Hoosiers showed up in large numbers to surround us with love.

 
Cheri and I, before we were married, marching with Indy Feminists in the Indy Pride Parade in June 2015.

Cheri and I, before we were married, marching with Indy Feminists in the Indy Pride Parade in June 2015.

 

Living in Minneapolis for our first year of marriage allowed us to attend the Twin Cities Pride celebrations and, although we knew that it was the third-largest Pride parade outside of San Francisco and New York, we were in awe. It was truly a massive crush of humanity.

We relished in our open celebration of our love in a city that seems beyond accepting of queer folx.

 
My wife and I sharing a Pride-ful kiss at Twin Cities Pride in 2016.

My wife and I sharing a Pride-ful kiss at Twin Cities Pride in 2016.

 

Last year, my wife and I moved back to Muncie, Indiana and our small cadre of queer friends all attended Indy Pride together. Our group has folx ranging in age from 20s to 50s and Pride means different things to us individually as much as generationally. This was also the first Pride where I got to meet up with my aunt and her own queer crew.

 
Our return to Indy Pride in 2017, without marching in the parade this time.

Our return to Indy Pride in 2017, without marching in the parade this time.

 

Queer Chocolatier's First Pride

Queer Chocolatier first became #outandopenforbusiness last August, so this is the first Pride month for the business. As such, Cheri and I put lots of thought into how we want to celebrate the month with chocolate and transparency.

For the month of June--for Pride--I am going to return to my roots and celebrate this month with my Bittersweet Truffles. No rainbow truffles or glitter from Queer Chocolatier.

Bittersweet Truffles represent not only my beginnings as a chocolatier, but they represent pride in the quality of what I offer you as well as serving as a metaphor for the complicated feelings I have about Pride celebrations: 

I am simultaneously critical of and hopeful for Pride.

Pride Critiques

As Pride has grown even more flashy and colorful, it still remains overwhelmingly white, racially-speaking. Recent Pride events across the nation also have increased their rapidly-growing corporate and police presence.

In part, this can be explained because of the organizing bodies that put the work into coordinating Pride events are also mostly white. Observing this isn't meant to be callous; it is a feat to put together such events but the amount of labor, including emotional labor, must be absolutely draining. For someone who is of lower income, or not able-bodied, or of an ethnic or racial minority, such labor may be simply too much to add to their own daily struggles of societal navigation.

In many instances, it is easy to see how today's version of Pride lacks resonance with queer and/or trans* persons of color as well as younger folx. QTPOC are more likely to have negative encounters with law enforcement than white queer and/or trans* folx. And, broadly speaking, our queer and/or trans* youth are savvy and critical of capitalism and conspicuous consumerism in a way that older generations are not. Both QTPOC and younger queer and trans* folx are at greater risk of economic, physical, and mental harm.

QTPOC

When the 2017 Columbus, Ohio Pride parade was blocked by Black Lives Matter protesters who were bringing to light the violence that QTPOC experience, some white organizers and participants were irate that the space was no longer made comfortable for them. Not only were they irate, they aggressively pursued charges against the Black Pride 4, thereby shining a harsh spotlight on the growing chasm between the middle-class white cis queers and QTPOC. There was a stark division on display during this parade and later at the Twin Cities parade, where protesters were quickly mobilized after the acquittal of the officer who killed Philando Castile; it is shameful that cities that have shown a lot of acceptance with queerness have not put in the labor to be as racially and ethnically inclusive.

It is especially shameful that this division is within our own house. Particularly as we owe Sylvia and Marsha a great debt for the roots of our month of celebration but we also demonstrate that we would likely kick them out of "our" space were they with us today. Pride organizers can and must do more to pass the mic and be inclusive.

Queer and/or Trans* Youth

A segment of our queer youth lack a connection with Pride because they haven't directly witnessed some of the ugly historic events firsthand.  Possibly this could be a consequence of the success of society's acceptance of queer and trans* people. But I suspect our queer and trans* youth is sometimes leery of Pride because in part of the pervasive "Rainbow Marketing" corporatization and commercialization of the events.

For the longest time, queer and trans* folx weren't seen as market-worthy. More frequently, we were discriminated against before we even could show that some of us had money to spend; folx would have to remain in the closet when banking or purchasing a home or applying for work. Some still do since there are too many states that still have no legal protections for queer and/or trans* persons. When Pride parades are filled with corporate sponsors and employers touting their diverse workforce, some older queer and/or trans* people see this as progress because they remember a time that corporations willfully forgot that green ($$$) was a color in the rainbow.

However, the youth in our marginalized community are often crushed under the wheel of society's venomous "religious liberty" laws and are more concerned with finding a safe place to call home rather than which company is courting them for their disposable income. Our youth are still suffering from violent bullying, mental health issues, and lack of stability at home or work once they enter the job market. It is shallow to be excited over the next rainbow flavored or colored widget to buy when LGBTQIA2+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness versus others.

These overlapping issues of race and class must be addressed in order for Pride to remain inclusive, relevant, and courageous. 

Pride Praise

Pride is not without bright and shining moments that are praiseworthy. As an effort to listen to and address the concerns of QTPOC, some cities such as Minneapolis and Edmonton, Canada are adopting a policy that uniformed police officers are not allowed at the Pride events but police officers can instead participate out of uniform as members of the community. Whether this will fully tackle the dynamic between law enforcement and marginalized communities is not the question, but the steps taken in engaging with the community on their terms will hopefully bear fruit to show how we can reclaim our spaces.

Again, it cannot be overstated that Pride began as a riotous demonstration of visibility, dignity, and liberty. 

As such, we cannot remain complacent in simply partying and shopping our way to full equality and justice in society. To that point, Anthony Niedwecki wrote in his piece in The Advocate earlier this month, "As we again feel that same boot of oppression crushing down on us and other minority communities, it is time for us to once again use our collective might in active defense of justice and equality." Pride, out of necessity, must be a political event and we need to do all we can collectively to engage one another so that we can more fully resist the oppression of dominant groups.

One way that folx are making a political statement is to throw Queerbomb events rather than participate in the mainstream Pride parades. Queerbomb Austin, for example, turns to crowdfunding instead of courting corporations for money to celebrate their queerness on their own terms, with promoting speakers such as a queer deaf community activist and sex workers' rights activists in 2018. In contrast, Pride events have arguably pursued palatability rather than authenticity. 

I hope Pride can reclaim some of its defiant glory.

But perhaps out of some small measure of defiance, several communities throughout the country organized their first Pride events for 2018. Rural spaces and small towns often are challenging places for queer and/or trans* folx to be visible and free. When communities come together to launch their own Pride parade, without the flash and slick advertising found in LGBTQIA2+ meccas, the main thing on display is courage. Columbus, IN, home of the (in)famous Mike Pence, celebrated Pride in April of 2018 based on the hard work and organization of a bisexual high school student. Southern Illinois is also having its first Pride event this yearwith much of its efforts on supporting the rural LGBTQ youth who struggle with isolation and rejection more than their counterparts throughout the country.

DIY Pride events aren't limited to small towns throwing their first celebration. The National Women's Soccer League recognizes Pride as a meaningful event for its players and fans, however, one team regularly holds out. The Washington Spirit owner, Bill Lynch, is a person who holds conservative political views and projects them regularly over his team and its operations, in ways that include not only dismissing Pride events but also in thwarting visiting team's star Megan Rapinoe's national anthem protest by unilaterally deciding to play the anthem while both soccer clubs were in their locker rooms. As a result, fans create their own Pride Night events as a way to push back against an owner of a club they feel doesn't represent their voice.

Still Proud

When queer and trans folx have adversity to face, we can galvanize to push back and boldly make a statement. But, when we have reached a certain level of "tolerance" or "acceptance" from society, we tend to forget that while some of our struggles have lessened, others in our family are still at risk of great harm. 

As a businessqueer, I am proud of being visible but I recognize it isn't easy for all of us to be so. Founding Queer Chocolatier has given me a platform. For others, Pride may be their platform and for others still, there may not be a platform to be had.

For me, to remember the current challenges and risks faced by the most marginalized in our community is also to remember the recent and historical struggles our community faced. Our liberation must be for our most vulnerable. 

We need to continue to remember our roots. We need to return to our basics. We need to return to unapologetic love. And I can do that while still being proud.


Let me know how you feel about Pride, our community, and Queer Chocolatier. What would you want to see from our business to stand in solidarity with queer and/or trans* folx in our community?

And let me know how you would like to join me in solidarity. Because Pride is about all of us and it is political. And we can't make it in this world without each other.

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.