Austin couple's cookie company wins prestigious award for baking up safe spaces
Wunderkeks gets a lot of validation already. The Austin-based cookie company (rather than a brick-and-mortar bakery, it ships its goods) got its big break when actress Busy Phillips tweeted about a cookie overstock, and the rest has been meteoric. Besides rave reviews online, a night at the Oscars, and two South by Southwest panels coming up, the LGBTQ-owned company now has one very official endorsement under its belt: the Proudly Austin Award from the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce.
The cookie company joins 2021 and 2020 winners, Still Austin Whiskey Co. and Austin FC, in creating strong communities around LGBTQIA+ interests. As Wunderkeks co-founder Luis Gramajo points out — and as the prior topics of whiskey and sports hint at — although this is the LGBT Chamber’s award, it’s not just about catering to one demographic.
“When you start opening yourself and you start telling your story, you also have the responsibility to listen back,” Gramajo says.
Wunderkeks’ work in what it is currently dubbing “safe spaces,” started as an organic impulse to tell the founders’ own story. Although Wunderkeks was “closeted” in its home country of Guatemala, as Gramajo likes to say, it didn’t take Americans long to pick up on the queer messaging that subconsciously emerged from the creators’ imaginations: a pink box, a disco ball, and a dinosaur wearing a tutu.
Luis and his husband who came up with Wunderkeks’ first recipes, Hans Christian Schrei, were playing; being themselves. Who they are bled through, and started to attract others who identified with the brand’s presentation — if they’re in tune enough to pick up on it.
“We know that we're going to be having customers that [are] here just for the cookies, because they like them, and that's totally cool,” says Gramajo. “And we have customers that do want to get deeper … and that's, for us, our ideal customer.”
Wunderkeks had no choice but to be aware of the customers who are less on-board with the mission. After a partnership with Imagine Dragons singer Dan Reynold’s Loveloud Foundation, Wunderkeks started getting hate mail. But the couple also started getting love notes; some said that buying a box for a loved one was a subtle way of showing support. Rainbow packaging might do the job, too, but can feel trite. Wunderkeks is leading by example.
The company has recently formed a relationship with Ben & Jerry’s Foundation president Jeff Furman, who knows a thing or two about socially-conscious brand-building. Furman reminded the gay immigrants that creating safe spaces may put them in an unsafe position, but this was old news. Under his mentorship, Gramajo and Shrei started considering the logistics of safe space-building, including how to invite people from outside their own spheres of experience.
“We started talking about including everybody here, but at the same time, we have been very aware that we cannot speak, for example, for another minority, because that’s not our experience,” says Gramajo. “We could have an idea. We're starting to talk to people that are from those minority groups … so that we can talk and we can actually understand through them.”
This being the heart of Wunderkeks (besides the chocolate chips), it’s not one closed campaign. The landscape behind the scenes, for those close to the brand and its founders, is one of constant relationship building. As the company tries to keep up with exponential growth, it is always announcing new partnerships, boosting stories through social media marketing, and trying to define not just the language that exists in a metaphorical safe space, but the container for delivering it. The company has tried its hand at festivals and live streams — why not a podcast?
“Most importantly, [the award has] given us more exposure for people to believe in what we’re doing,” says Gramajo. “We’re in a very early stage … our goal is to build this common language to talk about the safe spaces. But right now, it’s only Luis and Hans trying to discover these. What this type of award provides us, is giving us the recognition so we can reach out to influential people, and more educated people, to start talking to them. There’s a long way to walk … so we’d better start now.”