Austin "cookie gays" offer safe spaces and investment opportunity after SXSW panel
safe spaces and cookies
Wunderkeks, a gay and immigrant-owned cookie company with a staggering amount of depth for something that could be sold on sugar content alone, has been showered with praise in the last three years. And it’s fundraising for another push into the stratosphere.
To recap, this brand almost folded the year South by Southwest (SXSW) got canceled out of concern for the pandemic. They made some famous friends, and won audiences over with earnest branding (and to-die-for chocolate chip cookies). They went to the Oscars, partnered with an increasingly impactful music festival, created a recipe with actress Tori Spelling, won a prestigious award from the Austin LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and still had time to produce tons of cookies. Luis Gramajo and Hans Schrei, co-founders and recipe developers, are among the Pastry Chef of the Year nominees for CultureMap's 2023 Tastemaker Awards.
This year the brand came full-circle with a panel at SXSW 2023 discussing safe spaces with VP of Communications at Virgin Atlantic Laura Brander, lead singer of Neon Trees Tyler Glenn, and the first openly gay statewide officer in Pennsylvania, Brian Sims. This topic has been central to Wunderkeks’ impact, and has elevated the company beyond a snack brand.
It turns out, not even the sky’s the limit for this married duo, whose cookies are soon to be warmed up and passed out on all outbound Virgin Atlantic flights (making these, unofficially, the best airplane snacks anyone has tasted) — if they can get the funding. Despite Wunderkeks’ meteoric success, it’ll take a little more than some careful planning to increase production and distribution by 100,000 cookies per month.
That’s the initial volume needed to get the partnership off the ground. Wunderkeks also hopes to offer a similar partnership to Delta, Virgin Atlantic’s U.S. partner, which the founders say would add up to "millions of people daily being touched by our message of building Safe Spaces."
Virgin Atlantic made news in 2022 for allowing cabin crew to choose the uniforms that best suit their gender identities. This made the company a great example for the panel — mostly building on ideas about making staff feel at home and enabling them to redirect their energy from suppressing self-expression to supporting guests — but also a corporate soulmate for the young retailers.
Gramajo, who moderated the panel, passed along the goodwill of Virgin Atlantic employees he interviewed when considering the partnership. Those employees had nothing to gain, he pointed out, in speaking highly of the company in private. They just felt seen.
Gramajo pointed out the similarities between this approach and the cookie brand’s, in all its pink glory. None of it was intentionally queer signaling. It wasn’t that Wunderkeks, itself, was queer.
“It’s that it’s us,” he concluded. “It’s amazing the energy that we waste when we code switch.”
Preserving that energy is also the purview of the Loveloud Festival, which another panelist, Tyler Glenn, founded with Dan Reynolds of Imagine Dragons to uplift LGBTQ+ youth in Utah. As a defected Mormon, Glenn was specifically pushing the boundaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Although he found the church much more powerful than he ever realized, the first years’ trials and tribulations paid off in an effusive show of love, support, and safe space for both the youth and their parents. Wunderkeks preaches the gospel of the tangible supportive atmosphere at the festival, and has previously partnered with Loveloud for joint branding on cookie boxes during pride month. A dollar from every box sold went to the foundation.
The third panelist did not represent any business partnerships, but he did articulate some of the day's most empowering messages from a perspective formerly inside the political beast. Brian Sims (D), now retired as a legislator, discussed largely Republican-led motivations of building momentum in transphobic attacks. Sims attributed an influx of trans-critical bills to a desire to separate the least vocally-supported and often the most politically-active portion of the gender and sexuality-diverse movement from the rest (the "T" from the "LGB").
Sims also shared a conversation he says he had with a Republican legislator about a similar effort, in which the legislator admitted he did not think the bill would ever pass. The panelist pointed out that such bills are often more about the showmanship than a desire to effect real change, but hopes that this chaos will lead to a strong pushback in the form of codifying protections that will put an end to copycat bills.
Wunderkeks needs $100,000 in this round of funding, lasting about two more weeks. This will get its cookies on flights and in the hands of cookie lovers and safe space champions in the air by April. The company is using Wefunder to sell future equity starting as low as $100-investments. In addition to the equity, there are tiered perks including a 10 percent discount, team T-shirt, and free cookies for a year. As of this writing, the current round has already reached $51,650 from a total of 30 investors.
More information about Wunderks, its business plan, and the terms of the future equity investments are available at wefunder.com.