As LA’s coffee scene continues to grow and impress, there’s one particular new project coming down the line we just had to learn more about. That would be Cuties, a “queer-centered” coffee bar and community space opening soon in East Hollywood. The space is currently raising funds on Indiegogo in a campaign that ends on March 4th.
For countless queer Americans and their allies, community spaces of this kind provide an important venue for everything from activism and engagement to just having a chill, non-judgy place to relax and meet people.
It’s hard to put into words how vitally important spaces like this are for the communities they serve. Teens, adults, people in need of an escape from cruelty—to offer acceptance, love, and mentoring in a community environment is one of the most important things a cafe can do. Sadly we’re in a wider moment here in the United States where civil rights and respect for queer Americans are threatened, especially for transgender Americans targeted by cruel and bigoted bathroom laws (a shameful and unconstitutional overreach of government fueled by prejudice, but we digress). In this milieu, spaces like Cuties have never been more important.
To learn more we spoke with Cuties founders Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle. Sprudge co-founders Jordan Michelman & Zachary Carlsen interviewed them from Portland, Oregon.
First off, we love the name! Can you tell us its origin story?
Absolutely. Iris and I always liked the name Cuties because it’s a gender-neutral term of endearment. Everyone is a cutie.
Who is behind the Cuties?
Virginia Bauman (me!) and Iris Bainum-Houle.
First, I’ll tell you about my partner Iris Bainum-Houle. They are an artist and have a background in costume design. This is Iris’ first coffee business! They’ve been building the community aspect of Cuties for a year now. They are an incredible event producer and writer. They are genderfluid and are the driving force behind our Queers Coffee and Donuts events, and our weekly newsletter among many other projects.
I started Tonx Coffee with Tony Konecny in 2011. We somehow got to play around on the internet selling coffee for 3 years with an amazing team that I still miss. I was a director of digital product for one year at Blue Bottle after they bought us. When I left in 2015 a lot of things were up in the air for me. I was transitioning. I felt my career didn’t connect me to things that mattered. Iris helped me identify what was important to me and what could be next. A business centering queers and queer community was crucial. Coffee ended up being the way we decided to interface with that community day by day.
Please talk to us more about the space you’re moving into, and tell us about the neighborhood you’ll be a part of in Los Angeles.
The space has been a coffee shop in many past lives. It was a Cafecito Organico several years ago and most recently it was Helio Cafe. It has a mezzanine that spans 1/3rd the footprint of the main floor. People who want to hang for a bit can go up and chill. It needs a lot of polish, but the building itself is wonderful.
The location is near Los Angeles City College, a stone’s throw away from Sqirl to the east, and Go Get Em Tiger to the north. We are right between two Red Line Metro stops and right off of The 101. There’s also plenty of bike racks out front. Other things around us that we love: Against the Stream Meditation Center that offers free hour-long meditation sessions everyday; the Ukranian Culture Center; the Braille Institute (yes we will have braille menus) and Faultline Bar (although I hear they stopped playing porn on the walls recently). It’s not Silverlake, it’s next to it. It’s not Los Feliz, it’s next to it. There are a lot of queer and trans folks in East Hollywood if you know where to look.
Your Indiegogo mentions this space as being “perfect for a community oriented coffee bar”—what do you mean by this? We’re curious to know how you approach spatial needs for a shop like yours, one that has a community mission as part of its founding intention.
We don’t have a huge space, but it is bifurcated and the main floor allows people to be serviced efficiently while the upper floor is more flexible. That flexibility is key to us using the space for other groups in the community after peak business hours. We already have several groups that want to use the upper space in the evenings for classes, screenings, etc. Space is what our community needs more of so it’s important that our shop let the community use our space when possible.
We think this statement from your Indiegogo is really refreshing: “Cuties Coffee Bar is happening, even if we don’t reach our IndieGoGo goal. We are prepared to fill any fundraising gaps with a small business loan and continue with our work as planned.” Talk to us about the choice you made by including this in your Indiegogo statement.
We realize that money is tight around our community. LGBTQIA+ folks still face workplace discrimination and other challenges. That said, this past year producing community events has taught us that people want to help. This Indiegogo is a mechanism for the community to invest in the business we’re building and a way for allies to show their support. But ultimately, we have already derisked this business enough that a bank will be happy to give us the funds needed to operate. We added that language because we wanted to take a firm stance on our commitment to our community, regardless of the results of the Indiegogo.
Talk to us more about the “Pronoun Pins” you’re offering as a fundraising reward.
The idea of “Pronoun Pins” is not new. They are utilized in queer and trans communities as a way of alerting folks at a glance how an individual would like to be addressed. Pronoun Pins take the guesswork away and also make things a little easier if you’re not used to asking folks “What are your pronouns?” Cool enamel pins designed by Eric Mortensen (he also worked on our logo with Dana Steffe) seemed like a natural addition to our Indiegogo rewards.
The mugs from ceramicist Becki Chernoff are so cool! How did that collaboration come about? What kind of materials does the ceramicist use?
Becki was introduced to us by my former Tonx team member Danielle Harris. Becki lives right near our shop. We absolutely LOVE her ceramics. We didn’t really think twice about it after sitting down and drinking some coffee with her. For the Indiegogo reward mugs she’ll be using soldate clay (which is a stoneware) along with a matte white glaze. Becki will also be using abstracted elements from our logo and a tape resist method to create each mug’s unique design.
We’re coffee geeks and so we gotta ask: what roaster (s) do you plan on serving? What gear will be in use at the shop? Does stuff like this even matter anymore in 2017? Lol.
Hah. We are certainly not a gear-focused shop. While ModBars are gorgeous, our shop is going to be using basic bitch gear that we can afford and that will do the job well. We’ll be a single roaster Counter Culture shop serving espresso from a good ol’ Linea. Our frills are likelier to be in our outfits rather than our coffee equipment.
Can we volunteer a guest shift next time we’re down in LA?
Absolutely. Get your queer and ally butts down here and pull some shots!