November 7, 2018 at 1:14 pm PST | by John Paul King
Cuties Cafe makes fundraising goal and keeps on smiling

The business of catering to a narrow niche of a niche takes a whole lot of love. (Photo by Leslie Foster for Cuties)

Two months ago, the East Hollywood café Cuties – the only self-proclaimed LGBTQI+ coffee shop in Los Angeles – announced that it was in trouble.

Opened in the summer of 2017 after a successful Indiegogo campaign, the café grew out of “Queers, Coffee, and Donuts,” a monthly pop-up which provided a safe space and gathering point for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer, non-binary and trans communities.  Intended by founders Virginia Bauman and Iris Bainum-Houle as “a queer-centered community space,” Cuties serves up gourmet-quality coffee and donuts while also hosting community events, support groups, workshops and film screenings; they provide a meeting location for activist groups with no space of their own, and keep their supporters and clientele in the loop with a regular newsletter.

Importantly, Cuties was also an anomaly in the LA queer scene, a rare and much-needed social environment that wasn’t a bar or a nightclub – something appreciated by the sizeable sector of the LGBTQ+ community who are underage or don’t want to be surrounded by alcohol.

Like most new small businesses, though, the café had a hard time meeting its financial needs.

Late in August, Bauman published a post on Medium thanking its patrons for their support so far, but revealing that Cuties was struggling. “We knew that this experiment had to be self-sustaining,” she wrote.  “So far, it isn’t.”

Bauman said that unless the café could raise sufficient financial support, it would have to close its doors.  A campaign was launched to raise pledges through the Patreon website. The goal was set at $12,000 a month, and if it could not be met by the end of October, Cuties would be closing.

On Nov. 1, the Cuties team sent a message to its supporters on Patreon. Signed by “Iris, Virginia, Leslie [social media coordinator Leslie Foster], and the entire Cuties team,” it was a declaration of success.

“Psst, hey lovelies, we’ve got some good news for you,” the message begins.  “CUTIES IS STAYING OPEN!”

The $12,000 goal had not quite been hit, but according to the announcement, the contributions were enough, combined with the increased business generated by the publicity around the coffee shop’s difficulties, to keep things going.

“Cuties would not exist without YOU,” the message continues.  After thanking the shop’s supporters for participating in the various strategies adopted as part of the its campaign to stay open – contributing to the Patreon account, sharing the information on social media, coming to events, frequenting the shop, alerting media, throwing fundraisers, and more – it goes on to say, “You made an impact.  You made a difference.  You made sure LA’s only LGBTQIA+ coffee shop and community space can stay open.”

Echoing the feelings of many within the community, the Cuties team summed up the victory by saying, “We could all use a win right now and this is one for the books.”

Even though the café has been saved for the moment, the message also points out that the fight goes on.

“Our work as a shop and community is not done,” it stated.  “To assure Cuties is safe for many years to come we need to keep up the momentum.”

Keeping the café open will require that the contributions from its Patreon supporters remain ongoing, and that additional subscribers continue to come on board.

“We need you to keep showing up when you are able,” said the staff.  “We need you to keep telling publications, celebrities and allies about us. We need you to keep throwing events in our space.”

These requests for ongoing support are not merely an effort to maintain a profitable coffee shop.

Bauman, who is a transgender woman, and Bainum-Houle, who identifies as queer femme and gender-fluid, wanted to create a coffee bar that was geared towards LGBTQ+ people and their allies. Instead of catering to the tropes of LA’s trendy scenesters, they set out to make a location where members of the queer community could feel welcome and comfortable.  The project, which they conceived in 2015, became a priority for them after the Pulse Nightclub shootings and the election of Donald Trump – along with his barely-concealed anti-queer agenda – made it clear that there was a dire need of safe gathering places, especially for the most marginalized members of the community.

The funding they seek is necessary for them to continue offering the kinds of community-supportive services that have been the real reason for Cuties all along.

Their Patreon account – which at the time of this writing had reached $11,570, just $430 short of its target amount – is ongoing and will continue to accept new pledges. Any amount, from $2.00 per month and up, is welcome; but starting at $5 there are tiers of membership which offer premiums as an additional incentive for giving.

Though the struggle goes on, the Cuties team is thankful for the support that has helped them overcome the financial obstacle that had seemed destined to bring their experiment to an early end. Their message concludes with their thanks.

“Thank you for your faith in us,” it says.  “Thank you for support. Thank you for saving Cuties for everyone.  We are here for the folx who need us now and the folx who don’t realize they need Cuties just yet. We are here for our LA community. We are here for travelers like you from all over, both near & far who need a safe space to land, whatever journey you are on.

Here’s to YOU. Onward, to the future. Cuties is needed now more than ever.”

The message is signed with “Love.”

Cuties is located in East Hollywood, at 710 N Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles, Calif. Their Patreon page is at patreon.com/cutiescoffee. And you can sign up for their newsletter at hicuties.com

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