Austin cookie bakery Wunderkeks teams with rock stars to help LGBTQ youth
Luis Gramajo and Hans Schrei are so proud.
The married couple owns Austin-based cookie company Wunderkeks, which began as a dream in their home country of Guatemala. They immigrated to Austin in 2019 and put all their energy into the business — together.
It’s paid off. In about two years, they’ve gone from selling dozens of their thick, homemade cookies at Austin Farmers Market to shipping thousands of orders across the U.S., thanks in part to a little viral success when they needed it the most last year.
The couple also left home for another reason: to get married, which they could not do in Guatemala. Schrei says the couple is aware of how normalized LGBTQ rights can seem at times in this country. There are gay characters on TV and out politicians. Especially in progressive Austin, it can be easy to forget the struggles that many queer people in this country still face, he says. To wit: LGBTQ youth are far more likely to commit suicide than other teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That's the whole point of Pride, is that we remember that even if there's been a lot of progress regarding gay rights — and it's a lot, and it's a completely different world than we had 10 or 20 years ago — there is still a lot to do,” Schrei says. “For us particularly, this is the first year that we actually feel like Pride is a thing to celebrate.”
So, Wunderkeks is going all out this Pride Month. Every day in June, they’ll donate $1 from every dozen sold to charities supported by the LOVELOUD Foundation, with a goal of $30,000 total. The foundation was started in 2017 by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds “to help ignite the vital conversation about what it means to unconditionally love our LGBTQ+ youth,” according to LOVELOUD’s website. The foundation also holds an annual music festival in Utah (pandemics permitting — this year’s is off) and counts stars like Neon Trees singer Tyler Glenn among its supporters.
Gramajo and Schrei “have such a personal experience with faith and being queer. It’s a queer-run bakery, and they came to us,” says Glenn, who’s a board member for the foundation, about the cookie fundraiser. “They were like, ‘We want to do this big splash.’”
Cookies just like grandma used to make
“Every day that we wake up, we don’t believe what is happening to us,” Gramajo says.
The couple first started making cookies together in Guatemala. Schrei grew up baking with his family, and one year, a Christmas baking project left him with hundreds of cookies to give away. People loved them and suggested he sell them. Schrei eventually met Gramajo on Tinder; the two became partners in life and in dessert.
But in order to make their dreams come true, the couple says they needed to find more supportive environs for a queer-owned business.
“Back in Guatemala when we had Wunderkeks, it was like an in-the-closet version,” Gramajo says, but “here, we were able to enjoy, to express ourselves.” It’s the out-of-the-closet version of Wunderkeks, he says.
The company’s product is inspired by the cookies that Schrei’s Austrian grandmother used to make when he was a kid. (Wunderkeks is German for “wonder cookies,” they say.) They use all-natural ingredients and keep a homemade taste. Recipes range from the classic — “Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever!” and “Amazing, Life Changing Snickerdoodles” are official flavors — to more colorful options, like a chocolate confetti cookie.
It’s all about feeding your inner child, the couple says. Your grandma was not going to use any shortcuts in her recipe, Gramajo points out, so neither does Wunderkeks.
“With every bite that you try, it has to bring you back to your childhood,” Gramajo says.
In Austin, the couple got started selling at farmers markets. Unlike a lot of food businesses, 2020 actually brought Wunderkeks success — but not at first. Gramajo and Schrei had 25,000 cookies ready for South by Southwest orders. When the festival was canceled due to the pandemic, they thought it was the end of the road.
Fate — or rather, a former “Freaks and Geeks” star — intervened. Wunderkeks tweeted about their plight, and actress Busy Philipps noticed. “Hi! This small business thought they were making 25K cookies for SXSW,” she tweeted on March 8, 2020. “Then SXSW was cancelled and they have 25 thousand cookies to unload! Let's all buy some! Because WHO DOESN'T LIKE COOKIES?!?”
Within two weeks, Wunderkeks had sold 35,000 cookies. It’s been a wild ride since, they say.
“For us it has been — I don’t want to say a blessing, because I know that a lot of people have had a hard time — it was an opportunity,” Schrei says. “I don’t know what miracle happened that let us stay level-headed when the pandemic hit, because we were in a very difficult position in that moment. We managed to make lemonade out of that particular lemon.”
Schrei attributes the good fortune to well-intentioned strangers who were just trying to help. When Pride Month rolled around this year, he says, they figured it was their turn.
'Everyone is invited to the party'
Like Glenn says, it was Wunderkeks that reached out to LOVELOUD first. Imagine Dragons’ Reynolds had ordered cookies for his wife and himself. Gramajo and Schrei noticed the singer’s name on the outgoing shipping label and sent him a message. They knew about LOVELOUD and the work the foundation does and mentioned that Wunderkeks is queer-owned. A team-up was born.
(Plus, Reynolds loved the cookies.)
To make the campaign a little more special, Wunderkeks came up with a special Pride Month box, instead of their usual pink packaging. They worked with Muxxi, a Guatemalan artist of whom Schrei’s been a fan for years.
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“She did a great job of expressing what we wanted to express,” he says. “The version of queer that is joyful and innocent and can take a joke, and that everyone is invited to the party.” The boxes, featuring both the Wunderkeks and LOVELOUD logos, are colorful and whimsical: stars, hearts, a rainbow unicorn, two people holding hands and flying through space. Gramajo and Schrei like to imagine that’s them.
The idea of the cookie fundraiser really did fit into what LOVELOUD hopes to do. Among the many charitable organizations that the foundation supports are the Trevor Project, which works to prevent LGBTQ youth suicide, and Encircle, which provides safe haven and social services for queer kids in Utah.
Glenn, who’s known Reynolds for years through their day jobs (or rather, night jobs) as rock & roll stars, says that the foundation’s vision is “rooted in trying to make space for queer people within the faith experience.”
“That was just so on the nose for me, because I just could surely speak to that,” he says about joining the foundation. “It’s really healed a lot of my own personal wounds,” Glenn says, adding that Gramajo and Schrei’s personal experience made them ideal partners. Glenn says he still has days where he has to work through “unwiring” from growing up in a world where homophobia is still a deadly reality. (The Neon Trees frontman came out publicly in 2014 and has spoken at length about his struggles with being gay in the Mormon church, which he has since left.)
People need to know it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, he says.
Wunderkeks sells joy in a box
The Pride Month campaign has seen some blowback online, Gramajo says. A few people have left hateful comments, saying that Wunderkeks is sexualizing their brand, or that the cookies will give them AIDS.
“We knew this was going to happen this Pride, that we might lose some customers,” he says.
But the couple knows that this is the right thing to do, and that “the change has to start with us to educate people,” Gramajo says. But there’s the other side of the coin, too, he adds. Some people tell Wunderkeks that they will buy a box just to counter the negative comments, Gramajo says.
Orders have been coming in strong, and the couple is confident they’ll reach their $30,000 goal for LOVELOUD.
“We have been living, breathing and dreaming about this day,” Gramajo says. The men who uprooted their lives and immigrated to a country about 2,000 miles away hope that other queer entrepreneurs can find the same success they have.
“I would say as cheesy as it sounds, no matter what, just always keep on trying,” Gramajo says. “Knock on everybody’s door.”
If you are LGBTQ person looking to start a business, Schrei says, you probably will find yourself in a situation where you’re asked to compromise your identity for the sake of marketability, maybe from an investor who is uncomfortable with a brand being “that gay.” His advice: Don’t compromise.
“Not even a little,” Schrei says, adding that starting a business becomes your life, and you have to live with yourself.
And most of all, know what you’re selling. Gramajo believes that their success over the past year is the whole reason they moved to Austin. Because if you think the couple is just selling cookies, think again.
Gramajo says: "We sell joyfulness and happiness in a box.”
Want to buy cookies?
Go to wunderkeks.com. Most dozens cost $24.95-$29.95 plus shipping. During the month of June, $1 from every dozen ordered will go to the LOVELOUD Foundation.