There’s a revolution happening in the food world, but unlike in revolutions past, no cuisine is ascendant and no aesthetic is taking over. Hospitality is key, but the shake-up goes deeper than a new style of service. Queer people are building restaurants, pop-ups, and food businesses that center their community in an outward-facing, all-welcoming way. Their entrepreneurship is risk-taking, it’s expressive, and it’s occasionally radical. The queer food world is coming out.
The restaurant and bar world has always been queer. But often that queerness was underground or self-protective, in terms of gay bars, or it was present as subtext, known to those working at a restaurant and maybe a few trusted regulars, but not part of a restaurant’s overt identity. Millennial LGBTQ people live in an era of unprecedented openness, but many also struggle with isolation and a loss of queer spaces to gentrification. A new wave of businesses is trying to preserve the community spaces in danger of disappearing and rethink queer hospitality for a generation that can be comfortably out in many spaces, but still wants a place to call its own.
Eater’s latest miniseries, Queer Table, focuses on three projects whose stories represent different aspects of this revolution. At Coolhaus, the Los Angeles-based ice cream company, co-founders Natasha Case and Freya Estreller built a hip, stylish national brand out of a single food truck, and fell in love in the process. In New York, Eater Young Gun DeVonn Francis (’18) founded his dining pop-up experience Yardy after years spent unable to be his full self — a black, queer, Caribbean person — in the restaurant world. Bill Clark and Libby Willis (another Eater Young Gun, ’19) didn’t intend to open their Brooklyn diner, Meme’s, as a very, very gay restaurant. But when that label took off, they embraced queerness in the front and back of house, creating a place where, as Willis said, “You can go and have a piece of meatloaf and be among your people.”
The restaurant industry is mired in slow-burning crisis. It’s more central than ever to American life, even as costs rise and exclusion and abuse can no longer be ignored. Queer restaurant and business owners don’t just seek to serve their community. They are rethinking the hospitality world as a whole, and pioneering more sustainable and humane ways of doing business. These three projects are thriving — and they might just offer a new way forward for the entire food world.
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