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Celebrating Pride Month: 3 Entrepreneurs on Running Inclusive Businesses

For Pride Month, we spoke to three business owners on living authentically, finding their voice, and creating comforting spaces that embrace all.

13 min read
6/9/2022
Sharky Headshot Crop

As part of DoorDash’s celebration of Pride Month, we talked with three business owners on what it means to form a community through their work, fully embracing who they are, and more.  

Sharky McGee, Jewel

While Sharky McGee is now the owner of Jewel in East Los Angeles, California, her career in the restaurant industry started over 7,000 miles away. Born and raised in the Philippines, Sharky graduated from college with a degree in hospitality management. 

An internship at the Marriott led her to Atlanta after graduation, followed by a move to New York City. She started working at prestigious fine dining restaurants, including Pastis, where she quickly moved up the ranks from server to manager within six months. Sharky continued her fine dining career at Jean-Georges and was asked to open Balthazar in London. 

While Sharky thrived professionally within the fine dining industry, it didn’t come without its challenges. “I don’t hide my sexuality, and I have a petite frame,” she says. “I feel like I’ve always had to speak louder.”

Sharky McGee

After I became comfortable in my own skin, that’s when my journey started blossoming. It’s where I became true to myself again. People saw the authenticity I have within myself, so I started attracting people who shared the same principles and values.

Sharky McGee
Co-Founder & Owner

Creating a gem

A few years later, Sharky moved from New York to Los Angeles and was looking to open up a restaurant with her wife at the time. A year later (and with no financial backing), they opened Jewel, inspired by the plant-based meals that nourished them at home. “We really just bite-knuckled it,” she says. “We were just two scrappy, gay New Yorkers here in Los Angeles just trying to stay true to ourselves and what is authentic to us.” 

Despite Sharky’s career up to that point, she knew that Jewel would have a different ethos: one that was accessible and inclusive, without the pretense and exclusivity that can be found in fine dining. The restaurant’s menu is hearty and tinged with global flavors, with items like the Jewel Box, made with Japanese sweet potato, avocado, turmeric tofu, and ume kraut. While the menu showcases Sharky’s creativity and brings the same high standards to the menu, she’s keen on making sure that guests dining at Jewel feel welcome. “I certainly don't want the people dining at my establishment to feel uncomfortable,” she says. “You’re not going to be able to enjoy the food otherwise.”

The thoughtfulness in making sure Jewel stays true to its mission extends beyond the menu—from the open and airy interiors to the restaurant’s prices, Jewel was designed with the surrounding community in mind. Sharky wanted the community to feel connected to the restaurant, instead of being seen as another facet of gentrification. “You have to take into account what your neighborhood is,” she says. “Do we want to alienate the neighborhood that allows us to be here?” 

For Sharky, the community that she’s cultivated both in and out of Jewel are some of her most cherished memories—and is seen in real, tangible ways. 

“We hosted a pop-up this past Valentine’s Day, and so many people came in to celebrate here,” she says. “I was so humbled to see that they wanted us to be a part of that special day for them and that the people in my community allowed me to be a part of their lives.”

Mathew Rice, Pink Door Cookies

For Mathew Rice of Pink Door Cookies in Nashville, Tennessee, baking is a way of life. He grew up with a mom who was an avid baker and worked as a trained pastry chef for over 20 years. 

During the pandemic, Mathew was laid off from his role as a pastry chef, unsure of when he’d return to work. He decided to post on Instagram asking friends and family if they’d be interested in picking up homemade cookies from his doorstep on Fridays.

“This was in early lockdown, so there was nowhere to go. There was nothing to bring any kind of joy at all,” he says. “But I could make cookies, schedule you at a certain time, and have a box of cookies waiting outside of my front door with your name on it.”

His beautifully decorated cookies in nostalgic flavors like blueberry pancake and cotton candy were a runaway success. “I was baking like crazy and couldn’t keep up with orders,” he says. “I thought ‘Oh, this could really turn into something.’’’ A few months later, the restaurant reopened and Mathew returned while simultaneously working on Pink Door Cookies. However, a few months later, the restaurant laid him off again. “They told me that they couldn’t afford me anymore, but I was secretly glad; I knew it was time to do this for real,” he says. Mathew raised funds from Kickstarter along with some family and friends and opened up Pink Door Cookies’ brick-and-mortar location in December 2020. 

Giving back

During Pride Month, Mathew is using the increased attention and proceeds to benefit his local community. “We get a lot of people that want to support an LGBTQ business in June which is awesome, but I feel it allows us to give back and do more for an organization that can use the money right now.” This month, Mathew is donating to Oasis Center, an organization supporting LGBTQ+ youth in Middle Tennessee. “It’s always important to me to support organizations that are local to Nashville, or middle Tennessee if possible,” he says. “My community means so much to me.” 

In addition to supporting local organizations, Mathew is keen on affirming the humanity of everyone that comes to his bakery. “We had someone reach out recently for a coworker who wanted to celebrate their first transitioning anniversary,” he says. “They asked if we could make cookies that were representative of the trans flag colors, which we were happy to do. That person felt so seen and was so happy that a bakery would do that for them.”

Mathew Rice

Everybody deserves to get to be the person that they're supposed to be. Nobody should get to decide anything for anybody.

Mathew Rice
Owner

Ultimately, Pink Door Cookies is a place where Mathew hopes people feel joy and acceptance when they come through the bakery’s cheerfully bright interiors. “It’s a place where we’ve crammed as much happiness and joy as we can to 150 square feet,” he says. “We just want to have a place where everybody feels welcome and sees a place for them.”

Neah Gray, PHAZE SHOP

For Brooklyn-based Neah Gray, PHAZE SHOP is the second phase of her journey as a business owner. The shop originally began as PHAZE Magazine in 2017, where Neah interviewed rising artists and designed the print magazine. After graduating from college in 2020, she rebranded to PHAZE SHOP, selling inspirational products like posters, stickers, and more, that are rooted in positive affirmations. “When the pandemic happened, I felt that a lot of people needed motivation to just get up every day, especially with so much turmoil going on,” she says. “I want people to feel inspired and motivated, but specifically Black people and people of color because there's a lot of things in the outside world that tells us we shouldn't love ourselves.”

PHAZE SHOP is about embracing the complexities of the human experience, even as Neah continues to evolve herself. “PHAZE reminds me to give myself grace, that life comes with highs and lows, and we all go through different stages in life. Sometimes things are great, and other times they aren’t,” she says. “We have to just go through those phases and not let ourselves feel bad or get down on ourselves.”

Although PHAZE SHOP exists digitally at the moment, it also serves as a launchpad for her community work. She’s donated a part of her proceeds to grassroots organizations like For the Gworls and the Black Doula Project and is working on integrating PHAZE SHOP into more community initiatives this year. “I think it’s important to focus on the people who are literally right next to us in our community and to donate to the grassroots organizations helping the people that we pass by every day.”

Creating welcoming spaces

The importance of creating an inclusive, accepting space — online and in real life — is a continuous journey for Neah as she’s learning to embrace all parts of herself, too. “I’m 23 and stepping into embracing my height as a 6’2 Black woman; it's taken me a while to truly step into my sexual identity, but I've known it for a very long time,” she says.

Neah Gray

I’m just stepping into my authentic self and voice, and I want to create spaces where we feel most accepted—I always keep that in mind when I move forward with the things I do.

Neah Gray
Owner

Neah plans on growing PHAZE SHOP into a physical location and envisions the next iteration of her business as a multidisciplinary space housing an art gallery, wellness center, artist hub, and more. “I'd love to showcase different artists in the community who are doing photography and painting, and let them have a platform to showcase their art,” she says.

Underlining all of Neah’s work is a need to create safe spaces where people can relax and embrace their full selves. “I really want to create a community of creatives who can find peace and joy within each other and themselves.”

How DoorDash is celebrating Pride Month

During Pride Month and year-round, we celebrate the progress that has been made for LGBTQ+ people and acknowledge the work that still needs to be done. We’re working to empower the LGBTQ+ community by amplifying LGBTQ+ voices, supporting nonprofits serving LGBTQ+ people, and highlighting LGBTQ+ stories.

To celebrate Pride Month at DoorDash, our Pride@ Employee Resource Group is hosting a variety of events, including a panel discussion featuring LGBTQ+ DoorDash merchants and a clothing drive at three office locations in New York, Phoenix, and San Francisco to collect new, like-new and gently used items for local LGBTQ+-affiliated organizations.

Author

Vonnie Williams

Vonnie Williams

Copywriter

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