By Charlie Senack
The owners of Westboro’s Cupcake Lounge want customers to feel like they are entering a safe and inclusive space.
Pride flags hang outside of the Queer-owned business at 324 Richmond Rd, and inside a wall of cookies with various LGBTQ2S+ flags are on display.
Owner Laura Porter, who took over the business alongside her wife Mylène Côté in August 2022, said they wanted to connect with the community and become a place where LGBTQ2S+ members feel accepted.
That’s why the local bakers decided to start selling sugar cookies with different pride flag decals on them.
“You know when you’re a kid and you want to find a magnet with your name on it and it’s not a name you can usually find? Well, everybody should be able to find the flag they identify with,” Porter said. “You can come in, find your flag on a cookie, and know you’re in a safe space.”
There are at least eight pride flag designs to choose from, including the bisexual, pansexual, and non-binary flags, which can be hard to find elsewhere. The more common progressive pride flag can also be found printed on the sugar cookies alongside the trans flag. Because of their success, they will be available year round and not just during Pride Month.
Côté, who is a youth-in-transition worker by day, deals with young individuals who have been overlooked by the system, many of whom identify as part of the LGBTQ2S+ community. She said customers have been pleasantly surprised by their Queer focus.
“One customer came in and was so excited that we had cookies with the trans and non-binary flags because you just don’t see that elsewhere,” she said. “Representation is important, and cookies are a small way we can add to that which is great.”
Porter got her entry into the hospitality industry at 14 when she started working in wedding catering. After returning from studying social science in Newfoundland, she took the bakery and pastry arts program at Algonquin College. Porter joined a catering company for one year after graduating, but not liking the 4:00 a.m. starts, she transitioned into property management.
The opportunity to start working as a manager at the Cupcake Lounge came up unexpectedly while searching for jobs on Indeed. Porter learned she got the job over Zoom and instantly fell in love with the staff and business.
When the former owners had to retire for health reasons, Porter jumped at the opportunity to take over the business.
“My wife and I said there was no way we could swing that, but with the help of family and friends we got some loans and we made it happen,” she said. “We have such a warm and accepting group of us working here. It’s almost all female presenting. We have a really big queer number of people working here, and it was important to me to keep that environment.”
Porter and Côté met during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and had their first in-person date canceled because of the lockdowns. “It was a FaceTime relationship to start,” Porter joked. The couple legally wed in Summer 2022, but didn’t have a ceremony until this June.
The pair wants to become more involved in pride activities as they find their footing, and they plan to be a vendor at the Pride Parade in August 2024.
This past June during Pride month, they had a special cupcake called ‘fruity loops’ which was a vanilla cupcake with fruit loop cereal on top. They plan to have another special flavor in August during Ottawa Pride festivities.
In addition to their creative cupcake flavors, the Westboro business has also been showcasing pieces of local artwork on their walls. They are rotated every few months to give exposure to various artists.
“It’s such an easy way as a business to do something for the community,” Côté said. “It’s free for the artists and we don’t take any of the profits from the sales. They get to display their art for free and we get to enjoy the pretty art on the wall.”
Porter said opportunities in the hospitality industry can be “hit or miss” and ensure they treat all their staff like family.
“I’ll never take credit for any of the fantastic designs the girls do because they are amazing,” she said. “They are artistic and creative. I throw things at them and they roll with it. We love being a part of the celebration.”
The Cupcake Lounge also has a store in the ByWard Market and a pop-up in Kanata. Their Westboro location is open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily.