A joyful pink and mint green space on Heliotrope off Melrose, Cuties began, as many great ideas do, with coffee and doughnuts—or in this case, square pillows of fried dough known as fastnachts. The traditional German treat, which Cuties co-owner Virginia Bauman says is popular in Mennonite communities throughout Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, calls for mashed potatoes, a lengthy yeast rise, and clarified butter for frying. Bauman, a former digital product director at Blue Bottle coffee, grew up in rural Virginia and learned the recipe from a cookbook author friend. You’ll often find her tending to sizzling fastnachts at “Queers, Coffee & Donuts,” an event that she and business partner Iris Bainum-Houle have been hosting monthly since 2016.
Influenced by after-church gatherings over coffee and doughnuts, the pop-up began with no agenda other than to provide a haven for those who identify as queer or transgender. “For many people it’s less about religion and more about community,” Bauman says of the post-sermon ritual. “It’s milling about for no reason other than to check in with how people are doing.”
The gatherings were so well received, they allowed Bauman and Bainum-Houle to pursue their ultimate goal of opening Cuties last July, crowdfunding more than $30,000 to create the East Hollywood sanctuary. Bainum-Houle, who had made the leap from costume design and community event organization, transformed the café into a disco-ball-decorated hangout inspired by the Parisian cafés that fortified creatives like Picasso and Gertrude Stein. Bauman, working on a tight budget, rehabbed an old coffee bean grinder and found the cheapest espresso equipment with the longest warranty. “Your staff, your raw ingredients, and your hospitality are what matters,” she says. “That and your machines not breaking.”
Along with espresso and bottomless cups of filtered coffee (made with Counter Culture beans), customers can find an array of quiches and croissants from nearby Friends & Family plus vegan and gluten- free cake doughnuts studded with blueberries or bathed in cinnamon-sugar. That the golden brown fastnachts appear solely on the first Sunday of each month only adds to their appeal. More than tasty, they offer customers an excuse to stop by and enjoy a sense of community as they caffeinate and carb up, lingering over the shop’s bookcase, which stocks everything from Frida Kahlo’s diary to Girl Sex 101. Stein famously wrote, “coffee is a lot more than just a drink,” and Cuties, it seems, is a lot more than any old coffeehouse.
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