4 entrepreneurs bring LGBTQ+ joy to San Francisco all year long
This Pride, we’re celebrating the LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs shaping the Bay Area. Get to know four of them from San Francisco and beyond as they weigh in on their craft and on what Pride means to them.
Carol Gancia, Kokak Chocolates
Carol Gancia’s uncle first ignited her love of chocolate. “We lived in the Philippines and there wasn’t any good chocolate,” she remembers. “He traveled all over Europe and, from the time I was a kid, I was eating mint chocolate and liquor chocolate and dark chocolate. I thought it was normal for people to have chocolate in their pockets.”
In San Francisco, landing jobs at KQED’s Check Please! Bay Area and Jacques Pepin: Fast Food My Way got the former broadcast journalist thinking more seriously about food—more specifically, her first love: chocolate. She enrolled in culinary school to hone her skills and, in 2020, opened her small-batch, single-origin Castro confectionary, Kokak Chocolates.
Locating her shop in the Castro felt to Gancia like coming home. “The first time I visited San Francisco, one of my first stops was the Castro, and I remember thinking then that I was excited and scared at the same time because sexuality was so out in the open,” she says. “I wasn’t completely out, so it kind of scared me. The Castro played such a big role in helping me understand who I am.”
Now, although Kokak celebrates the LGBTQ+ community year-round, things get especially colorful during Pride. This June, she released a multi-hued Say It Louder truffle collection, heart-shaped Love X 3 chocolate lollis, and rainbow Birthday Bars (June is also the anniversary of Kokak and Philippine independence).
“Every year is a different journey for people in the LGBTQ+ community,” says Gancia. “I’m now embracing and supporting people and encouraging them to be their most authentic self, whether they’re gay or not.”
// 3901 18th St (Castro), kokakchocolates.com
Karen Roberts, Hautebutch
Karen Roberts' name may not yet be synonymous with masculine and adrogynous clothing, but it should be. The butch woman has the kind of style that, despite being underrepresented in the fashion world, makes heads turn but getting dressed frustrating.
“I saw and experienced the need firsthand for menswear that fits my body,” Roberts remembers. So, “I decided to embark upon my own vision.” In 2012, Roberts, along with Danette Sheppard-Vaughn, launched the label Hautebutch.
Roberts draws inspiration from designers like Waraire Boswell, Raf Simons, and Bottega Veneta, but also from her own history. Many of the clean lines and crisp collars and cuffs in her designs are influenced by her service in the Navy.
“One of the reasons I chose the Navy as my branch to serve was based on the uniform,” she says. “I fell in love with the old crackerjacks, peacoats, big brass buttons, military style collars, and epaulets.” She even names many of her shirt and vest styles after naval aircraft.
While the fashion industry has become more inclusive in the decade since she started Hautebutch, her label “remains one of the few to focus on fashion-forward butch style,” says Roberts, and Pride is just one more opportunity to show them off.
“I attended Sonoma County/Santa Rosa Pride last week and I was thrilled to carry the banner for LGBTQ+ veterans with my wife and fellow veterans wearing our Hautebutch Rise tee shirts. We saw several folks wearing them out amongst the crowd. What an amazing feeling!”// hautebutch.com
Regan Long, Local Brewing Co.
Regan Long is a self-professed science nerd. Before making a name for herself as the cofounder, brewmaster, and head brewer of San Francisco’s Local Brewing Co., Long got degrees in both physics and oceanography. “But there’s nothing more fun than applying my science background to making beer,” she says.
Although Local Brewing is one of the only women- and LGBTQ-owned breweries in the Bay Area, inclusivity has improved over the last few years.
“It’s been fantastic to see more visible and accepted diversity in the industry of late,” she says. “More perspectives and opinions always drive new, innovative ideas and the industry is better for it.”
Long is hard pressed to choose a favorite beer style to make or drink (lagers, pilsners, West Coast IPAs, pale ales, hazies, and saisons are all on the list), but she always gets a kick out of experimental one-off brews made with unexpected ingredients like AirHeads Extremes candy or mezcal-soaked oak chips. This week’s Pride release, Gay Crush Tropical Blonde, a brew made with passionfruit in mango, is her current ale extraordinaire.
“We’ve partnered with the SF LGBT Center for the past five years to brew up an SF Pride beer,” says Long, and the proceeds from every pour go to support the organization.// 69 Bluxome St. (Mission Bay), localbrewingco.com
Naz Khorram, Arcana
When former political prisoner Naz Khorram escaped from their native Iran, they had no one in San Francisco to depend on. The absence of a support system would make most immigrants balk, but not Khorram. It was a big part of why they chose the city in the first place.
“I didn’t know anyone, so I could have a blank canvas to paint my narrative,” they say. “I wasn’t really aware of what does it mean to be queer. In San Francisco I was able to feel the freedom that allowed me to explore and get to be closer to who I was and wanted to be.”
As an artist, metalsmith, horticulturist, and event curator, Khorram wanted to create an oasis where everyone could feel creatively inspired and comfortable. Arcana, a plant shop and teahouse by day, wine bar and event space by night, is now in its second year in the Mission. There, although Khorram showcases LGBTQIA+ performers and musicians year-round, Pride is still “truly the happiest time of year for me,” they say. “I can’t wait to be proud, out and loud with all of my friends in the city.”
Khorram also works to empower other young, LGBTQ+, and immigrant entrepreneurs through her work as a board member of the Mission Merchant Association.
“Mismanagement of commercial properties and lands, greed, corruption and bureaucracy have caused some of our most vibrant and cultural neighborhoods to suffer immensely,” they say. “It’s time for San Francisco to lift up immigrant communities like the Mission by directing responsible investment and allocating grants.”// 2512 Mission St (Mission), arcanasf.com