Our identities shape both who we are and what we make. In the restaurant industry, this can help add some extra spice, paving the way for innovative new restaurant concepts, business ideas, and delicious flavors. So, what does that look like when you work in food but you’re also queer? To close out Pride Month 2021, DoorDash held a panel discussion called Beyond the Kitchen with three LGBTQIA restaurateurs, hosted by our Global Employee Connections team and in partnership with our Pride@ Employee Resource Group, where attendees could learn insights and advice from trailblazing food entrepreneurs.
The panel was moderated by chef Ronnie Woo, who led the discussion with Sharky McGee, owner and co-founder of Jewel, and Vaughn Hill, owner and founder of yAAAs! Cookies. They discussed how they got started in their businesses, what the intersection of their queer identities and their restaurant careers look like, and more. In addition to watching the panel recording, keep reading to get the highlights from the panel and learn more about Sharky and Vaughn’s unique stories.
I grew up in a culture surrounded by food, where a lot of life events take place in a kitchen.
Getting started in food
Growing up in the Philippines, Sharky remembers always being surrounded by food, and having that form a deep impression on her at a young age. For her, food is just something that’s “in her blood.” She remembers being 8 or 9 years old and holding open the door to a restaurant for other guests, and having the realization that that’s what she wanted to do with her life. “That’s when I knew I wanted to be a host, and be of service in that way,” Sharky notes.
She went on to study hospitality management in college, and over the years worked her way up from being a bartender to being a GM. She decided to launch a restaurant when she met her wife, and they created Jewel together.
For Vaughn, on the other hand, the journey to a career in food was a lot less planned. Despite early jobs at Long John Silvers and a management position at McDonald’s, he didn’t seriously consider a career in food until much later.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Vaughn started baking when he was about 12 years old, iterating on his grandmother’s original cookie recipe. He became the go-to friend to ask to bring cookies to an event, often getting called on to bring his cookies to graduation parties and cookouts. He went on to have a career in IT, but continued to mail cookies to his friends back home when he left Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until the pandemic happened and Vaughn’s IT work started to dry up that he considered turning his cookie side gig into a full-fledged business. He took a leap of faith, and launched yAAAs! Cookies. “It was all or nothing for me,” he explains.
Coming out as queer
Both Sharky and Vaughn shared similar struggles with coming to terms with their sexuality due to growing up in religious households. Sharky came out as a lesbian in her early 30s after connecting with another woman and recognizing that it felt right to her. She’s since adopted a more expansive religious outlook where she feels supported, and says that the work in accepting herself has only made her stronger.
Similarly, Vaughn didn’t fully accept his sexuality until his late twenties, when he finally began to embrace it. “Those days of feeling ashamed are long gone,” he said.
There’s no right or wrong time to come out. It’s never too late or too early. It’s whatever works for you.
The longer that we’ve been open, the more I’ve embraced being a gay company. It’s made me more comfortable in who I am.