OSHKOSH – June is drawing to a close, meaning Pride flags and rainbow-themed confections will soon be harder to find.
It’s true that some companies exploit the month for their own personal gains without supporting causes or organizations. But the core of Pride Month, which marks the birth of the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement and the impact its members have had, is an idea that some local business owners get behind year round.
Ken Osmond, who owns Planet Perk Coffeehouses in Oshkosh, feels the idea of inclusivity is not a time of year so much as it is a business model. While the coffee shop does “some performative things” like hanging signs that all are welcome and the Pride flag, he said he also donates to organizations that offer LGBTQ resources and support and provides a space for those groups to meet.
“It’s really just about doing little things to make sure everyone feels welcome,” he said. “It’s about making people feel valued.”
He calls himself old-fashioned, but it turns out there’s research to back up that mindset. According to a global study by McKinsey & Co., diversity has been shown to improve a company’s bottom line. Business leaders often measure returns on investment, but CEO of Out Leadership Todd Sears said a “return on equality” is just as important.
For Osmond and other local business owners, Pride Month is less about making a profit and more about building a community they are proud to live and work in.
Osmond feels ‘the greatest evil on this planet is loneliness’
Planet Perk has had signs on its door since it opened in 1996 to let people know it was a welcoming space to visit. That led to LGBTQ organizations hosting meetings at the coffee shop. Osmond maintains a civic-minded mission for his business, offering discounts to veterans on Mondays, providing clothing to the homeless and supporting local organizations and charities – among many other things.
That has since snowballed to be inclusive of everyone, a practice he instills in his employees. The biggest trait he looks for when hiring? Kindness.
“My core belief is that the greatest evil on this planet is loneliness,” Osmond said. “We try to make everybody feel wanted, because everybody has something to contribute. And the more difference and diversity there is, the more interesting life becomes.”
That made them a natural fit to become a safe space for people who identify as LGBTQ. Osmond said he recognized early on that the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh did a good job of providing resources for students, but he didn’t see similar support outside of the campus.
“We just felt the need to provide a space within the city for folks that didn’t have a connection to the university,” he said.
Osmond said they weren’t able to do the coffee shop’s usual Pride Month promotions this year because his staff was focused on closing down its Planet Perk in the Grind location; however, he said they will have specials at the Oshkosh Arena Planet Perk kiosk during Wisconsin Glo’s Pride Weekend festivities Saturday.
The professional women’s basketball team plays at 7 pm Saturday at Oshkosh Arena, 1212 S. Main St., and Osmond said Planet Perk will have discounts and drink specials during the game.
Supporting Pride Month is not ‘a reason to buy a hamburger,’ a local restauranteur says
Over at Becket’s Restaurant, owner Chris Larson holds a similar view: Supporting Pride Month is not “a reason to buy a hamburger.” His restaurant flies a Pride Flag during June, but his business model supports inclusivity year round.
“It’s not something we’re willing to monetize, but we’re supportive of this cause because a lot of people who work here and eat here fall into that category,” Larson said. “We want them to feel welcome when they work or eat here because they don’t always feel welcome elsewhere in the world.”
He explained his stance in detail in a Feb. 28 Facebook post after a man called him to tell him he wouldn’t return to the restaurant because it flew the Pride Flag.
“As a business, we … support lots of causes here in our community, because we love it here and like to actively make this a better place to be if we can,” he wrote in the post. “We don’t typically say much about those things because we want you to eat here because you like our food and our people, not because we gave money to your fav (sic) non-profit or kid’s sports team.”
The post garnered more than 233 comments and was shared 175 times.
Business takes pride in being equal opportunity employer
One of the first things Wanda Tracy noticed when she was hired as Caramel Crisp and Cafe’s marketing and event coordinator was that its owner, Chanda Anderson, lived up to the phrase “equal opportunity employer.”
“She welcomes and even seesks out diversity in her staff,” Tracy said. “We currently have several employees who are part of the LGBTQ community and have had (others) in the past.”
The café, gift shop and book store hosted a “kickoff to Pride Month” event on June 1 that featured speakers from Oshkosh’s LGBTQ community. In addition to their special Pride cookie, which is out this month and will be in rotation throughout the year, Tracy said they have a Pride month bookstore section.
She said the business is working on expanding its selection of books, including to have an LGBTQ section year round. It’s also coordinating with UW-Oshkosh’s LGBTQ Resource Center to host a National Coming Out Day celebration on Oct. 11 and a queer poetry slam at a yet-to-be-determined date.
“Caramel Crisp takes pride in being a safe place for people to work and shop and know they can simply be themselves without any concern,” Tracy said.
Partners Kevin, Kyle Faust want their sports bar to make everyone feel welcome
When Oshkosh native Kyle Faust opened Winners Sports Bar and Grill, 600 N. Main St., he wanted to create a space that was welcoming to all. Faust, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, said while he was growing up in Oshkosh, it was difficult to find spaces he felt welcomed in.
Faust moved away for a time, living in California, where he met his partner Kevin Faust. The two have been together for eight years. When they returned to Oshkosh, Kyle Faust said he was happy to see the community had grown up.
“It’s becoming more of a part of the community here,” he said. “It happened naturally.”
It was also natural for the Winners Sports bar to become an advocate and safe space for everyone to hang out. He said it was important for him to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
“We have a lot of friends who are part of the community, so naturally they support our business and hang out here,” he said. “We don’t cater to just one class of people; we are a place where everyone can feel welcome and have a good time.”
Faust said he appreciates Pride Month, but they focus on creating an inclusive space all year round.
On July 10, Winners Sports Bar will host a drag show and brunch featuring six performers and hosted by Ivy Viola. Attendees can purchase tables of four, including bottomless mimosas and a brunch, for $ 125. Show-only general admission is $ 15 at the door and is first come, first serve. Doors open at 11 am and the show starts at noon.
These 9 locations in Oshkosh offer safe spaces
Oshkosh’s second-annual Pride event takes place Sunday in South Park. But, if you’re looking for businesses that others have identified as safe spaces in Oshkosh, here are places members and allies of the LGBTQ community recommend:
- Becket’s, 2 Jackson St.
- Big Daddy’s, 300 W. South Park Ave. (need to confirm)
- Caramel Crisp & Cafe200 City Center, Suite D
- Deb’s Spare Time, 1303 Harrison St.
- Oshkosh Food Co-op155 Jackson St.
- Pete’s Garage BarOregon St., 1514
- Planet Perk Coffeehouses (main location)100 City Center, Suite C
- Wagner Market, 502 N. Main St.
- Winners Sports Bar and Grill600 N. Main St.