Interview with DWF Inaugural Big Idea Grant Recipient Alejandra Luaces
The culinary world has long been dominated by white men, and has often separated itself from being overtly political, however, Alejandra Luaces, the HBIC (head baker in charge) at Hell Yeah! Gluten Free, is looking to join the recent wave of change. Similarly to fellow Big Idea Grant recipient Jasmine Marie, Luaces spent a long time trying to stay afloat in the corporate world, until she felt called to something more. For Luaces, this meant satisfying the basic need of hunger, and offering inclusivity and comfort while doing so.
A little less than a year ago, DWF Mag caught up with Luaces, after she had just left her position as a Mailchimp engineer to pursue Hell Yeah! Gluten Free full-time. Now, we check in to see what all has happened within the past year, where Hell Yeah! currently is and what’s next for Luaces, in particular, with the assistance of the Big Idea Grant.
Introducing Alejandra Luaces: Hell Yeah! Gluten Free
Take me back; what inspired you to leave the corporate world and create Hell Yeah! Gluten Free?
I have never fit into corporate environments. I felt there was some amount of obedience that was required of me that I just wasn't able to achieve, and, frankly, didn't want to work toward. Things that I feel define me as a person — justice, resistance, egolessness — were not things I felt could exist in that environment. Tech in general is a strange place, and after being a part of that industry for nine years, I felt it was just time to go.
What was it like to get started in the business world as a woman of color? What made you decide to push forward and overcome, even in the face of adversity?
You know how they say the best revenge is living well? Well, it's that, coupled with the fact that there are 6k+ people following me on Instagram at this point, and well over 100 people who've contributed to a Kickstarter campaign. How's that for an accountability squad? At this point, it's easy; I just need to check things off the to-do list. Sexism, racism, weird stuff – that all just falls away at this point. It's easy to get hung up on that stuff, and sometimes it feels insurmountable. But at this point, for me, it's a distraction.
What was your proudest moment as you went full time with Hell Yeah Gluten Free?
My proudest moment was quitting [Mailchimp], honestly. I could've stayed there and struggled pretty much indefinitely — collecting a paycheck, getting great benefits, unlimited snacks. Mailchimp people called it the "golden handcuffs.” It would've been easy. But I chose risk and happiness and fulfillment, instead of waiting for the "right time,” which really could just never come.
What brought you to DWF and the Big Idea Grant? What does it mean to you to be one of the first ever recipients?
I'd heard of Dream Warriors before, and after looking into it, decided to get a membership. It seemed like they were supporting women in small business, which is obviously something I'm passionate about. It's great to be part of a community with similar goals and ideals, especially when it's your first time doing something like building a business from scratch. I'd been in a fun yet stressful fundraising period for my business, and saw that I had a couple days until the Big Idea Grant deadline, so I just spent a whole night writing the application. I'm very grateful to have been selected. Being a pioneer is special and scary. It's fun because it's the first time we're both doing something – myself and the organization. We both get to learn something new.
How will you use the Big Idea Grant to expand Hell Yeah! Gluten Free and take it from Atlanta to the rest of the world?
The grant money is going toward our construction costs. At this point, that's the biggest hurdle we need to clear to open these doors, and it's an $80,000 to $90,000 hurdle. The DWF grant gets us closer to getting there. Then we can focus on the fun parts of the business: how to use it to help our community.
Hell Yeah! Gluten Free offers a taste of inclusiveness and community that’s hard to come by. How do you translate that to the real world, and why do you think that’s organizations like DWF are so important as we come together to support one another?
Inclusivity is a huge buzzword right now, and with good reason. I think there is a new wind rising, bringing with it lots of change. There is a greater awareness that not everyone is like us, and that's a good thing. I want to ride that wave, especially around discussions about food, which is a naturally communal activity, and just so good at making people feel comfortable and open. We want to do big things in food around this subject: promoting visibility of black and brown and women, and femme-identifying and non-binary chefs and food makers. We want to promote an ethical work environment which is much more employee-focused, and much less about profit. We actively, loudly and proudly promote our human rights views around topics like Black Lives Matter, women's right to choose and voter suppression. If you have a platform, it's your duty to use it for good. The more organizations and people behind us, the easier the message will be to swallow. Ha, get it? Like food.
Where do you hope to see yourself and Hell Yeah! Gluten Free in a year, between the Big Idea Grant and your own plans?
Ah, a year from now. I just hope that my crew is comfortable, inspired, and happy…and that we've pissed some of the right people off.