Every once in a while, there comes a story that simply needs to be told. Such is the story of Wunderkeks. What began as a desire to recapture the feeling of baking cookies with his family at Christmas led Hans Schrei to use his vacation time from work during the month of December to make a different flavor of cookie each day of Advent. By the time Christmas Eve came, Hans made over 1000 cookies and decided to give them as presents, and those who received them encouraged him to start making cookies to sell them. While this is one beginning for Wunderkeks, the real beginning for Hans’ endeavor happened after he and his now-husband Luis Gramajo left their home country of Guatemala in search of a better life for themselves and for Wunderkeks in the United States.
After moving to Austin, Texas in 2019, Hans and Luis took to the Austin Farmers Market to sell dozens of cookies every weekend. Then when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the SXSW (South by Southwest) Festival, the couple feared that the dream of the business they worked so hard to grow was over. Having made 25,000 cookies for SXSW, Hans and Luis turned to Twitter in the hopes that they could sell the cookies another way. Seen by Busy Philipps (Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, Cougar Town, Girls5eva), the actress retweeted Wunderkeks tweet which created a demand that helped Hans and Luis sell not only the 25,000 cookies made for the canceled festival but an additional 10,000.
Over a year later, Wunderkeks is now partnering with Dan Reynolds’ LOVELOUD Foundation to sell a special edition LOVELOUD Pride Cookie Box, available during Pride Month (June 1- June 30). In addition, for every dozen of Wunderkeks cookies sold during June, one dollar will be donated to LOVELOUD Foundation’s charities (Encircle, The Trevor Project, The Tegan and Sara Foundation, and many more LGBTQ non-profits) with the anticipated donation to be $30,000
In an interview with Instinct Magazine, Hans and Luis talk about how they ended up partnering with the LOVELOUD Foundation, their reaction to Philipps’ retweet, and so much more.
Gerald Biggerstaff: How did the opportunity to partner with LOVELOUD happen?
Luis Gramajo: Actually, it was very organic. Dan Reynolds ordered cookies. He and his wife ordered the cookies, and as we were printing the labels, we saw his name and we were like “Oh my god! Is this Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons?” So we sent him a message and he was like “Yeah, that’s me.” We knew about the LOVELOUD Foundation, and we asked him if he knew that we were LGBTQ-owned. He loved the cookies and he told us he didn’t know we were LGBTQ-owned but he loves the brand and the cookies and everything. So it was like a match made in heaven. We had to make a collaboration and we did it, like that. It was meant to be.
GB: Speaking of meant to be, taking it back to last year, what was your reaction when Busy Phillips retweeted your tweet urging her followers to order your cookies?
Hi! This small business thought they were making 25K cookies for SXSW. Then SXSW was cancelled and they have 25 thousand cookies to unload! Let's all buy some! Because WHO DOESN'T LIKE COOKIES?!? @chrissyteigen @yashar @Caissie @chefjoseandres @MarkDuplass https://t.co/ze7eIEDWie
— Busy Philipps (@BusyPhilipps) March 9, 2020
Hans Schrei: We went to bed that Sunday, (at) like a regular hour, and we were kind of stressed out because the pandemic was taking over the world. Then we woke up at, I don’t know, four in the morning. We went to bed with about 100 (orders) and woke up to 800 so it was very scary because, on the one side, it was super exciting. You could see us jumping into our bed like “Oh my god! Oh my god!” Then we realized that this was great but we didn’t have boxes to ship those cookies so it was a very, I don’t if you could call it a controlled panic, but that pretty much what it was. So I think we made a good job of keeping our heads cool and get to work as opposed to being overwhelmed but I could see though how it could have turned the other way around.
GB: Hans, for you, baking began as a Christmas tradition with your family. When you started making cookies on your own, did you use family recipes?
Hans: Yeah, actually our oatmeal raisin cookies (is) still a version of the cookie I learned to bake with my mom, so it started out (with) the recipes. You know how moms, we see this less and less, moms will have these 25, 30-year-old books and you would know which were the favorite recipes because those were the messy pages. So, yeah, I still have, not my mom’s books because she is still alive, and she won’t allow it, but I have purchased over time a ton of the very same books that my mom used to use to bake. I am a big fan of Rose Levy. That type of thing.
GB: What is your most popular product?
Luis: By far, the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever is our star, but I would say the flavors in the Greatest Hits, the Everything Cookie and the Inside Out, are also very popular. Chocolate Chip is a winner for sure.
GB: How did you come up with the packaging ideas for the cookies?
Luis: We were working with an illustrator from Guatemala. We were huge fans of her when we were back in Guatemala, and her name is Muxxi. She’s very well known here. She has done stuff for Nokia, Microsoft, and Nickelodeon, and we love her work.
Hans: I have been a fan (of hers) for ten years.
Luis: Yeah, and she loves our brand and when we talked to her, it was like a perfect match also. She developed the characters, each character for flavor. She just tried the cookies and she got inspired by every flavor, so she came up with these really cool ideas. It was like a collaboration of us explaining the personalities of the cookies and her trying the cookies and picturing all of the characters in her head.
Hans: We have the pink boxes regularly and it was super important to have something to actually celebrate Pride. It was something that we could say, “Oh, this is different. This is special. So what’s this about?” If you look through the illustrations and every character that you see there, there’s a ton of, I would say, talking points in there in the way we presented it. If you are thinking of explaining to a four-year-old what pride is, we kind of were hoping that you could see this is the spirit of Pride. You don’t really have to go into specifics to say, “Oh, yeah! We’re talking about people who are all different and all love each other and all of that.” All of that, we really wanted to be joyful because one of the things that happened to us this year is that, after being here for two and a half, maybe three years, it’s the first time that we understand what Pride is all about. For me, personally, I was like “Pride, what is this Pride thing? What is that all about?” because we were born like this so what am I proud of? I think this is the very first time that we understand what that actually means, and we can express it properly, in a way that says this is who we are so of course this is a branding exercise but for us, on a personal level, to be in this position where we get to make this exact box and not care about “Is this too gay? Is this too much? Is this too childish? Too much pink?” It’s the first time we’re able to finally do with our company exactly what the vision is for it. So for us, it’s been a revelation that yes, we are actually proud members of the LGBTQ community, which is not necessarily the way I would have expressed myself a year ago.
GB: Both of you are from Guatemala, what was your experience being gay in Guatemala?
Luis: It was tough. You could not even get legally married in Guatemala so had to get married here in Austin and when we had Wunderkeks back in Guatemala, we always say this as a joke, but it is true. It was the closeted version of Wunderkeks. Everything was pink but it wasn’t like in your face like we’re doing now. For example, the dinosaur in a tutu, we couldn’t even have that in Guatemala or we would get in so much trouble. So that’s mainly why we think that Wunderkeks was born and raised here (Austin) because we have like the out of the closet version where we can express ourselves and we’re not afraid to say who we are and what we like and that we’re queer and that we’re successful. So it’s very refreshing for the brand moving here to the States but the Guatemala situation you need to be careful. You cannot hold hands. Something as simple as joining the gym, you have to join with your friend. You cannot say that it’s your husband or your boyfriend. So you have to play with the system, I would say.
GB: How long have you guys been together?
Luis: We have been together for five and a half years and married almost three.
GB: What would say to the younger generation of Guatemalans that identity as LGBTQ on how to survive?
Hans: That’s a tough question. I would say that my experience was when I left Guatemala a lot of things that I had normalized and in a way something that is very important both Luis and I were very privileged and we came from an environment where, yeah, we were in the closet and everything but there was no outright violence. But the thing is that you normalize all of that so I would say what would healthy for anyone growing up there and who is willing to make it a better place because I think it was not us who are going to do but you go out and see the world and see how that type of subtle silent oppression and that normalization of homophobia if you will, is not normal it is not good, and you need to get out of that state of mind. So to anyone who actually can do it and go out of Guatemala for a while, it’s the best thing they could possibly do. Luis was 37 and I was 32 when we went to Los Angeles. This was two years ago, and we were like, hey there are so many gay parents with kids. This is so exciting. We were grown men at that time, and it was such a shock to us. And I think that a lot of people, young guys particularly, live with that like this, not something that is even considered possible. So if you want to change it or make it better, you need to understand that this is good and possible and normal.
GB: Your mission statement is “Nurture your inner child.” What does that mean to the both of you?
Hans: To me, what it’s about is there is this need to go back to these little rituals when you were a kid, the things that make you happy and it’s very easy to lose them. The reason I ended up making so many cookies was because it had been years since I had this little pleasure and what we had found is that we’re not the only ones. People want to share these little things. Modern life we don’t really have the time for that so if we can recreate those type of rituals and those little moments that we never get to have anymore. We never stop. We do this thing where go through a drive-thru and eat whatever. You just stick it in your mouth and don’t taste it because they’re in a hurry all the time. So if we could do something to slow it down to remember how it was when we were kids, we can approach everything from a more innocent place. I think we are better off.
GB: What are some things you do to nurture your inner child?
Hans: Other than eating cookies? (Laughs)
Luis: Actually, this is really funny. Hans always tells me that I’m like a big kid because I enjoy like simple stuff in life. I try to be always in a positive mood. My most important gifts that Hans gave me for Christmas last year were a Nintendo Switch and my rollerblades and I was so happy with that. For me, it was like the best presents ever and that’s one of the reasons because it brings me back to my childhood where when you didn’t have to worry about anything else, just being full of life and enjoying life. That makes it for me.
Hans: Yeah and I think there’s definitely our relationship. Between these childlike wonders and being queer in the sense that we kind of have an extended adolescence if you will, and all of these little signifiers of when you were innocent and when you were young, everything was easier. Because, for many of us, it became complicated roughly when we were 16 or 18, so all of these little reminders lead to good for you. We have a lot of things here in the kitchen that for us are, I would say, normal but people come, and they see them and “Oh my god! There’s a dinosaur with a tutu on. There’s a disco ball on top of the packaging machine.” And all of these things like let people loose and comfortable. They think, “Oh, this place isn’t so serious, so I get to be myself.” That’s what we see. When you see someone, even who is self-serious and lets themselves go and pets a puppy, they are kind of their true selves at that moment. So we want to recreate that in a way.
GB: Is Austin having Pride this year?
Hans: We’re not sure yet.
Luis: It’s in August or September. They just announced it like two days ago.
Hans: We have two Prides, and they canceled the one that’s in June.
Luis: Yeah, but the other one, I think, they’re doing something for sure.
GB: Are you guys planning on going to the one in August?
Hans: If it happens, yes.
Luis: We are ready. We are ready to celebrate. I think that with everything that is going on, especially, this is very interesting, the first Pride that we ever did, it was in 2019, the year before the pandemic started, and we kind of didn’t understand, like what Hans was saying, we didn’t understand what Pride was about. We went there for a couple of hours and then we were like “No, this not for us and there’s not much to celebrate.” But this year, we really want to go because we have another vision that we understand. It’s not that you’re rubbing in people’s faces who you are. It’s that Pride is a month that you get to celebrate who you are, to express joyfulness, and to be just enjoying life. And we didn’t see it that way before. We were feeling guilty because we were in the mindset of Guatemala where we thought that it was going to be just rubbing it in everybody’s faces and yeah, it’s basically like celebrating Christmas. You celebrate Christmas because you’re a Christian and that’s what you do. You’re not feeling bad about it. You don’t have to hide it so why should we hide celebrating our community. We are a part of it and we’re really proud that we are helping this time so for us, this collaboration means the world because this is something we could never imagine that we were going to be helping the community. It sounds cheesy but that’s what we’re doing. We couldn’t be happier helping, especially the LGBTQ youth because we understand that it’s really hard. And even if we are in a first-world country and here things are easier than what we had, they’re still very difficult.
Hans: In a way, it kind of feels like coming out again. I don’t know how to explain it better. We’re coming out again, ourselves, on our own terms, in a way that we would have hoped to come out many years ago.
GB: I’d say that explains it perfectly. That is very profound.
Hans: Thank you.
Luis: You’re going to make us cry. We hadn’t even thought this with that.
Hans: I have been thinking about this. We’re going to Guatemala next week to see our families and well, one of the things is that we are wearing our wedding rings and the other is that we’re going to go with our Pride Boxes because we need to bring them cookies, and we’re going to have this conversation, but we’re going to have it on our terms in a very different way than when we had it the first time around.
Luis: I think this is very important what Hans is mentioning because we actually bought the tickets like three weeks ago and we had the discussion if we were going to be wearing our wedding bands or not. After we talked with our therapist, she’s like “Why are you taking some steps back?”
Hans: She got mad.
Luis: “You’re going back to Guatemala. You’ve grown so much. Why are going to take steps back?” And it’s true. It’s like we are going there and whoever feels uncomfortable, they don’t understand it, it’s their problem. I mean, we are a married couple. We made a promise to each other, and we don’t have to hide our love or who we are so we ready to go back and be ourselves for the first time, I would say.
GB: You guys are going to make me cry.
GB: That is just wonderful. Your therapist is a good person for saying that.
Hans: Thank you.
GB: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Luis: Thank you for your time. Our goal is truly to make a difference and prove that being a double minority, LGBTQ and Latino, here in North America, and it’s really hard but when you’re a minority and if you take and you advance, that could be your strength also. It’s amazing how many people want to support you whenever they see it comes from the heart and that’s another thing that we always say. In the beginning, when we doing this collaboration, we were thinking about this but then we were like no, all the brands are doing their Pride version of everything because they want to commercialize what they do. Some of them, they only have the Pride merchandise and then, the whole rest of the year they forget about it. So, it’s basically to make money and that’s the way it is. We felt we were going to be seen like that but then we were like no…
Hans: This is our thing.
Luis: Pride is ours. It’s like our Christmas so yes, we’re going to do something about it because we can, and we deserve to do it and we are a part of the community. It makes sense because we’re helping. We have the message very clear in our social media and everything that we do that we are a gay-owned company, and we are helping normalize the idea of what two married guys are capable of doing because we are normal, and we can do whatever we dream of doing.
Hans: And the other thing I would add to that is we, as gay men, are kind of conditioned not to expect people to be happy for you. It’s more of a defensive situation where you find yourself many times particularly when you’re young, so this has been great for us. Not just for our business but for us as people. You get to have people be happy for you so that’s been a great feeling.
GB: You guys are amazing.
GB: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
Hans: Thank you so much.
To order any of Wunderkeks cookies, which have stellar reviews, go to the Wunderkeks website and the LOVELOUD x Wunderkeks Pride Box will be available to buy starting Tuesday, June 1st. You can also find Wunderkeks on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.