"I'm not a chef," Raine Mara Hopper, owner of Sundaze, an Austin-based food truck known for their fried chicken and vegan fried chicken sandwiches, admits right off the bat, as if to underline the idea that she didn't choose this; it chose her.

"But I like to cook. I like to eat. And I was definitely a fast food junkie as a child. "For me food is another form of expression," Hopper, who identifies as a transgender woman and moonlights as frontwoman in the emo-punk band MeanGirls says. She's quick to note that her time in the service industry in all capacities — from washing dishes to serving to cooking to managing — gave her a unique appreciation for the work that goes into it all. "I grew up on punk rock music and DIY communities and so anything you wanted to do, you just did yourself." In celebration of Pride, we've teamed up with American Express to highlight Hopper, in all of her audaciousness.

She started her company for one simple reason: Hopper wanted to create a food service business that aligned with her LGBTQ+ values, and made all her customers feel welcomed. She drew from her childhood favorite eats to inspire her menu.

But it wasn't just about creating a vegan version of her favorite foods growing up, like the fried seitan sandwiches, that have made Sundaze an Austin favorite: "It was really about serving the queer community." Equally important to Hopper is creating jobs for LGBTQ+ people, specifically for trans and non-binary people, which make up one third of the staff at Sundaze. "I'd say there's definitely a thriving queer service industry in Austin."

Hopper has sights that go beyond her Austin borders — but never without community at the center. "We have simple foods that are very accessible, and we want to keep them accessible but also pay our employees well and that's ultimately our focus. It would be wonderful to see us grow. I look at companies that start locally as part of the community and then expand. I'd like to see Sundaze do that but also working towards impacting our community in larger ways."

American Express proudly backs the Shop Small® Movement, which is dedicated to supporting small businesses around the world. Wherever your Shop Small journey takes you, we invite you to discover local small businesses that provide a beacon of hope and acceptance in your community. Find more American Express-accepting small businesses in your local area by visiting shopsmall.com. Want more Pride inspo? See more here.

Illustrations: Neasden Control Centre

Subscribe to Get More