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Owners of Healdsburg’s Moustache Baked Goods advocates for LGBTQ youth

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Ozzy Jimenez looks back with a sense of amazement at that pinch-me moment in September 2011 when he was handed the keys to his first business.

He was all of 25 years old. Gay Latino guys in their twenties don’t open shops in prime real estate along the tony Healdsburg Square. That just doesn’t happen. Certainly not in a weakened economy just wobbling back to life.

“I remember that day I first signed my lease. I had the keys in my hand and I looked at the building and realized I literally had no idea what I was getting into,” he said.

As they say, what you don’t know won’t hurt you.

The creative cupcake shop dubbed Moustache Baked Goods that he and his life and business partner Christian Sullberg brazenly opened with every dollar they could scrape together proved so popular that in 2014, they opened a high concept “heritage pie” and ice cream shop on the other side of the plaza called Noble Folk.

On weekends, lines of up to 80 people thread out the door and down the street with people willing to wait for a handmade cone filled with offbeat tastes like Cornflake Crown Maple and adzuki bean cinnamon that you won’t find at 31 Flavors. They have also branched out into a thriving wedding business, catering cakes and sweets at up to 10 weddings a weekend in high season. Things are going so well the pair several months ago opened a production bake shop in Windsor not only to meet the demand for their artisan indulgences but to spread the love beyond Healdsburg. They hope to open a third sweets shop — concept TBA — somewhere in Sonoma County before the end of the year.

But for the young entrepreneurs, success is not just measured by profit and loss statements or write-ups in Bon Appetit and Daily Candy.

“It still doesn’t feel like my job is complete,” Jimenez confesses. “We’re employing 33 people and making sure their bills are being paid. For me, that’s successful.”

Sullberg and Jimenez are protective of their young staff, virtually all under 30 and many of whom identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary gender (meaning they don’t necessarily identify as male or female.) Both feel a sense of responsibility to create a safe environment not only where they all feel comfortable and welcome and free to be who they are, but where they have the opportunity to express their personal creativity and grow in the job.

“A lot of these young kids that are around have more to offer than just serving someone’s drink or pastry,” Jimenez said. “We want to support that as business owners. It creatively gives us energy and also fuels their passion.”

One of Sullberg’s best friend from high school started working in the front of the house in Moustache and is now head decorator and oversees all the fancy, glitter-dusted French macaroons that are a signature treat in the bakery. Sarah Davis, who oversees weddings, also does hand-lettering for the menu board and other publications. Gina Stratham, also a wedding coordinator, is a graduate of the Parson’s School of Design in New York and lends her skills to graphic design as well as front-of-the-house work in Moustache.

“It’s definitely a youthful environment, very creative and very fast paced. You have to multi-task,” said Stratham, who, at 27, is among the oldest members of the staff.

Despite or because of their own youth — Sullberg is 28 — the pair feel a responsibility to support and mentor other young people, setting an example both for professional success and for leadership in the LBGTQ community. They regularly show up for career days at Healdsburg Junior High and participate in Healdsburg High’s internship program. Their efforts led The San Francisco Business Times to name Moustache and Noble Folk among the top 50 LGBTQ-owned businesses in the Bay Area.

They recently stepped in to help smooth over a misunderstanding when members of the Queer Straight Alliance at Healdsburg High School were told they couldn’t put on a planned drag show during Gay Pride Week. Some students were suspicious that the district had political motivations for saying no to the show. But Bill Halliday, the incoming high school principal, said it was only a scheduling conflict.

Pride Week also falls right before finals, a time when no big events are allowed that might distract students from studying. Sullberg and Jimenez got wind of the situation and came into the district office, offering to help. At a meeting with school officials and club leaders they helped work out a solution that called for moving the show to June 15 at the city-owned Villa Chanticleer. Sullberg and Jimenez also offered to gift certificates to their store as prizes.

Halliday said he was impressed with their positive approach to solving the problem.

“What a great lesson for our students about how to get something done the right way and to receive the support you deserve,” Halliday said. “They handled it in the way I’ve seen them handle everything, which is with compassion and thoughtfulness and care for students and our community.”

Alliance member Noe Naranjo said he “personally idolizes them” as role models and mentors.

“They also personally offered their shops as a sort of safe space to hang out to get ready before the show,” he said.

The pair have also stepped up to serve in other capacities in the community, believing that is part of a new way of affecting change through positive action. Their new ice cream cart, which they financed through community crowdsourcing, is a familiar sight at local events and fundraisers.

Sullberg for the past two years has served as chairman of the board of Positive Images, a longtime Santa Rosa nonprofit that supports and advocates for LGBTQ youth in the community.

Some of that commitment to help other kids came from his own experience.

“Being a queer kid in Healdsburg was challenging. I felt really isolated. I always was the kid who was highly creative and not overly confident. I was really good at theater and ceramics. I played instruments,” he said.

“In high school I didn’t think I belonged in Healdsburg, really. It took me moving to Los Angeles to realize the world is much bigger. It opened my eyes to what I want to be as an LGBT person.”

Jimenez recently joined the boards of the Healdsburg Forever Foundation, which offers financial support to local nonprofits, and Corazon Healdsburg, a Latino resource center that also seeks to bridge the cultural and economic divide between the white and Latino communities.

“Sometimes Latinos just don’t feel comfortable going out in a very affluent area, but they feel less than (everybody else) and that is something people shouldn’t feel,” said Jimenez. His own mother, who speaks little English, initially felt uncomfortable coming into her own son’s upscale shop.

Both men said they believe the best way to affect change is to be part of the solution.

“I think the climate has changed so much that protesting in the traditional ways like we had in the past may not be the best way moving forward,” said Jimenez. “Now we can facilitate more activism beyond just protesting.”

They met in their early 20s over coffee at The Flying Goat in Santa Rosa and found an instant bond over their mutual dreams of opening some kind of hip bakery or cafe in Sonoma County.

After seven years together, they look like twin sons of different mothers, with burly builds, beards and glasses. They’ve developed a “symbiotic relationship” as business partners, with Sullberg serving as operations manager and Jimenez working on building the businesses and carrying things forward. Last year, Jimenez was accepted into a competive Stanford-based program to help Latinos scale their businesses.

They’re not thinking of marriage yet. But the pair recently bought a house in Santa Rosa, part of building a stronger LGBTQ community in Sonoma County.

“I want to see more young LGBT families or couples coming here and starting roots,” said Sullberg. “It’s easy, because San Francisco is so close, to say we’ll just move there. But let’s build a bigger community here and be just a little more tight-knit in terms of helping each other out.”

Staff Writer Meg McConahey can be reached at 707-521-5204 or meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @megmcconahey

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