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National Small Business Day (May 10) happens during Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month. This year, Dollsexposed visits our three denizens, who are small business owners, to talk shop (pun intended) and how their racial identity informs their business decisions.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Dollsexposed or any entities they represent.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Dollsexposed or any entities they represent.

Lick It! Ice Cream

Owner: Takeshi Tanaka
Location: North Hollywood
Opened since: 1969 (with new management in 2020)

The thing that started it all:

My love for ice cream. And not only that, but my love for Lick It ice cream.

Back then, Lick It was a mom-and-pop shop, owned by Harry and Mary Watanabe. It reached its golden age in the 90s when their daughter Rachel took over.

I wasn’t a very happy kid and I’m pretty open about resenting my parents for sending me to a horrible boarding school. But our weekly school trip to Lick It made it all better. Rachel was one of the first adults I knew who was kind to me. She noticed I was mostly on my own and didn’t really talk to anyone, so she came over and said hi. We bonded and became friends.

I started working there in high school and it was night and day compared to working at one of my dad’s restaurants. I mean, they were both not glamorous. I was a janitor and dishwasher at my dad’s and an ice cream maker, as well as janitor and dishwasher at Rachel’s Lick It, but I enjoyed every moment with Rachel. She was an amazing boss. She never belittled her workers. She was friendly, but firm. She was warm to both her customers and her employees. It was definitely part of the Lick It charm. I mean, the ice cream is definitely bomb, and Rachel’s personality was the sprinkles on top of the ice cream.

I stayed at Lick It for a few years, splitting my time between the ice cream shop and college. Then I was accepted at a really good MBA program in Boston and I had to leave.

It was around that time that Rachel’s health started to decline. She didn’t have any kids. She left everything to her wife, Hanna, including the shop. Hanna knew how much I loved Lick It and asked if I wanted to buy the business at a ridiculously low price, and of course I said yes.

What being Asian means:

I wish my parents were the regular helicopter or tiger Asian parents. I understand now that they had a thriving business but those four years of boarding school were not very kind to my psyche. I don’t even think I made friends with anyone. I was too sad to open up and my sullenness turned people off. I don’t blame them. I’d rather read books and do good at school than socialize.

A few months after my mom died, my dad came out to me and I came out to him. Our relationship slowly became better. I discovered money and business talks would be the gateway for him to open up about more personal stuff. At first, the personal stuff was just flashes and glimpses, then it became more often and I enjoyed it.

My dad’s a third-generation Japanese-American. But I always tell him he’s practically second-generation since his parents died when he was a baby and he was raised by his grandparents. And his age and his Asianness mean he’s not very good at expressing his emotions.

I’m luckier because I met Rachel, who was also Japanese but the opposite of my dad. The way she lived her life taught me we shouldn’t be afraid of emotions.

On being Asian and owning a small business:

There’s almost nothing Asian or Japanese about Lick It except for the maneki-neko on top of the freezer. Rachel’s parents were hippies, radicalized after their time at an internment camp. From what I know, Lick It used to be the meeting place before they go on marches. In fact, they named the shop “Lick It” because they knew it’d be some pearl-clutching moment. But it was a great marketing gimmick because it attracted exactly the kind of people they wanted to attract: cool, free thinkers.

Rachel’s less political than her parents, but she kept the hippie aesthetic. And then there’s me. My boyfriend Manuel helped with the decor and my close friend Chrissy helped redesign the logo and the promo materials. The only thing I told them was that I didn’t want the place to be kawaii. I want to honor Rachel and the Watanabes by keeping it hippie and hole-in-the-wall-y.

I never asked Rachel if she struck up a conversation with me that day because I’m also Asian like her but I’m sure even if I weren’t, she’d still talk to me. That’s just how Rachel was.

It’s not like I’m not proud to be of Japanese descent. It’s just that I acknowledge it and move on. Our current in-house blends are a mix of Lick It’s original ones that became classics, some of Rachel’s creations, and some of mine. “Lucky Load” is Mary’s, a play on “Rocky Road.” It’s her way to reclaim that lazy joke about how Asians, especially Japanese, switch their “r” with their “l.” Plus, it also sounds like it could be a sex thing, just like “Lick It.” Now those are the things I’m proud of.

What keeps you going:

The ice cream. And the look on people’s faces when they have their first taste of Lick It’s ice cream. Especially when it’s one of my originals like Matcha Mochi and the Tropical Sunshine sorbet.

This incarnation of Lick It opened in 2020. To say it was a tough year was an understatement. 2021 wasn’t that great either. But it’s 2024 and I can finally say business is thriving and some days I still can’t believe we’ve made it this far.

My dad doesn’t tell it to my face but Sven, my dad’s boyfriend, always texts me whenever they’re together and my dad meets one of his friends and starts bragging about me to them and telling them about Lick It. I’d like to think I also make Rachel, Mary, and Harry proud.

Takeshi: t-shirt, apron, name tag by Dollsexposed; jeans by Super MC Toys; shoes by Hot Toys.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Dollsexposed or any entities they represent.

Priapus Cumfectionary

Owner: William Li
Location: Downtown
Opened since: 2018

The thing that started it all:

Porn. Lots and lots of porn.

Not really. I was a struggling model. Asian male models weren’t in demand. Not then, not now. We’re just not “masculine enough” or “well-endowed enough” although I definitely don’t have issues in that department. But anyway, I was doing underwear modeling and a make-up artist connected me to a now-defunct sex toy brand. Long story short, I became the company’s salesperson.

The age of YouTube influencers was just beginning. I jumped on the bandwagon and when I realized my review videos for the company’s products were getting so many hits, I decided to open an online store and started selling sex toys.

But I’d always dreamed of having a safe space for conversations around sex. The US is so prude when it comes to sex. There’s so much graphic violence on TV, in comics, but show a real dick, not one of those prosthetic dicks, and everybody loses their mind.

That’s why I opened Priapus Cumfectionary. We have weekly classes, from naked yoga to aphrodisiac cooking. And we also have books, including the rare ones like the archival-quality Tijuana Bible series and the Verboten book by the pointillist homoerotic artist Rex.

What being Asian means:

I definitely don’t fit the Asian stereotype. Yeah, I was a straight-A student. Yeah, I play the piano. But I’ve punched school bullies for name-calling me and other Asian classmates. And I didn’t become a doctor or an engineer.

You should’ve seen my mom’s face when I told her I was going to open a brick-and-mortar store. She went from ecstatic to vomity when I told her what kind of store it was. Then I showed her how much money I’d been making selling sex toys online and now she’s Priapus’ goddamn accountant slash marketer. She can’t stop talking about me to her friends. She’s so proud that I’m making more money than some of her friends’ kids who are doctors and lawyers. And she’s bringing in so much business.

But apart from my mom, I didn’t owe anyone for this success. Like I said, my modeling career was dead on arrival because of the racism we Asians face. We’re pegged as the “model minority” but that doesn’t mean anything except that we’re not privileged enough to be White yet we’re too privileged to be of color.

On being Asian and owning a small business:

Did you know that Google My Business added “Asian-owned” tag only in August 2022?

This is two years after it added “Black-owned” tag in 2020 after Black Lives Matter took off. Two years. In 2021, Google added “Latine-owned.” In June 2022 for Pride Month, it added “LGBTQ-owned.”

Yelp did slightly better. It added “Asian-owned” tag a year before Google did, but it was still a year after adding “Black-owned.”

This is the kind of performative bullshit that I don’t want in my store. 2020 also saw the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in the US thanks to Covid, and if tech companies truly wanted to embrace diversity, they’d implement all the identity-owned tags all at once. At the same time. But they didn’t. And that told me a lot about being Asian in this country. We’re invisible.

So, for a facilitator to do a Shibari workshop, I’d prioritize hiring a Japanese. For a Tantric facilitator, I’d prioritize an Indian. Obviously, they’d have to have a great track record and know what they’re doing, otherwise it’d be all performative and superficial. But when it comes to finding an instructor for a nude drawing class, I couldn’t care less about the race of the art instructor.

And honestly, when we decided to tag ourselves “Asian-owned,” there was hardly any uptick until we were interviewed or featured in AAPI month for media that wanted to fulfill their diversity article quota.

Like I said, we Asians are invisible. It could be worse, I suppose. At least we’re not regularly killed by cops or have a swastika painted on our front door.

What keeps you going:

My mom. She’s one of those small Asian women who speak so softly but when you really get to know her, you learn she has a potty mouth. That’s her and her friends. My god. The things they don’t dare say or don’t know how to say in English, they say in Mandarin. And they make me blush.

But to see her blossom in her sixties and to see Asians, who are generally shy when it comes to sex, visit Priapus not only to shop but also to take workshops, these things make my day.

Billy: Top, necklace, bracelets by Dollsexposed; Jeans by Soldier Story; watch model’s own; shoes by Kicksmini.

The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewees and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Dollsexposed or any entities they represent.

Life Sanctuary Ranch

Owner: Wade Cohen
Location: Thousand Oaks
Opened since: 2022

The thing that started it all:

Have you ever seen Gone with the Wind? I saw it when I was a kid. There’s a scene in the movie when Scarlett O’Hara’s horse just… collapses after pulling the cart just before they reach Tara and she keeps whipping him.

It must’ve jolted something in me because I remember crying hysterically when I watched that scene. I was so distraught that my older sister had to hug me and calm me down. She knew I wasn’t a crier, so that rattled her too.

And so, like Scarlett, I made a vow. But unlike her, I didn’t vow not to be hungry again. I vowed to save horses whenever I could.

When my grandparents died back in 2020, they left a sizable amount of money to me. It was enough to purchase land and start the Life Sanctuary Ranch.

Wanda, our adorable donkey, is the first animal we took in. She came from a rescue center in Texas. She has the widest, saddest eyes you’ll ever see. I was going to name her Eeyore but I thought it’d be too on the nose. I named her Wanda after Wanda Maximoff the Scarlett Witch. She set the pattern because the next animals we rescued were also named after Marvel characters. The white stallion is Steve, after Captain America, and the black stallion is Bucky, after Bucky Barnes.

What being Jewish means:

After 10/7 or before 10/7?

Before 10/7, I stopped using my first name, Isaac, because the kids in school thought it was fun to call me Kike-saac.

I mean, “Isaac” isn’t even that Jewish. It’s not like “Moshe” or “Mortimer.” But my sister and I were the brownest White kids in school because our dad’s a Syrian Jew and our mom’s a white-passing American Jew.

So, when we moved to a new town and I realized nobody knew me, I started using my middle name, Wade. I was fifteen so I’d already done my Bar Mitzvah and nobody needed to know I had one.

Isaac was a loser, so I was determined to make Wade popular. I sacrificed observing Shabbat to hang out with my new friends and I definitely couldn’t eat Kosher-only foods with them. And for a while, I hid my Jewishness. To this day, not a lot of people know I’m Jewish. They look at my olive skin and think I’m tanned from being active in the sun and that’s that.

My turning point wasn’t 10/7. It was more than a month later. I was helping to set up this big annual fetish show when one of my co-volunteers started saying how, as a Scream franchise fan, he’d be boycotting the upcoming movie because, and I quote, “Jenna Ortega was fired from Scream 7 after bravely protesting the genocide Israel is committing against the Palestinians.”

Thanks to my Marine training, I was able to maintain my composure and told him I was Jewish.

He said he didn’t hate American Jews. He just hated all Israelis.

I told him my dad was Israeli and my parents had relatives in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I told him for a few summers in college, my sister volunteered in one of the Kibbutzim that were attacked and she knew some of the people who were murdered.

I told him if it was so easy for him to hate all Israelis, including those who lived in the Kibbutzim, who helped drive Palestinians to Israeli hospitals to get treatment, who protested against Netanyahu and his far-right ilk, who are against the West Bank settlement, then what would stop me from hating all Palestinians? After all, a vast majority of them elected Hamas and a vast majority of them celebrated the 10/7 massacre.

I don’t know why it triggered something inside me, but it had the same effect the collapsing horse in Gone with the Wind had. I came home that day and vowed never to hide my Jewishness.

I’m not well-versed in the activism lingo, but I have close friends who are activists and I learn a thing or two from them, such as the word “intersectional.” I’m gay, a Marine veteran, a Jew, and also a liberal.

I successfully hid my Jewishness, even from myself, that I didn’t know how much Jews were hated in liberal circles. I didn’t even know back in 2018, a Jewish woman was ousted from the Women’s March that she co-founded because she dared to defend her Jewishness. And I took part in that march.

The same people, the same organizations I’ve been giving my money to, have gone fully antisemitic. I don’t mind that they raise Palestinian voices. I’m all for that. But not by dismissing the atrocity of 10/7. Not by putting pressure only on Israel to cease fire without acknowledging that Hamas too plays a part in rejecting the ceasefire. Not by amplifying the fake casualty numbers Hamas put out to gain sympathy.

At one point, I felt abandoned. I felt betrayed. I understand that supporting a cause should be unconditional, but I also felt used. You took my money, my time. At the same time, you hate me and you spit on me and you’d literally throw me under the bus if you had the chance.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, we didn’t see the same level of vitriol thrown against Russians in the US or anywhere around the world. Same thing with China and Uyghur. We didn’t boycott China or harass Chinese students.

Now, I only support people and organizations that are proudly Jewish or are our allies. People and organizations who recognize the unshakeable need for Israel as a safe place for Jews from around the world while fighting for causes like queer rights, abortion rights, and gun control. The bad news is there aren’t that many people and organizations like this. The good news is this means I can donate more money to them.

On being Jewish and owning a small business:

I don’t think I’m a good Jew. Our most stable stream of income is from school visits and they usually happen on Saturdays. I can’t afford a right-hand person just yet, which means I have to be there during the visits. Which means I can’t observe Shabbat. However, I’ve made peace with the fact that the animals and their welfare come first. And if I love doing it, it doesn’t count as work, so technically, I’m still observing Shabbat.

I’m no longer hiding my Jewishness or my connection to Israel or my conditional support for the existence of Israel. I understand that my conditional support means I won’t pass the purity test set by hardline Israelis and hardline Palestine supporters.

A person who centers their identity, in my case Jewish and queer, bears the responsibility to always show their best self. One small slip and people will judge not just you, but everyone who shares your identity.

This is why I strive to be a good boss, a good friend, even a good stranger, because now everyone knows I’m Jewish and if I mess up, people will hate us even more. And we can’t have that. Especially now.

I have five employees. All of them are not Jewish. After the Scream 7 incident, I gathered my workers and told them about my political stance. Thankfully, everyone decided to stay even if there are other sanctuary ranches out there.

The Life Sanctuary Ranch is a nonprofit. I don’t know if I’m going to lose patrons and donations after this interview, but I know Jews stick together.

What keeps you going:

The animals in my care. This includes my Rottweiler Thor. These animals don’t want to be involved in petty wars that humans create, but they are and they’ve died because of them.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some humans I love. Like the people who knew I was Jewish and texted me on 10/7 to check in on me and ask me about my family. And the people who told me I was welcome anytime if I wanted to vent and actually made good on that promise.

I’m also thankful for the Jewish liberal community and for the non-Jewish liberals who proudly show they’re our allies.

And the brave Iranians because they know we’re in the same fight. If anything, their fight is worse than ours. Netanyahu is horrible, but at least Israelis aren’t persecuted and slaughtered by their government.

Wade: tank top by Dollsexposed; sunglasses by DamToys; hat, dog tag, jeans, shoes model’s own.
Thor: collar by Dollsexposed.

BTS thoughts:

This is probably the most intense post I’ve ever written for the website, but I’m glad I did.

I’ve showcased Takeshi’s Lick It ice cream shop before, but I did repair the ice cream display box and add more accessories to the diorama.

Although the Priapus branding can be seen in the “Chrissy’s Self-Love” and “Two Biker Boys” posts, The Priapus Cumfectionary diorama is new and I’m so proud of it if you can’t already tell.

I bought a Ken set just so I could use the cooler for the “Beach Boys” photoshoot. For months, the Ken just laid there, languishing. I was browsing for a sixth-scale male mannequin but couldn’t find one. Then I remembered I had a Ken and, voilΓ ! And yes, I made the packaging for the remote-controlled butt plug and the Harvey dildo, as well as the books, three of the dildos on display, and Ken’s blinds and jockstrap.

The artwork on the wall is a mini version of my piece that was accepted to the 2024 Seattle Erotic Art Festival.

I made that couch at the last minute since I wanted the store to have a lounge vibe and not just a shop.

Wade’s Life Sanctuary Ranch diorama is just a fence made of paint stirrers and painted with acrylic paint. The shoot was done at a park in Pasadena, the same park where I took photos of “The Picnic Before the Trip.” I clumsily slapped on the top stirrer to plant the fence on the ground and it came off. But I ended up liking the look.

Pro tip: if you’re planning on taking photos low on the ground in a park, wear durable jeans and a jacket with thumb holes. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot. Your skin will appreciate it.

Dollsexposed showcases queer erotica, kink, fetish, and activism through twelve-inch doll photography. Their adventures in the doll world began in 2011 before establishing a home on eleven years later.

Dollsexposed's works have been displayed at Seattle Erotic Art Festival and Los Angeles Leather Getaway.

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