This Saturday, Juice Lab and the Queer Sober Society are hosting a Palentine’s Day Benefit and Market featuring live music from local bands and multiple community vendors and artists. From 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Juice Lab will be showcasing Denton-based musicians Blue GrassFire, Morgan Wright and Jezzie BoiBoi. Vendors will be selling products including soap, pet treats, jewelry, print T-shirts, paintings and resin art. Tickets for a vegan dessert plate composed of chocolate-covered strawberries, chocolate berry cheesecake, avocado carob mousse, a lemon rose shortbread cookie and a dark chocolate truffle made by Juice Lab will also be on sale for $20. For every dessert dinner ticket sold, a portion of the sales will be donated to Queer Sober Society, which was founded by KT Kershen in July 2019.
“[Queer Sober Society] originated as this idea that maybe I can make some like-minded friends,” Kershen said. “I started a Meetup group and just said, ‘Hey, if there’s anyone who’s gay and sober in the North Texas area, I’d love to do something, hang out, be your friend.’ It really kind of exploded.”
Kershen said she can recall her first day of sobriety, Jan. 9, 2016, by heart. She said she is grateful she had the resources to successfully complete an addiction rehabilitation program, but she felt out of place during the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings she attended.
“I found myself very lonely and not really having anyone to connect with,” Kershen said. “I’ve learned through my time at in-patient rehab and reading books that the antidote, almost, to addiction is connection. For me, not having that connection aspect was very difficult. I don’t think I was necessarily in danger of relapsing, but I wasn’t creating a life I wanted to stay sober for. I just didn’t see a place for people like me in this community or even in the world in general.”
Kershen began the organization under the name Denton Queer Sober Society but said she eventually dropped “Denton” because she wants to expand the group’s reach and make it a non-profit organization in the future. Around 20 people showed up to the first Queer Sober Society meetup at University Lanes in July of 2019, and since then, Kershen has hosted a mocktail party and established monthly game nights at J&J’s Pizza.
“I think after the mocktail party, I really realized that both the queer community and the sober community and the intersection of those communities, really need this space,” Kershen said. “It’s a void in this community that’s not being filled.”
Juice Lab owner and manager Loni Puckett first got involved with Queer Sober Society after donating drinks to the mocktail party in November 2019. With a degree in molecular biology from TWU, Puckett said she wants to use Juice Lab to promote healthy eating and drinking habits and provide educational opportunities for Denton consumers.
“A science background gives me a lot of insight about how minerals and nutrients affect your body,” Puckett said. “Just knowing that information makes me want to eat healthy, and I love education, so I want to share that with people.”
Kershen said she appreciates Juice Lab being one of few alcohol-free venues in Denton, and Puckett said she does not plan to expand her already extensive drink menu to include alcoholic drinks.
“There’s been a lot of push to get us to [serve alcohol], but Juice Lab is a healthy alternative,” Puckett said. “It’s not just that, [Juice Lab] creates a space for people who maybe don’t want to be around alcohol all the time and in Denton, that’s really hard to find.”
Puckett established Juice Lab in 2014 as a vendor at the Denton Community Market. She said Juice Lab originally started as a side project because she enjoyed making juice for her family and friends. Since opening the Juice Lab storefront on Elm Street in 2015, though, Puckett has transformed the namesake into a fully operating health food restaurant, juice bar and a venue for local bands, artist markets and block parties.
“We kind of pride ourselves in the Denton community because that’s where we started, [in] the Denton Community Market,” Puckett said. “We always try to tie the community back into what we’re doing here, especially since we have so much space.”
Puckett met Salted Sanctuary Soap owner Kimberly Bien at the Denton Community Market, where Bien sold her handmade soaps and other bath products. Bien’s business is one of this Saturday’s featured vendors and a collaborator behind the idea for the Palentine’s Day Benefit and Market. Bien opened a Salted Sanctuary Soap storefront in September 2018 but did not renew the lease after the year-long contract expired.
“When I was doing so many things, I lacked time to develop new items and focus on production,” Bien said. “It’s kind of come full circle and comes back to the beginning where I am doing shows, but not as many. This is my first event that’s for a very specific Denton local cause. Inclusivity of all kinds is super important to me, so I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Bien said although she identifies as a heterosexual woman and is not an exclusively sober person, she supports Queer Sober Society’s cause and believes Denton has been accepting of the group as well.
“I think that Denton is just such a unique place that way,” Bien said. “[Dentonites] really do support makers and small businesses, but also they support the safety and ability to have a good time for all people, regardless of their sexual or any orientation. Denton is just the perfect place for that. Everybody has the right to feel safe and they have a right to get out and have fun.”
With the money raised through dessert and dinner ticket purchases, Kershen said she hopes to increase social media advertising, plan future events and create promotional materials such as pins, stickers, hats and flyers. Kershen said these promotional materials are important to her because they increase people’s awareness of the Queer Sober Society and help create an environment people can feel safe in.
“You see stickers on someone’s laptop and you know what they’re about,” Kershen said. “You see a car pass and you see an equal sign on their car and you know, ‘I am in community with that person.’ I find those little things like that to be significant to say, even in passing, ‘You are not alone. There is a place for you here.’”
Kershen, Puckett and Bien all said they hope the upcoming Palentine’s Day Market and Benefit will bring them more supporters and give members of the community a place to celebrate platonic or romantic relationships in an environment free of judgment and alcohol.
“What [Queer Sober Society] can do for people is we can listen, we can empathize, we can be in community with one another, we can love one another and we can provide a space where they feel safe,” Kershen said. “No matter their situation, no matter their gender identity, no matter their physical or mental capabilities, no matter their sexual orientation, no matter their sober or not sober status. To anyone who is curious about sobriety, is struggling with sobriety, is strong in their sobriety or looking for connection, looking for like-minded people, looking for friends, we’re here.”
Featured Image: The Juice Lab in Denton, Texas is holding a Palentine’s Day Market on Feb. 8, 2020. The event will feature three local vendors, live music and food. Image by Quincy Palmer