The Treorchy woman who opened an LGBTQ+ restaurant after getting bullied growing up

  • By ITV Wales journalist Katie Fenton

A woman from Treorchy is hoping to make her hometown more inclusive by opening an LGBTQ+ restaurant - after being bullied and discriminated against while growing up there.

Lauren Bowen said she was bullied by friends at school and was refused service by some venues in the area after coming out as lesbian.

Inspired to create a safe space for young LGBTQ+ people, Lauren opened Loaded Burgers and Fries, which welcomes anyone who feels marginalised in the community.

It also actively employs LGBTQ+ people who have previously struggled to find work.

The restaurant has put several measures in place to create a more inclusive environment.

Lauren said the restaurant's popularity is far reaching: "We've had people coming from Port Talbot, Newport, we had a couple from Builth Wells that came down to eat at the restaurant.

"[My customers] are a mixture, they're not just LGBTQ+, they're other members of the community. My mum and her friends often come down on a Saturday night."

The restaurant proudly displays progress pride flags, has gender neutral toilets, and encourages the sharing of preferred pronouns.

But Lauren said the response hasn't all been positive.

"There's an awful lot of negative comments - some of them quite nasty, some of them get personal -  but you know, silly comments like 'don't eat there, the burgers will turn you gay'.

"We've had cars drive past shouting homophobic abuse at myself and at staff, but we just get on, it's not going to cause me to close my doors."

Ben Cole has previously struggled to find work.

Mixologist Ben Cole feels this is the first time he can truly be himself at work.

He said: "In the past, it's all been, 'oh you're not young enough, you're not manly enough', so it's always something like that, but with this job I haven't had any of that, you can be who you want to be."

As well as opening the restaurant, in 2019 Lauren and her wife Natalie set up the first Pride event for Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Lauren said events and venues like RCT Pride and Loaded Burgers and Fries would have helped her growing up.

"There would have been a place for me to go if I was questioning, or if I had any questions, or if I just felt bullied, or how do I deal with this situation," she said.

"There was nowhere for me like that, so this is what I'm trying to create now."

Lauren also set up the first Pride event for Rhondda Cynon Taf.

Lauren has been nominated in the 'Entrepreneur' category of this year's Womenspire Awards, which celebrate the achievements of inspiring women in Wales.

Wife Natalie Bowen said: "Lauren should win this award because she is literally fighting a one woman battle for equality, diversity and inclusion in this area.

"She works tirelessly for both the LGBTQ+ community and the local community.

"She is there to help and support the community with every single breath."