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Hidden Gems: Local Businesses & Creatives You Should Know

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of our latest local gem features below.

Bianca and Kyle Thompson

We are Bianca and Kyle Thompson! Two super passionate, quirky, and eccentric folks currently residing in Central Florida. We had originally met at a British pub and years later re-met at an Irish pub. It was love at first sight, and from then on out, we were practically attached at the hip. This lead to us starting Oak and Iron Photography together and leaving our day jobs to fully commit to photography. Our friends would tell you that our life is like a sitcom and we can’t totally disagree. In 2016 we flew to Seattle, hiked up Rattle Snake Ridge, and said our marriage vows to each other. Then Olive and Spudz came into our lives, the two sweetest kittens you could ever meet, whom have definitely turned our house into a home. Since then, we have continued to travel all over the United States, documenting the stories of so many rad people. From this, we found ourselves constantly being reminded of how everyday calls for a celebration. Read more>>

Christian Stanley

Art has always been a big part of my life. I attended the University of Central Florida for their graphic design program and graduated in 2011 with a focus on illustration. I’ve been working in the design industry for close to a decade. In 2017, I began to dabble in street art/public art. I started out with an electrical box mural in the Ivanhoe District, and then things just snowballed from there. I went on to the Sam Flax Wall Mural Project and the ArtisNow project in Kissimmee soon after that. Since then, the street art opportunities keep lining up. It has ben an amazing journey so far, and I am excited to see where this takes me professionally. Read more>>

Donna Lorman

In 1996, my son, Drew, had just been diagnosed with autism. I was searching for help and stumbled upon the Autism Society of Greater Orlando. It was in its first year of operating as a non-profit organization and was still small and trying to find its footing. I was asked to become the Vice President and I jumped right in. During those first years, we held one large event, Sea of Dreams at SeaWorld Orlando. After a few years, I became President and the rest they say is history. The Autism Society of Greater Orlando is now in its 25th year serving the needs of the Central Florida Autism Community. We have grown into the oldest and largest parent autism organization in Central Florida. We host approximately 200 events, activities, trainings, meetings, supports, etc., per year. Our focus has always been supporting the individual with autism, their families, and the community as a whole. We have created programs such as social skills groups for individuals with autism ages 2-35; trainings for law enforcement officers, first responders, hospital staff. Read more>>

Ana Stella

My photography journey began in 2013 when my first son was born, Nathaniel. My husband David purchased our first camera only to capture all of our son’s special milestones & moments. In watching him and practicing together, I fell in love more with him and our camera. haha. I knew that we were destined for greater. However, life was still happening. We then had a second baby in 2018, I was working full time in corporate America, following the same routine every day. Although I knew I wanted to pursue photography full time, there were a lot of fears that held me back from going all-in so I worked at it when I had free time only. Then our 3rd baby arrived in 2019, another sweet boy. We lived in a small apartment in Jersey City, NJ with three kids and we just knew NJ was not for us anymore. We wanted more for the kids. More space to play, a yard to run, warmer weather so I can shoot all year long. Moving our family to Florida & pursing our passions was our goal. In April of 2020, I lost my job in corporate to Covid19. Read more>>

Georgia Culp

I seriously never saw myself as a designer. I have always been an entertainer. I absolutely loved singing, dancing and performing on stage. In fact, I spent my 20’s training to be a jazz, tap and ballet dancer. I was born and raised in California. I studied acting in high school and that is exactly what I was going to be, “an ACTRESS.” Instead, I fell more into the background of tv shows and danced my way through Disneyland as a parade performer. However, as much as I loved working the scene, I wanted to do more. I decided to get a job on a cruise ship as a social host. I traveled through the Caribbean and ended up in Orlando, Florida. This is where I married, had kids, worked the 9 to 5 job and basically grew out of being an entertainer. However, several years of blissful married life, I ended up divorced and a single mom with two boys. I was already working a full-time job but needed to find a second job. I ended up working at Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights as a Costumer. This is where I found out I can sew, design, and even draw!! I really felt like I found this new desire to create. Read more>>

Jeremy Santos

I am a local Orlando vegan influencer. I began my vegan journey about three years ago due to health conditions causing me to have chronic stomach pain. Transitioning to veganism was not a decision I thought I was going to make in my life but besides health conditions, I am happy to be playing a major role in reducing my carbon foot. In my journey, I discovered there were many restaurants that offered vegan options, I never noticed before. I began reading blogs, books and looking on social media for more tips and advice on snacks, drinks and food substitutions. In my quest, I realized there were not many vegan food bloggers in my city. Being a millennial, I rely on Instagram to see which foodies post about vegan options and what can be substituted from restaurants to make an item vegan. Since I felt Orlando at the time lacked vegan foodie pages, I began my blog @Orlandobeardedvegan in April of 2019 on Instagram to not only help myself learn and grow in my new eating lifestyle but I also hoped I could aid others who maintained a vegan diet. Read more>>

Dee Coleman

Samaritan Village was founded in 2009 by a former prison chaplain, Rhonda Stapleton. From the start, it was a multi-denominational effort. Rhonda was supported through the Free Methodist Church, while Summit Church provided significant investment in startup costs. Rhonda bought a house right off of Orange Blossom Trail, OBT or “the trail” as it is often referred to because she knew she was called to reach out to women in desperate situations. As she connected with women near her home, and worked as a jail chaplain nearby, she saw women caught in a cycle of sexual exploitation with limited resources. Florida has the third-highest rate of human trafficking cases reported across the country after California and Texas. Orlando is one of the top ten cities for human trafficking reports as the year-round tourism and convention industry offers a lucrative market for sex traffickers. Read more>>

Jaimz Dillman

I’ve always been an entertainer. Give me an audience and watch me go! I performed all through school and continued training with an improv school here in town, I was lucky to have some of the best teachers for the workshops I attended and worked my way up the ranks of the theater, eventually becoming an ensemble apprentice and host. The training I received to “Yes and” offers, build relationships, and shape a show led to work in the theme parks, convention shows, local theater, television, and festivals. I was given my first chance at burlesque when Wade Hair of Brathrough Theater let me have a shot joining an amazing cast in the Orlando Fringe Festival- Redlight: The Bad Girls of Broadway. Being surrounded by such talented performers and a super supportive cast showed me something I wanted more of in the Central Florida arts scene. Because we’re a community of actors mainly from the area theme parks, we’ve gotten used to fitting into a mold the casting directors use for characters they create. This ends up discounting and discarding a lot of talent that may not fall into the guidelines they cast from. Read more>>

Jenny Finkler

I have always been interested in health and fitness. I grew up figure skating competitively and was always very active. I graduated with a major in Hospitality Management and a minor in health sciences. I knew I always wanted to have my own business. After my husband and I moved out to California, I began coaching figure skating and met a great friend who introduced me to Dexafit. I found this testing incredibly helpful. Having been an athlete nearly my entire life, I had always wondered about my body metrics. I had questions like, “How can I get an accurate body composition test? How do I know if I am making progress just by looking at the scale? How do I know how many calories I should be eating for my training? How strong is my cardio health? These were questions that were answered and I finally had a guide as to how to do this for my progress. After learning about this testing and running the San Francisco location for a few years, my family and I decided to open our location here in Orlando. I found a true passion for helping people reach their health and wellness goals. Read more>>

Ramone Graves

Growing up, I was always into sneakers and graphic t-shirts. I was also heavily influenced by hip-hop. Especially artist like Pharrell and Lil Wayne. So it only made sense that I was drawn to clothing lines like Bathing Ape and Billionaires Boy Club. Both are pretty pricey and my parents definitely would not pay upwards $100 for a t-shirt, lol. For a while, it was hust a vision in the back of my head. 2018 I decided to pursue a t-shirt brand. A close friend of mine told me about shopify.com and it all started with that in 2019. Right now, we still operate through shopify but we do plan to branch out. Read more>>

Thaddeus Kornegay

Adopted when I was a baby from Orlando, FL, went to a Military boarding High School, College right after, Graduated with BS in Business Management. Started career in corporate world 3-5 years (Gov’t Contracting), but fell in love with Fitness and quickly changed my profession! Now a certified personal trainer (NASM) and Outdoor fitness franchise owner! American Ninja Warrior Contestant (Season 10) Nonprofit Board member (Route 7 Orlando) I am excited to share the love and inspire those that are on the journey to a meaningful life. Hopefully, something in my journey/story sparks those who read and/or listen. Above are just a few highlights of the journey through TK’s eyes! and can definitely expand on those of choice. Thanks again for reaching out and looking forward to it all. Read more>>

Aleitha Morgan

My design journey has definitely been a winding path. I decided in elementary school that I was going to be an architect and spent my time in high school and college focused on that goal. As I got older, I had an interest in visual communication but didn’t fully invest my time in it. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree in architecture during the recession, I decided to focus more closely on graphic design. This refocus was one of the best decisions I could have made and I have spent the last few years nurturing my design career in a new way. I definitely encourage every creative person to not be overwhelmed by career changes and setbacks. It’s a journey worth exploring. I currently work for a local advertising agency and teach as an adjunct professor at Valencia College. I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of the Think Integrated team. Our work is not only well-rounded but extremely fulfilling. One of our most recent projects is a Mobile STEM Lab for the School District of Osceola County. Read more>>

Brittany Gibson

I always knew I had to figure out a way to make traveling my life. In May of 2014, I graduated from Florida State University with a degree in Editing, Writing & Media (journalism) and a minor in Modern Languages. I headed back home to spend the next eight months saving every penny, nickel, and dime for my great adventure. A typical work week would be Monday-Friday 8 am-12 pm as a social media assistant for my dad, a financial advisor for Morgan Stanley. Then head straight to The Boutique on Plant for a mid-afternoon shift, then a closing shift at The Attic Door Tuesday-Saturday and let’s not forget Sunday bunch. My friends grew accustomed to hearing me say, “Sorry, I have to work” for every invitation they extended. If I wasn’t serving, selling clothes, or organizing spreadsheets, you could find my at any one of my neighbor’s houses dog sitting or house sitting to fill any spare time I could scrounge up. It worked. I saved up $19,227 for my epic world journey. My mom had one rule: communication every day. Read more>>

Tay Dubocq

Since I was a young girl, I had a passion for hosting and entertaining and I knew a career in hospitality was what I needed to pursue to truly love what I was going to do in life. Following my dreams, I left Puerto Rico and started my career in Florida while attending Lynn University. And, after just two short years and the tragic events of 9/11, I moved back to Puerto Rico and finish my studies there; but, little did I know, that change actually set me up for where I am today in life – professionally and personally. As I returned, I was presented with the opportunity of working for the renowned Caribe Hilton Hotel – a place I like to call my roots, my “real” school, the place that taught me everything about service, consistency, quality, attention to detail and hospitality. It was while I was working at the Hilton that I met my husband & now business partner, Craig. I met him and instantly fell in love, quit my dream job and made the biggest move of my life to date and moved to Washington state and started a new life. Read more>>

Kevin Kendrick

Kevin Kendrick is a 7th generation Florida who was born and raised in Orlando. He grew up in South Orlando and is a product of the Orange County Public School system, graduating from Dr. Phillips High School in 1991. He attended Valencia Community College shortly after upon graduating high school, earning his AA degree. He then attended Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia and received a Bachelor of Arts in History in 1996 with the desire to teach students. He returned to Orlando and began his career in education, which would span 22 years as a teacher, dean, assistant principal and principal. Always having an entrepreneurial spirit, he received his real estate license in 2010 and practiced on the side, mainly working with friends and fellow educators. In 2014, he joined Keller Williams in Lake Nona and learned the value of building long-lasting relationships and strengthening the community at the same time. 2016 was a breakout year for him, as his wife Yvette joined him in the real estate industry to form The Kendrick Team, as well as being recognized as a Top 1% Realtor in Central Florida, which he has attained each year since. Read more>>

Alicia Graves

I never expected to have more than one passion or path; but here I am! For many years I’ve been passionate about natural wellness and its way of life. I’ve researched and started living this lifestyle and began to pass on what I’ve learned, but never dreamed that I could build a business helping empower others while continuing to do my 9 to 5 as a teacher. Almost five years ago I made a decision that forever changed my life. I thought I was just getting some essential oils to help with my anxiety, skincare, natural cleaning solutions, and for aromatherapy. I had no idea that it would lead me to changing my whole lifestyle and improving my health. Read more>>

Gerald Hearns

Brick By Brick Academy of Health & Wealth began with a vision of a clothing business after a few years of trial and error. What makes Brick By Brick Academy so impactful today? The journey began with establishing my first brick, which was creativity. Starting my first business at six years old, those moment increased my passion to positively serve my community and many others that I come in contact with. My first business endeavor was a lemonade stand. My mother, Sharon Engram, provided the necessary support to help me make my first experience a great success. Growing up in West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach, Florida, sports was always a passion. The thrill of playing football taught me a lot and allowed me to connect with many people in the neighborhood. The game of football brought light to me on how a piece of pig skin could allow a young man who have overcome the experiences of near life ending moments, overcame challenges of being a walk on at two colleges, but managed to earn multiple academic and later athletic scholarship and more. Read more>>

Vladimir Predestin

My story started back in Haiti in 2005, where with my Nikon Coolpix point and shoot digital camera, I decided to explore the world of photography. At that time, like most first starter, the auto mode was my best friend; I was literally using the camera like the name described it “point and Shoot.”.” However, as the days passed and I kept shooting, my interest kept growing; at that point, I wanted to learn more about photography, the different camera modes, photography styles and concepts, etc. I decided to upgrade to a bigger body and more advance point-and-shoot camera. I carry my camera almost everywhere I go and ready to snap some shots as soon as an opportunity presents itself. I started out with landscape photography, then realized that there is so much more to learn about in the photography world and swapped my point and shoot for a DSLR. I am not afraid to walk towards the unknown and tackle new projects due to the fact that I am always predisposed to learn and discover new things. Read more>>

Adriana Nelson

I have always been a big creative. As a child, I used to write and draw a lot and when I got older and headed to college, I didn’t know how to channel that into a career at first. After research and career counseling, I discovered the communications major, and I also discovered my passion for graphic design, which I freelance even to this day (six years and counting). I knew that in the career I was in, it would be competitive. My first hurtle was getting an internship. I knew the real-world experience was essential prior to graduation if I wanted to get a job right after college. It wasn’t until my second to last semester that I secured an internship for a local business called Statusphere. This is a women ran company and the founder is also a UCF graduate. After gaining experience from them as a social media specialist, I graduated from UCF in 2018 with my bachelor’s in communications. Even with a degree, getting a job in my field was a challenge. It took me roughly two years to get a full-time position in my field. Read more>>

Kamari Young-Williams

I’d like to say I’m still getting started. I have always liked being creative and finding ways to challenge myself with something new. During the start of pandemic, I was able to transform what I do. My husband encouraged me to start my business after constantly creating things and storing them on the shelves at home. I started with creating centerpieces but decided I wanted to learn to do tumblers and expand my bling work. I used that time to launch Kamari’s Kreations. My pastor once told me that this is my gift and honestly, I just use what God has given me to bring a smile to others. It’s still in the works of being fully complete but I have a Facebook page, Instagram page and am working on my google website. I ordered my cricut machine in November of 2019 and I started making simple tumblers the turner my husband gifted me with. I quickly used all the stones I had purchased over the past few months, from blinging mirrors to use on coffee mugs. One day while on a Motorcycle Ride and met Denise, of Big Wheel Women. She asked if I could bling a pair of boots for her. Read more>

LaVon Bracy

I am a native of Boynton Beach, Florida and the daughter of the late Reverend Thomas A Wright Sr and Affie Mae Wright. I was educated in the public schools of St. Augustine and Gainesville, Florida. I was the first African American to graduate from Alachua County Schools, Gainesville High School, Florida in 1965. In 1969, I graduated from Fisk University, Nashville, Tennessee, with a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) Degree in Psychology. In 1970, I graduated from The University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida with the Masters of Education Degree (M.Ed.) with an emphasis in College Personnel Services. In 1977, I earned the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Degree from the University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, with specialization in Higher Education Administration. I am an advocate for social justice. I have conducted extensive voter education, registration and Get Out The Vote (GOTV) in Central Florida, singlehandedly registering more than 1200 voters and was featured in the CNN Special: WHO COUNTS, 2012. See YouTube documentary clips below. Read more>>

Jerrell Watson

For many years, I used to make my sauce for family use or give it away to friends. In 2015 I decided bottle it and launched the business on Amazon. After a very strong response, I began to market it to local specialty stores such as The Ancient Olive, Winter Park, Chamberlin’s, Lucky’s Markets and local Farmer’s Markets. Read more>>

Charlie Griffin

I started CF2 in January of 2011. We had a little over a dozen composers at that first meeting, from Full Sail University, UCF, Rollins, Stetson, etc. We now have over 30 members. I ran the group for a couple of years, then Tim Stulman, then Dave MacDonald, and now I’m running again, since November 2018. I stopped running it the first time because of some turmoil in my personal life. But since taking the reins again, I’ve been dedicated to elevating the presence of the group in the local arts scene and the community in general. I’m especially interested in creating collaborative projects with allied arts organizations in the area so that we not only offer our composer members unique opportunities to create new work but also to offer the Orlando area arts events that are special, memorable, and of high artistic value. To this end, we have collaborated with Emotions Dance, Burrow Press, Orlando Story Club, and local ensembles too. I’m excited that we will have our first performance at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on January 23, 2021. Read more>>

Chaz Robinson

My passion for music and singing began at the age of three… singing in church and at local events. After a successful athletic career, I took on performing full time and traveled all over the world. My first major contract was with Cedar Point, the roller coaster capital of the world. Soon after I found myself in Japan’s Universal Studios for two years. Toward the end of my contract, I was approached by a well-respected record label to release my first album! Chaz Robinson, born December 20th, 1989, is a Singer-Songwriter, Dancer, Model, Actor and Professional Jump Roper from Indianapolis, IN. In 2015, Chaz garnered two nods on the Official Grammy Ballot for Best Pop Solo Performance. He has appeared on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew: Season 5, MTV’s MADE, the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Disney’s Shake It Up, La Grande Cabaret du Monde: France, and Broadway’s Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy. He has also worked with SYTYCD’s Emmy Award-Winning hip-hop choreographers Tabitha & Napoleon D’Umo. Chaz has taught Jump Rope on a National and Worldwide scale, teaching thousands of jump ropers at hundreds of workshops during his continued 15 years of being a professional and competitive jump roper — winning numerous National and World titles. Read more>>

Scarlet Begonias

I got started with my modeling career when I was scouted for a project by a photographer in New York. I was working a long shift on Father’s Day as a waitress in a restaurant. One of my customers was a photographer and told me if I had never considered modeling before, I should do so immediately. (I had done some figurative art modeling for drawing classes in college and modeled for my best friend’s photography just for fun, but never even DREAMED of modeling as a career. I never had the self-esteem.) That first shoot was one of the most exciting days of my life, and I felt alive and inspired in front of the camera- like I was immediately in my element. The images were selected for publication by a magazine, and once I posted the images to my Instagram, the requests for more photoshoots started coming in from other photographers. I worked hard, travelled, shot non-stop, built my portfolio and websites, and have thrown myself wholeheartedly into the modeling world for the past two years. I eat, sleep and breathe modeling. My whole life really revolves around making each shoot better than the last. Read more>>

Jessica D. Walker

My undergraduate experience at the illustrious Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) taught me a lot about becoming an adult. I inherently learned to trust my instincts more, while eliminating the desire for validation from others. As a first-year college student in an entirely new state with no friends at the time, I became all too familiar with the concept of being homesick. I found power and strength by standing tall through the charge to step outside of my comfort zone.  Things seemed to be well, until a financial tragedy impacted my family. I remember the phone call as if it were yesterday; with disappointment and sadness in her voice, my mother called to share that she was furloughed from her employer at the time. Immediately, I felt my heart drop. Throughout my years, I depended upon my mother for financial stability. This was a time of true adjustment as my mother is a single parent who was supporting two children in college simultaneously. This unexpected change forced me to choose a life of resilience and never look back. Upon processing this news, I found a job in retail and asked my professors for opportunities to perform tasks as a teacher’s assistant. Read more>>

Nikki Maly

I’ve always been intuitive. It wasn’t until my teenage years when I learned to listen to it. In my late 20’s I occasionally sought someone else’s intuitive advice on my life’s direction. It wasn’t until my early 30’s I started taking workshops for intuitive development. During that time, I had read a few books by Brian Weiss on past life regression. I found the subject highly intriguing and his stories fascinating. I hadn’t considered hypnotherapy or past life regression as a field that I would get into; I hadn’t the slightest idea how someone would take that as a career choice. It wasn’t until the Autumn of last year when I started reading an author new to me on past life regression. Before I could get into the first chapter, the author mentioned she had a school, and she taught others hypnotherapy and past life regression as a course. I jumped up and went to my laptop to find out more. Much to my surprise, everything started to fall into place to take the next course offering. Little did I know that my intuitive abilities would be a tremendous asset in this new line of work. Read more>>

Jamie O’Neill

My partner and I launched our business in November 2020. Like many other entrepreneurs, I didn’t think I would be one! Before launching Merigold Creative, I worked in retail for over a decade, with a portion of that time in bridal fashion, working at various bridal boutiques in Orlando. During my time as a Bridal Stylist and then Fashion Director, I was balancing classes and work, which helped me uncover my passion for small business and PR and marketing. While discovering this passion, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with my Bachelor’s Degree in Human Communication in August 2020. Like many other recent college graduates, finding a job in the midst of a pandemic was a daunting task. Online applications, Zoom interviews and hiring freezes made looking for the perfect position nearly impossible. After months of frustration with searching for a new career, I was approached by a local wedding industry colleague who was also in the same position as me. When indoor dining was available again, we began meeting weekly over coffee to discuss our goals and dreams. During these meetings, we decided to create positions that weren’t available to us. Read more>>

Venessa Drai

I started this business April of 2020 during the Covid 19 lockdown. Like most people in Orlando, I was furlough from my work and I was at home spending time with my loved ones until I started to get bored. There was not much to do. All the home projects I had pending were completed. Not much to see in Netflix, nowhere to go, nothing to do. In the midst of the situations happening, I learned in the past that even bad moments can become good opportunities, As I started to research my possibilities, I received a phone call from my brother in Miami. He had been a Matterport provider since 2017 and I had seen his work but it never occurred to me to do 3D Virtual Tours. He told me he was very busy doing tours like never before. He offered me to join him in the company and open in Orlando and so I did. This whole 3D business made sense more than ever. The pandemic turned into the perfect moment. With everything in lockdown, realtors needed to continue showing the houses and 3D tours allowed that. Read more>>

Yuliya Panchenko

Growing up in Baku, Azerbaijan, boudoir and floral portrait photography was not what I was thinking about as a career choice. Moving to the states ten years ago changed all of that. Feeling empowered and liberated I wanted others to feel what I felt. My passion is to empower women and build their confidence through photography. In 2013 “Yuliya Panchenko Photography” was founded and continues to grow internationally. After working as a destination wedding photographer known for my cinematic imagery, I found a love for fine art photography. Currently, my main focus is boudoir and floral portraits. I am an ambassador for Elinchrom and my work has won numerous international awards, including WPPI/PPA awards. My photos have been featured and published numerous times in the 2019 PPA Loan Collection. Read more>>

Alejandro Martinez

Graduate from Rollins College. While going to school, I worked at garibaldi Cousins and worked my way up to management. Once I graduate, I apply to Darden restaurants and worked as a manager partner for seven years. I then bought Stefanos Trattoria in Winter Springs FL in 2014. Read more>>

1 Comment

  1. Brittney

    April 13, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    This story is inspiring! Keep it up Joann!

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