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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.

Ambar Matos-Gonzalez

Growing up, I witnessed firsthand the impact that lack of financial literacy and solid money habits had on my family’s lives. I watched my parents consistently be behind on bills, live paycheck to paycheck, and accumulate debt. As a young kid, I made a vow to myself that I would educate myself around my finances and try my best to avoid poor financial habits and decisions. After turning 18, I began taking steps toward my financial independence. After all, I wanted to move into my own apartment and buy my own car one day. So I learned the ins and outs of building credit, budgeting, saving, investing, and the energy of money. I became absolutely in love with personal finance and even more in love with the idea that I could help people in this realm. Now I’m a financial educator and wealth mentor. I help 20-somethings develop a healthy relationship with their finances and create rock-solid money habits to financial and time freedom to live out their best life, whatever that may look like to them. Read more>>

Jaise Rizzo

It started in high school when I became more aware of style and clothing and how you can easily represent yourself by simply wearing a certain brand or article of clothing. I took a printing class for two years where we could either work a traditional printing press or we could design our own T-shirt from beginning to end – Design, Prep the screen, burn it, set it up, screen it, cure it and wear it. That was my choice for a grade every time. The designs weren’t anything special, as I was working on a Pagemaker program with no experience. It was pretty much just bootleg Nike tees that matched up with a pair of sneakers I had just gotten or something. I didn’t know what I wanted to do after I graduated; besides, I was really into clothes and have always been creative, so after high school, I immediately and unfortunately put my family and myself into debt for design school. There, I went to school with a range of students pursuing different careers. Read more>>

Jason Martin

As a child of the 1980s, I grew up in a time where technology was still new to our parents. At the time, I was always into video games, and technology but my parents always said that would never pay off. Over the. Years I went the traditional path, got good grades in school, went to college, started a career, got married, and all the things I was taught were the right way to live. In the early years of my professional development, I worked in the hospitality industry, where I learned the value of taking care of people and servicing their needs to the fullest. This is a trait I still carry with me to this day. In 2010, my life came to its first major professional crossroads. My father passed away and our family business of 35 years needed a leader. The way I was raised and my attitude for caring for people made this decision easy. Despite the fact that I honest loathed the family business, summer-based retail in Michigan, I stepped up and put my dreams and career on hold to take care of my family. Read more>>

Michael McCoy

I got my first camera, a Canon Rebel XT, for Christmas when I was 11 or 12 years old and fell in love with photography. I jumped in headfirst after a couple years of practice and photographed my first wedding with my sister taking the role of lead photographer. From there, I started working with another photographer in Asheville, NC, second shooting weddings and was taught from the beginning to shoot fully manual. Learning the ins and outs of my camera in such a high-stress environment taught me how to walk into a room and instantly know what settings to use to get the shot I needed. I focused on weddings for about five years and published my first book, What to Expect from the Best Wedding Photographer. After publication, I realized I actually preferred having my weekends free and started shooting in a studio that I built in my bedroom during the week, doing Headshots for business professionals. Read more>>

Lauren Felker

So many of our customers at the plant shop had questions about plant care that we decided to put our passions and skills together and offer plant workshops and private parties. We Teach Plants offers events and workshops during which guests are able to get hands-on with plants and learn about them at the same time. For the staff of We Teach Plants, the goal is to provoke a passion for houseplants in everyone, all while enjoying an unforgettable eco experience at one of our unique events. Beyond the monthly events offered, We Teach Plants accommodates with custom events as well that give customers the freedom of choice. Individuals can invite eight or more guests for a workshop of their choosing on a reserved date or their can even bring their workshops to you! We Teach Plants works to turn plant dreams into reality. Read more>>

Ana Leiva and Care Valentine

The idea of creating a small puzzle collection that was different from what else was out there was an idea that we first started brainstorming once a week between our 7:00 pm salsa dance lesson and a 9:00 pm social that followed. That was in early 2019. We would sit in our (almost identical) blue minivans, enjoy a few beverages and snacks, and talk about ideas that might be worth bringing to life. It wouldn’t be until months later that action happened. Fast forward to March 2020. As the world suddenly shut down for business- literally as we searched for a place to dance one night- we, like many others, immediately took on a new full-time role on the Homefront: Elementary School Teacher. Like everyone else, we scrambled to find the best educational materials out there – things that were cool and unique – things that were fun and interactive. We already had the dinosaurs, mermaids, princesses, transportation vehicles, farm animals, oceans, etc. We were looking for tools with more substance- tools that added an extra layer of depth to an important subject or that touched upon the truly important concepts that we needed to teach, despite our social isolation. Read more>>

Curtis and Corinna Kelley

We are military veterans that started The Culture Marauders Podcast as a way to learn about people and various culture. We still do the podcast but during the pandemic, we decided to launch a business. We found it difficult to find the exact services we needed and had to search for each. We thought that it would be great to have all of those resources under one roof instead of wasting time searching for help. This idea became what is now The Culture Marauders Network and our mission is to help creators of all types connect to resources to grow their business as well as network with other creators. Read more>>

Meg Britten

I am Tampa based mixed media freelance artist. I live in South Tampa with my husband and three children. In college, I dabbled in fine arts but was unsure of what I wanted to do with it. 18 year old me did not have a clue if I could hack it as a fine artist and a professor had repeatedly told me my work was “ far too preppy.” After one semester, I transferred into education and ultimately ended up graduating with a Master’s in Education from the University of Florida a few years later. I loved teaching, creating a great learning environment, working with the children and promoting a love of learning and developing an engaging and fun curriculum for each subject. While getting my masters, I fell in love with children’s book illustration and kid lit, so when I began teaching, I would dedicate each month to a particular author-illustrator. Within those lessons, I would create resources for my students to learn about the story, the author/illustrator and experiment with the different mediums to create artwork. Read more>>

Carolyn Rowe

I have a sweet husband, Billy, and two babies, Kermit, three, and Eleanor (El), nine months. I taught middle school history for eight years and wanted something more flexible when I started having my own kids. I have always loved photography as a hobby, seeking out spaces I found aesthetically pleasing to photograph. I quit teaching in 2019 and slowly started to build a portfolio. Soon the world was experiencing a pandemic, I had a baby girl to complete our family and a brand new photography website to launch. I went all in January of this year, marketing myself through social media and haven’t looked back! I’m so happy to be doing something that is so fulfilling creatively and I’m passionate about. I love my job! My goal for the year is to book more elopements/weddings and travel for my clients! I’d also like to get into architecture photography in the future. Read more>>

Zoe Lee

It all started in October 2020 when I was trying to find dog-friendly pumpkin patches to take my girl Kali. I kept seeing places being advertised but they were so far away from us and I really wanted a place closer. I turned to Google. I googled and googled until my brain went numb! I couldn’t find anywhere that specified as “dog friendly.” So I started calling these places and asking if they allowed dogs, and almost all of them did. I was so happy but that’s when I started thinking, “man, I wish this was posted somewhere because that was a nightmare.” Then came Christmas time. I wanted to find Christmas light displays that allowed dogs. I went through the same thing and actually ended up giving up because I was getting so frustrated. After that, I told myself that I was going to take some time and search for a bunch of dog-friendly places around me so that I won’t have to worry about it next time. Read more>>

Miriam Zimms

I was three years out from treatment and surgery for breast cancer and wasn’t feeling well form an elective surgery to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes to avoid ovarian cancer and I found out I had a second, primary cancer. It was called chondrosarcoma, primary bone cancer. It would require that my left pelvis, hip ball and top 1/3 of my femur be removed and then reconstructed. It would require two years of physical therapy to learn how to sit up, stand and walk again with a lifetime of rehabilitation along with adaptive equipment to help me sit and walk. It was through that journey that my arts in health life began as an advocate for arts in medicine; a daily healing arts practice for myself to help me continue to heal physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually through insurmountable loss; and as an arts facilitator in the community sharing my story while teaching the expressive and meditative arts in the community. Read more>>

Amanda McPhee

I’m the face behind Amanda Finds Blog. I love the hunt of finding a good deal when shopping and when trying out new experiences (food, travel, excursions, etc.) and sharing my finds and lifestyle with everyone! I started off sharing my shopping find on my personal Instagram, where my friends and family encouraged me to take it to its own profile dedicated specifically to this. I like to call it “the little blog that could” because with hard work and consistency, I was able to reach 10k followers in a year. Running a blog takes a lot of your time and energy. Doing this on top of working my full-time job and being a full-time wife and dog mom has its challenging days, but it is such a passion of mine. I absolutely love connecting with everyone and have such a wide range of followers throughout the US. Blogging can be intimidating, but it has truly brought out the best side of me and has allowed me to inspire and be inspired. Creating engaging content is something I genuinely love doing, and I hope to continue to grow and learn so much more!. Read more>>

Kristin McKinney

I grew up in a family like a lot of other foodies, baking with my grandmother, cooking with my mom and learning about the origins of some of our families favorite recipes. I started officially in the food business at age 15 and never looked back! I began working for a caterer at the age of 20 and learned everything I could from two amazing chefs. Over the years, while catering events, I also did event planning and commercial food sales to learn all sides of the industry. During this time, I also raised two amazing sons, one who has followed my love of cooking and one who has followed my love for helping others, both amazing at what they do for work. In 2015, I opened a shared commercial kitchen space with the intent of helping other food entrepreneurs get started. I knew what problems food entrepreneurs faced and I knew how I could solve them! One of the major hurdles is the start-up costs… these costs are very high to open even the smallest of commercial kitchens on your own, commercial leases are typically 5 to 10 years, and start-up cash in this industry is hard to get. Another major hurdle is guidance. Read more>>

Angi Weiss

Every single opportunity I have walked into in my life has been spirit-led. Many times in the last 15 years, I have watched mountains be moved right in front of me. Most of the time, our dreams aren’t big enough for our purpose, so we are called to be everything we are capable of in order to bless others. I was never afraid to lean in to something that interested me, but once I can feel that fire to the flame, that light leads the way. At 16 years old in Cosmetology school, I never imagined that I would be able to start building a successful salon at 23 years old. I was given opportunities to train and work alongside some of the leading artists in the beauty industry in Los Angeles. I have had carefully chosen business partnerships that were an absolute dream and allowed me the freedom to explore the career crossroads I stood at. I learned and mastered the art of creating great brows. I have been lifted up with love, gratitude, and knowledge from a very special group of women working in Plastic Surgery & Esthetics. Now, I am settling into my Permanent Cosmetics business with locations in Michigan and Florida, living a life that I love. Read more>>

Stephanie Rodriguez

For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with fashion. As a senior in high school, I decided to start my own fashion blog. I designed my website all on my own and I uploaded my first post on February 10th, 2020. I have come a long way since then, being approved to become a LIKEtoKNOW. It affiliates two days after the launch of my blog, gaining over two thousand Instagram followers, starting a YouTube channel, “Madison Bissett,” and working with brands I have loved forever. One of my greatest accomplishments in my career thus far happened in November of 2020. Target had reached out to me and wanted me to do a campaign with them for style in the holiday season. Since then, I have worked with them twice more additionally. I have also worked with Express monthly beginning in July of 2020. Working with brands such as Honeydew Intimates, Francesca’s, Quay, Hallmark, Steve Madden, Amanda Uprichard and many more are the most exciting part of my job. I have a passion for creating content and this has been a remarkable journey and I am extremely excited to see what the future holds. Read more>>

Randalyn Lauren

Florida Girl Cosmetics was created when I first had the idea to sell lashes. I thought of the idea to pay homage to Florida because this is one of the most beautiful and beloved states and who doesn’t love to rep where they live! The different cities came from the concept that girls from all around Florida act, talk, and even dress differently. Each city honestly is unique and has its own attitude. This is how the different Florida Girl collections came about. At first, I only sold lashes, and then I added lipglosses, eyeshadow palettes, liquid mattes, lipsticks and various other cosmetics items, and still expanding. Read more>>

Jordan and Joshua Liburd

For as long as I can remember, my brother and I have always wanted to start our own business. Growing up, we watched our parents run their own small businesses, which had a huge impact on our lives. It took a while to come up with a business idea that we thought was unique and creative, but finally, in February 2019, at the ages of 9 and 11, we started our very own business! We’ve always loved being artistic and creative, so we decided to make our own custom crayons. We started by making crayons shaped like Lego bricks and hearts, and now we have almost 20 different crayon sets. We make crayons in different shapes and characters, along with our popular rainbow name crayons. Like many other kids, we both have multiple food allergies, so creating a product that all kids could enjoy was very important to us. We hope that our crayons can be used as small treats instead of food incentives often used as rewards and prizes. Read more>>

Diane Perret Gentil

I always found Fondues to be a nice way to share a special moment with family and friends and wanted to find a way to enjoy this delicious dessert with no additives and with a minimum of work. It was also very important to design the containers to be recyclable and to look beautiful on the table so that everyone could feel proud to serve them to their guests or give them as gifts. My hope is that every fondue we sell will bring a moment of fun and a smile to someone’s face. Read more>>

Steve Knobl, Ph.D.

I began my career in 1994 as an Elementary School Teacher. I moved to Middle School and High School and began coaching some boy’s and girl’s sports teams. After eight years in the classroom, I became a High School Assistant Principal. My next two appointments were at the request of the Superintendent as a Middle School and High School Principal. After 19 years, I left the system to become an Academic Dean, Campus Director, and Regional Campus Director for a private career college. After four years in these roles, I was selected by a search firm and appointed by the Board of Directors to become the CEO of the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County. After a short tenure in this role, I was selected to assume the same role with the Early Learning Coalition of Pasco and Hernando County. This is my 4th year in this role. In addition, I serve as an Adjunct Professor in Nova Southeastern University’s doctoral programs. Read more>>

Tam Allen

I have been enamored with the visual world around me for as far back as I can remember. I received my first DSLR for my 16th birthday, but my love for cameras started way before that. I remember photographing anything and everything with disposable cameras, then simple old film cameras, then digital point and shoots, before finally teaching myself manual on a DSLR. I am proud to say I taught myself everything I know about photography. I’ve never been too fond of learning things in a classroom, so I just went out there and started shooting. I met photographers way more skilled than I and learned from them. I learned from my mistakes and just kept moving no matter what. When working at a family photography job before I started freelancing, I once got the criticism from a client that I “didn’t give clear direction” during a session. So I studied posing, I kept on practicing being more directive and clear with my visions, and now I believe posing and direction is one of my stronger areas of expertise. Read more>>

Laura Lauraityte

I was born and raised in Lithuania. My journey towards well-being and the path of self-discovery started there about ten years ago. This drive to know myself led me to where I am at right now. Most of my teenage years I was overweight. I struggled with different diets, exercise routines, etc. I was 20 years old when I finally started to take a conscious action to change what I wasn’t happy about. I started with fasting, food combining, mindful practices, exercising, and dancing—I went all in. By cutting out certain foods and changing my habits, I opened myself up to a totally new life. I feel this was the starting point of my journey towards self-inquiry. I started studying human psychology, reading books on self-analysis, deeper truth of living and observation. Over a year, I lost 50 pounds of body weight and throughout the process, I encountered many different experiences… It wasn’t easy. I was moody, angry, and there were many nights that I cried while lying in my bed. What was this all for, I would ask. To be accepted? By whom? Myself? Even though I transformed my body, I was still in need of healing my psyche. I was very hard on myself. Read more>>

Lester Miranda

My interest for beauty started 20 years ago when I was in high school in San Juan, Puerto Rico (where I am from). Following my passion for beauty after cosmetology school, I start working for prestigious salons in Puerto Rico, until 2010 when I moved to Miami. After few years in the industry, my career was getting more involved in salons management and Team leadership for a corporate salons, getting the opportunity to grow as a professional and also supporting other to build their business. In 2019, I decide to continue my journey and decide take my business into the next step and I opened my suite being part of Salon Lofts concept in Citrus Park, where guests can expect a completely personalized and private pampering. Read more>>

Miranda Mitchell

I lived a lot of my life caught in the momentum of reaction. When I finally found yoga in 2012, I started noticing that I was becoming more aware of life and the decisions I made. I started to find happiness in the stillness and focus of the breath. This time of silence helped me become aware of what my life was; I was in a relationship that no longer fulfilled me and I was in a business that primarily focused on the external looks of the body. I was wanting more, so I ended my relationship, I signed up for my first yoga teacher training and started to do the internal work that I had for so long pushed down. I stayed on this journey diligently for five years.  I took teacher training after teacher training to make myself do the work of vulnerability and then as I started teaching Mysore for others, I realized that I wanted to be able to learn how I could help my students go deeper through questioning. This is when I started diving into learning how to coach. This was my next step in personal growth. Through learning and practicing these strategies, I went even deeper into releasing my own trauma’s. Read more>>

Jomely Breton

My entrepreneurial endeavors began when I was a little girl in the Dominican Republic. Both of my parents were entrepreneurs there, and I would make name bracelets to sell at school. I did not know that was entrepreneurial then, I came to Tampa for college, I wanted to be admitted into their business program since my sophomore year of high school and study finance while aiming for a graduate degree. In my sophomore year of college, I was presented with an opportunity by RedBull to use my marketing abilities and travel across Europe with no technology or money. Which my team and I did for 10 days. On our last night of the competition, we were able to bargain for a 5-star hotel in Amsterdam in exchange for a social media post and signed cans of Red Bull. I realized then both the power of Marketing and the power of social media. I was already slightly recognized in social media through fashion which is when I started a clothing store at the age of 17. This was a fun year but not a successful business. Although I had the tools around me, I wanted to do it all myself and did not listen to the experts. That is when I found out I was at a high loss with the business and felt forced to shut it down. Read more>>

Jacky Costello

When I, Jacky Costello, owner of Custom Cleanups, started my company in 2014, I had one mission in mind- helping people through delivery of trustworthy, detail-oriented, and personable residential cleaning services. Originally from Germany, I spent much of my early professional life providing customer service and administrative support within the hospitality and service industries. Through these experiences, I learned to listen to customers and respond with attention to detail and commitment to excellence. Today, I carry the same values to Custom Cleanups. Our team understands the importance of listening to your needs and then surpassing your expectations. I work where I live in the Tampa Bay area with my husband and son. When I’m not serving Custom Cleanup’s customers, I love being part of our supportive and active community and embarking on family adventures like traveling and camping. Read more>>

Jeanie Russ

I have always been a creative person, exploring different mediums over the years. As a kid, I loved to lose myself in a good book, especially around the years of my parent’s divorce. Reading turned into writing and as a teenager, my lifelong goal was to write a novel. I haven’t done it yet, but it’s still on my bucket to-do list. I currently love to create content geared towards helping the everyday woman. From body positivity to goal setting, I love to empower women to be the best version of themselves. Read more>>

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