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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.

Adriana Madrigal

My journey started at the beginning of the pandemic when I decided to learn candle-making. My goal was to create luxury candles with a strong scent throw and sustainable, vegan ingredients. The more I talked about my candles, the more my family and friends wanted to purchase one! That’s when I realized that I could start my own candle-making business. I come from a family of small business owners in the Latinx community and I knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps, but I struggled for years to find the right path for me… until I focused on something that I loved. Since I founded Moon Grove Goods in my small apartment, we’ve moved into a new studio space and have been featured on Fox 5 news and in retail stores around California. Read more>>

Ariana Joy

I started my career as a B2B copywriter. I had the amazing opportunity, right out of college (which everyone told me was “impossible), to work for a high-level local business coach I really looked up to. However, I very soon realized that the 9-5 thing was 100% not my thing. Even with an amazing boss and incredible team, I was so unhappy. I had no creative freedom at all, and even when I didn’t have a lot on my plate, I ended each day burnt out and eventually depressed. I felt so guilty, too, because I knew I was lucky to have that job. At the same time, there was something that kept bringing me a ton of joy: Human Design. I’d found it a few years earlier and couldn’t keep away from it. The more I learned, the more I loved it! My favorite part was that it teaches us that our path to creating what we want is already inside of us… and it’s what feels best and easiest to us. Things don’t have to be “hard” to help us move forward. Read more>>

Josh Makler

I am originally from Portland Oregon but made the move down to Southern California first in 2011 when I attended school and played baseball for the University of Redlands as a pitcher. I ended up following a dream of trying to get a pro baseball contract in the summer of 2015 and came down to San Diego to play for a team and give it a shot. While following my baseball passion I needed to look for a job to support myself and stay afloat. This is when I jumped into the San Diego food and beverage industry. I grew a huge love for the craft industry after attending Redlands and hanging out at one of my favorite breweries Hangar 24. This is what sparked my interest and is eventually now my career. I ended up working in both front of house and back of house roles in SD food and beverage, starting out as a busser at the Project Bar and Grill in Hillcrest and working my way up through the ranks of every position within a years time until I ended up bartending and managing the spot at the end of my time there in 2018. I have also worked other bartending and serving roles with finer dining options such as Don Pietros in Old Town, and The Wine Vault & Bistro. These jobs were always the side gigs that I kept working for fun and to keep myself busy and out of trouble!. Read more>>

McKenna Lavin

Interior design has always been an interest of mine. When I graduated high school, I went straight into design school at New School of Architecture and Design and graduated with my Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Architecture. While I was in school, I needed to participate in an internship. I started working for a home stager and when the internship was over, she hired me full time. Fast forward a couple of years and she sold me her business. I currently own my own company where we do interior design, interior styling, and home staging. I work with many people all over San Diego. I love my job because it is truly my passion. My number one goal is to have happy clients and give them a space that they truly love. Read more>>

Rita Saliba

* this is an article I wrote about myself and why I started Blissful Seeds. It should be published soon in “The Local Umbrella” magazine. Please do not use it verbatim or let me know if you want me to write something else. There is a place for everyone, and everyone has a place. When I heard this sentence the first time, I did not know it will be my mantra and my forever mission for my son Michael and others like him. I still remember how these simple words helped me out of my depression and ignited in me the fire I needed to face the world of adversity I once thought will control Michael’s life. Unfortunately, the label of disability is that of chastisement, of isolation and unending grief.
Every missed development milestone is a reminder that a person with disability is less than a person. After all, to be normal, you must fit a certain mold and assume certain traits. Read more>>

Andrea Tobin

The story of Lynt starts with a very stubborn child, me. Ever since I was little I had the hardest time finding clothes. They were always too big or I hated the style and even if I found one thing I liked I’d wear it so often it wouldn’t last. I was constantly bugging my mum (who was very good with a sewing machine) to alter and repair my clothes. I ended up going to Fashion School where I got my Bachelors in Fashion Design. I started working for SOAS a triathlon clothing company. There I learned so much about athletic materials and their durability and comfort as well as getting into outdoor sports myself. I always played sports growing up but sort of lost touch with my athletic self in my early twenties. Since being reintroduced to recreational sports with the ability to make clothes sparked the idea of Lynt. I wanted Lynt to be cute every day looking pieces that were durable, comfortable, well-fitting and made from recycled athletic fabrics. I started out on my own and to this day I am still pretty much a one-woman show, from the pattern making, sewing, most of the photography, social media, order filling, etc… I now have a small retail space in my boyfriend’s bike shop, Adam’s Ave Bicycles. Read more>>

Kavalya Fletcher

My journey to wellness was birthed out of a bad breakup 15 years ago which triggered my revenge bod mission. I ate my emotions during that toxic relationship and gained over 60 lbs. It was a tremendous struggle to learn the secret of how to lose weight and the science behind why it was or wasn’t working. Fast forward to today, I didn’t realize then that persistent probing of asking “why” to get answers on the science behind weight loss would lead me to become a certified personal trainer, primal health coach, with a handful of nutrition specializations. Even in sharing that, I wish I could say that I have one business, one job, one source of service to offer the world, but I can’t. I have many jobs – mother of twins and a 7-year-old, wife of pastor and former NFL Running back for the Chargers, university staffer, and executive director of a church. Some would say that there is no common thread among the business and busyness of all of that, and at first glance they’d be right. Read more>>

Amanda Flourié

The origin story of my fiber art practice always sounds a little hokey but I swear it’s completely true: eight years ago, I literally had a dream that I was weaving on a large wooden loom. The next day, I fashioned a loom out of an old picture frame and wove my first piece out of a hodgepodge of materials from around the house: ripped-up t-shirts, costume jewelry, wrapping paper ribbons and the like. I was hooked! Over time, I upgraded my equipment and materials, took a few workshops, practiced regularly, developed a social media presence and eventually began selling and taking commissions for my work! My father builds all of my looms in his woodshop in Baja California, and I now have relationships with a slew of talented spinners all over the world who custom-make me the incredible art yarns I work with today. Read more>>

Hector Rodriguez

3 years ago, I decided to make a pivot in my daily routine from living a life full of comforts to one that was full of discomfort. I started running and training everyday till I got my fitness base up to start competing in Ultra Marathon races. Through doing these trail running races that varied from 50k to 240 miles, I started to build confidence from the discipline, relentlessness, and grit it requires to finish these races. I then took these attributes and started to apply it to all areas of my life. I learned that hard work works which gave me the confidence to start a business with my brother when he approached me with the idea. He had done research and saw that there were big opportunities in the home moving industry. He told me that if we can take excellent care of our customers and community we would be successful, I agreed. We launched the business in 2021 and have specialized in providing excellent customer experience from start to finish for all of residential & commercial move needs here in San Diego. Read more>>

Christine Winchel

I own a small home floral studio in Santee, Ca. I started my business 5 years ago. However, I have been designing for over 14 years. I started working at a flower shop in 2006 and slowly worked my way up in the industry. Until I took a leap of faith and ventured out on my own. I am able to maintain my work/mom life since I’m a mother of two. It’s a nice balance so I can continue to pursue my dream and still be there for my kids and family life. Designing has always been a passion of mine. Assisting customers and making their dream weddings and events a reality has always pushed me to work hard. I am mostly a one-woman show except for big events I will hire an extra hand. I am the designer, office rep, delivery driver you name it. I love creating everlasting memories for my clients and seeing the smiles on their faces. Read more>>

Old Town Urban Market

As a husband and wife team, we have been developing properties both commercial and residential for 15+ years all over San Diego. We both are San Diego natives and love where we live. Old Town is a place we both remember going to and enjoying for years. When the opportunity came, and the perfect property presented itself in Old Town we immediately knew it was going to be something special. It’s been a long dream of ours to get the chance to revitalize and help add to the uniqueness of Old Town. Old Town is a central hub for both San Diegans and Tourists, it gets 6 million visitors a year beating even the San Diego Zoo which gets only 4 million in comparison. It was definitely time for something new to come and complement the charm of Old Town. Read more>>

Caleb Ferreira

Before my career in real estate, I spent several years in finance, which I now believe played a huge part in my quick success in real estate. I gained experience on how to discuss people’s financial goals and how to identify solutions for them. My experience as a Private Client Banker laid a strong foundation for always aiming to exceed my client’s expectations and deliver the highest level of customer service. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset and have been detail-oriented. Right out of high school I had dreams of becoming a real estate agent just like my dad. Through watching my dad’s work in real estate, I noticed that I too had the necessary skills to be a successful business owner. After much consideration and strong support from my family, I decided to make the career change to real estate and never look back. Read more>>

Courtney Copeland

I have worked at a corporate job for 15 years now – always behind a desk, in a cubicle. I have gained a wealth of knowledge and experience over the years; however, I’ve always known that it was never for me – it was just the “right” thing for me to do financially. In the back of my mind though, I have always been trying to find my passion, knowing that for ME, there had to be more to life than just sitting at a desk until I retire. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands, being creative and being up and moving! I am originally from Connecticut and moved to San Diego over 5 years ago. Living and renting in San Diego has been a truly amazing experience. Besides the weather and the beaches, what I’ve always loved most about the city is that it is extremely dog-friendly (the 3rd most dog-friendly city in the country!) and it was easy to find pet-friendly living accommodations compared to back home on the east coast. With so many dogs though, comes so much poop. I noticed that at every single apartment complex we lived at, or a friend lived at, there always seemed to be a dog poop problem. Read more>>

Michael Westfall

I’ve always had an artistic flair when it comes to food and pastries, and it doesn’t help that I have a huge sweet tooth when it comes to that. Growing up, I was always in the kitchen baking cakes, cupcakes, cookies, and brownies. It wasn’t until college when I actually started to focus more on pastries in a much larger scale. I’d bake cakes and cupcakes here and there, but the holiday season was an exceptionally busy time for me and baking. I was always the go-to person for desserts for parties and events- I would even create large dessert tablescapes and spreads for my family’s annual Christmas party, so that a pivotal moment in my baking career when I realized that I had a true craft in baking. Pre-Covid, I began to showcase my work on Instagram and started baker+beau. A lot of people started to notice my work and now I take orders for cakes, cupcakes, and cookies for all occasions!. Read more>>

Rita James

Everything began with yoga, It was the gateway drug I needed after having put a drink down over 16 years ago. Yoga is a way of life for me and if not for this platform and being sober, I believe my path would look much different than what It does today. Yoga has given me the privileges of expansion, growth and inspiration. It is truly a practice that keeps on giving and I am honored to have found it, and to share it with anyone that wants it! My classes have always been a practice from the heart, I hope that everyone feels moved, loved and nurtured after attending one of my classes. I began teaching in 2009 and my classes have become more of an experience than “just another yoga class.” Hence, “The restorative wellness experience”. It all started at four moons spa in Leucadia, I was teaching yoga every Friday morning to a group of friends and after each class I made sure they all had flowers to take home or some sort of offering from me to them. This practice of “offering” continued to grow all on its own. Read more>>

Rajam Roose

I was in the massage profession for 16 years and during that time, started becoming more interested in pain and pain management. I started organizing a couple multi-disciplinary continuing education courses for clinicians and during one of the breaks a few (recent graduates) physical therapists commented that although they were learning pain research, they had no clue how to apply it into clinical practice. Immediately a huge light bulb went off in my head and I thought of a conference where attendees could learn just that! The premier multi-disciplinary conference was held in 2015 and the keynote was Professor Lorimer Moseley (a well-known pain researcher in Australia). The event went off really well and has evolved to focus on helping clinicians learn how to create person-centered pain management care. It was one of the first multidisciplinary conferences to feature the patient voice as part of the main curriculum. The San Diego Pain Summit has also inspired other groups to form similar conferences in their states. Read more>>

Heidi Ledger

Thread Spun began as an idea when I was finishing my graduate degree in Peace and Justice Studies at USD and building a career working in social services for a local nonprofit organization. For a school project, we were asked to create a business plan for a social enterprise that would benefit a group of people in our area of interest. At the time, I worked for a refugee resettlement agency: a nonprofit organization that contracted with the federal government to assist people arriving to the U.S. as refugees and people granted asylum. My professional and research interests lied with refugee and migrant populations and their integration into local communities, and I had been working for years to secure meaningful employment for members of these groups. It was a natural fit to create a business plan for what eventually became Thread Spun, although it would be several years later before the plan came to fruition, and it has changed a lot since. Read more>>

Devra Gregory

My earliest passion was dance. I danced with ballet companies in San Diego as a teen then went on to have a 40 + year career as a professional dancer in many different genres. All the while I had a strong spiritual focus, starting with my family tradition of Judaism, expanding my interest to metaphysics then landing on Earth-based Spirituality and Wicca. My dance career and my spiritual life wove together as I stretched myself in both areas becoming more empowered as a spiritual woman and feminist. I am now a Michael Jackson impersonator, a Wiccan Priestess and leader of a Pagan community called Sacred Flame. Read more>>

Lindsey MacGrath

I am a California native. I was born in the Bay Area and when I was 18 moved to Los Angeles with a torn ACL, Meniscus, & PCL on crouches a week out of a arthroscopic surgery to start fashion school. I am a go-getter, once I set my mind to something I see it through. I graduated with a fashion design and business degree from FIDM June 2008. The 2008 recession hit my graduation year from college. Work was scarce. I was working in luxury fashion retail and one day had enough and booked a ticket to Thailand alone at 22. I backpacked around through Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. During this trip, I got accepted into a master’s in fashion brand management and marketing in Milan, Italy. long story short, though fate may have it, I ended up in London, England for 7 years. It was during this time, I went through some personal hardships and learned some valuable lessons. I came back to the US in 2015 at age 30. I had been married to a British man who I had met on the fateful trip in Thailand and was the reason I had moved to the UK and lived in London all those years. What was a fairytale relationship became a nightmare. Read more>>

Garret Milligan

It’s a distinct privilege to have been raised in, and proudly claim a lifelong residency in Coastal North County San Diego, specifically Rancho Santa Fe. Following in the footsteps of generations of my family, knowing so well the real estate landscape of this beautiful area, and representing clients as they make their first, or fifteenth, home and property investment is truly my calling. Adding to my extensive real estate background, it was the opportunity of a lifetime when I was offered a partnership in 2012 with a luxury real estate brand, as the youngest member ever to achieve that status. I re-commit myself every day to honoring that distinction and to continue providing my clients the finest real estate representation available anywhere!. Read more>>

Max Allen

I started coaching because of my experience with golf. My college golf career was a wash due to a major wrist/hand injury at a sporting event. I lost two years to surgery and physical therapy. When I returned, I couldn’t regain my form, even with my coaches help. Between poor play and a mismanaged golf program, the experience was not what I had hoped for. After graduating I felt I had unfinished business with golf. I stayed on as an Assistant to coach to make sure my successors didn’t have the same experience as me. While coaching, I delved into the world of biomechanics. I wanted to figure out how to recapture my golf game that once came so naturally. I believed biomechanics was the lens to understanding and establishing an ideal golf swing. Traditional golf instruction was only giving me inconsistent results at best. Read more>>

Grace Bradford

Haute Barre is Del Mar’s premier infrared heated, fusion barre studio offering our signature Haute Barre class, Haute Sculpt, HIIT, TRX, Barre Box and Haute Pilates! The vision for this studio started when we moved to the north county area and as an avid group fitness lover, I couldn’t find a studio that had what I was looking for. I wanted infrared heat for all the amazing health benefits, but I also wanted a non-traditional barre format that incorporated weights, hiit, with upbeat, driving music and energy. I also thought it would be amazing to have multiple formats in one studio. I didn’t want to have a membership at a barre studio, a yoga studio, a boxing studio, and a gym- I wanted it all in one place! Thanks to my husband’s crazy/genius entrepreneur spirit, he had the idea that we should be the ones to create that place. I also wanted a place that was visually beautiful (my graphic design background came in handy here), and we also wanted to create a place where community was at the core and everyone felt welcome and at home. Read more>>

Merina Michella

It all began in 2012, I was working as a receptionist at a mortgage firm… if you are at all familiar with that work environment, well it’s a pretty grey one. At the time my sister Holly had scored an insane lot of 60s/70s vintage on craigslist… I’m talking polyester two-piece sets, rad pant suits in all the colors, lots of funky button ups, prairie dresses, pussy bow dresses… and so much more. She let me go through the lot with her and keep what I liked. My entire wardrobe was overhauled. Monday morning I strut into work looking like a secretary straight out of the sixties. My total work demeanor changed after that. There was now a little sparkle and a lot of color in the office and I truly enjoyed my bleak job so much more. That same sister introduced me to the thrifting world in my teen years but never had I understood or appreciated vintage more than I did that year. Read more>>

Rey Benasfre

I got into photography in 2015 when I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan with the U.S. Marine Corps. It began as a hobby taking photos during my travels around Southeast Asia. Most of the time I was photographing landscapes, sunsets, and occasionally people. I moved to North Carolina in 2017 and joined the Professional Photographers of America (PPA). We had a local chapter that I was a part of and soon I became more involved in taking portraits of people and then eventually weddings. In early 2018 I opened Rey Benasfre Photography and started photographing weddings, families, and seniors. I attended many workshops, conferences, and one on one training to hone my craft and become not only a better photographer but a better business owner. Rey Benasfre Photography grew quickly in North Carolina as a luxury portrait brand specializing in creating one of a kind printed artwork for our clients. Read more>>

Brian Tresp

After a long career in software development for industries ranging from hospitality to broadband services to biotech, I helped my wife launch her legal career by starting her own law firm. In less than 5 years we grew to a multi-million dollar boutique law firm with more than 20 employees and two locations. That experience, and my extensive interaction with other law firms and professional services that the firm worked with, showed me just how underserved small professional services entrepreneurs are by traditional marketing agencies. Read more>>

Jolie Kristine Budau

My lineage runs deeply in the North County area, it is an honor to have my esthetics practice here. My Grandfather Malley Cornell owned his own business with locations in Oahu, HI, San Diego, CA and Sacramento for 60 plus years. My Great Great Grandfather James Francis Cullen aka Frank Cullen founded Cardiff, CA and named all the Welsh named streets in the city. His office building still stands today on San Elijo Avenue where the Patagonia store is. My family had a beach house that they would visit in Cardiff when Frank was at his office working. I come from a long line of people whom have worked very hard in their lives, I would not be here without them. I always honored my Grandfather so deeply for his humanitarian work in the community. I strive to be just like him. Read more>>

Ian Ware

My love for filmmaking actually started when I was a kid. My friends and I were always making short videos for fun, and we actually got pretty good at it. My exposure to film and digital media continued into high school, where I studied all sorts of digital and physical media practices, specializing in animation and 3D modeling. I put a hard stop to all of that when I went off to UCSD to study aerospace engineering, and only in the last few years did I reconnect with that part of my life. I got my start in professional filmmaking during undergrad. It was kind of the perfect storm for me; I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with pursuing my degree, and at the same time had an opportunity through a friend to work at a film & media company, Eddie Grace Films. I was initially hired to do some web design work for a few of his clients, but before I knew it I was working on a feature documentary for release on Netflix. We were a small team of only 4 people with extremely fast project turnaround rates, so we all had to wear multiple hats. Read more>>

Imani Woodberry

I started my business back in January of 2020 right in my parent’s kitchen. Covid-19 was new and I had just lost my job a few weeks before Valentine’s Day. I had to figure out how to make some money, so one day my mom had shown me an Instagram page of a popular home baker in Florida. I was so amazed with her work that I began to watch Youtube videos on making chocolate-covered strawberries. I learned just in time for Valentine’s Day. During that weekend I had over 10 orders and stood on my feet for 16 hours until I finished every single one. Over time I’ve joined a few baking groups on Facebook and they’ve helped me with marketing, pricing, criticism, and even helped me cope with my anxiety a bit. I started my Facebook page for my business in 2020, moved to Virginia in August, and received my LLC officially in the state of Virginia in September 2020. I was super nervous creating new clientele, but Virginia has been great to me for the year that I’ve lived there. Read more>>

Alyssa Couture

I started out when I was 16 years old drawing fashion illustrations and making fashion collages with fashion magazine clippings. I loved clothing so much, that in my teen years, I started wearing interesting unique outfits. Then after many art classes drawing fashion, I decided to go to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, for fashion design. I loved my fashion and art classes, and they really helped me to start thinking more deeply about fashion in a philosophical way. After college, I traveled around and I worked a lot of fashion retail jobs. I have worked at over a dozen fashion retail shops and fashion boutiques working in management, sales, styling, and merchandising positions over the course of several years. I loved learning new things about fashion and about fashion retail, and I was able to receive a lot of diverse fashion experiences. In my late 20s, I started designing and sewing clothing, and I had launched a handmade eco-fashion brand. Read more>>

Miguel Rios

My parents are huge music people and always had their favorite songs playing throughout my childhood. Seeing that at an early age had a huge impact on me musically and creatively. I remember as a kid, I would always raid my parent’s CD rack that had hundreds of different CDS of all types of genres. My dad was the one who showed me the blues, soul, and jazz. My Mom was the one who showed me R&B, disco, funk. During these moments my brother was discovering his talents of being a guitarist. He knows is one of the best guitarist in the world. Watching him dedicate his entire life to music has been very inspiring and motivational! As I grew older I began to discover my own style musically which consisted of many genres such as rock, punk rock, reggae, emo, hip hop. I used to love going to the mall with my mom and hit the CDs stores, diggin for new music. I eventually got into digital music as the Internet progressed. I started with illegal downloading music from sites as Limewire, bear share and early napster. It wasnt until after Highschool that i discovered my one true love and that is Dance Music. Read more>>

Meg Knobel

While I was in college, an opportunity came to me that I couldn’t turn down- and so began my tattooing career. I joined the tattoo industry in a small town in rural Texas, working multiple jobs and halfway through my undergraduate degree, and it was definitely a leap of faith. I owe my good friend and artist Derek Kinchloe for the wise advice- “You should never turn down an opportunity to learn a new trade.” We were a shop of friends, and so many memories were created during those early years. The tattoo industry can be rough, the hours long, and the future uncertain. Within a couple years of finishing my apprenticeship, the Recession hit. In Texas, cost of living was still cheap, but I was ready to leave. Growing up with an Army mother, I had moved every couple years during my childhood, and it was long overdue to get outta town. Never having lived in the west, and being an avid cyclist who rode year round, I had my eye on sunny southern California, so San Diego became the goal. Read more>>

Veronica Speck

I was born and raised in San Diego, California and moved to New York City to attend undergraduate and graduate school. During university, I had the opportunity to intern at Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, Christie’s, CNN, and NBC. These experiences offered me invaluable experience and friendships in the art, design, fashion, publishing, and media industry. Upon graduation, I began working in the Development Department of the Whitney Museum of American Art where I managed the prestigious Patrons Groups and planned the annual Gala, Art Party, American Art Awards, and exhibition openings throughout the year, including the Yayoi Kusama retrospective sponsored by LVMH. I continued to work with non-profits at amfAR where I managed events and fundraising on a global scale for galas during the Cannes Film Festival; New York and Milan Fashion. Week; and Two x Two in Dallas. Following these roles in special events and development, I became Director of Public Relations for Bernardaud, a renowned porcelain, art and design company from Limoges, France. Read more>> 

Maek Ceramics

Maek Ceramics was the result of a university pottery class, when Michaela and I (Ryan) sat next to each other. That semester a few of my friends started OB Beans and reached out to me to make the wares for their new cafe, and I got in way over my head. Thats when Michaela saved my ass for the first time in a long line of ass-saving that continues to this day. We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. The next year, a few dates and a lot of premarital commitment later, Maek started in the foothills of Clayton, CA. Our Clayton studio space was part of an old barn we shared with Michaela’s father who is a carpenter, which directly correlated to the amount of classic rock we listened to. While there, we had the chance to really narrow down our aesthetic and spend lots of hours refining our approach to pottery. Read more>>

Michael Valentino

This entire project started due to time constraints while I was working and going back to college. I found that between multiple jobs and school full-time I was losing a part of myself. The fun creative/fun side of me was drowning in a sea of responsibility. To combat this, I started a small nerd group on Facebook to try and bring some locals (Chicago at the time) together. Here we were able to discuss nerd culture, personal projects, video games etc. Initially this was intended to just keep in touch with friends and include hobbies we just didn’t have the time to fully explore, but as the days went by I realized the group was growing and I was creating real connections with so many people I had never met. One of the other hobbies I had taken up was listening to podcasts. Even though I couldn’t participate, it was incredibly rewarding to hear passionate individuals discuss the same interested I had between classes, on the drive to work etc. After while I decided it was time to take a chance, create my own podcast for this group to help bring everyone even closer. It would be a podcast that would allow me connect with this group in way I didn’t think was possible. Read more>>

Joseni Romero

I found my passion for nails at a young age, around 12 years old. I would paint my nails a different color every single weekend. I started watching youtube videos about different types of manicures and found acrylic nails to be the most interesting. I decided to try it myself and bought the small acrylic kit from Walmart and practiced on myself once but then moved on to practicing on my cousin’s nails. They of course popped off the same day but I still loved the idea of doing acrylic nails. Fast forward to January of 2019 when I started to see people do nails in their own homes. I purchased basic things needed to do acrylic nails and started practicing again. I was able to get more and more supplies and practiced on my close friends and family. It was really discouraging when they did not turn out the way I wanted them to but with the encouragement and support I received from my family and friends I continued my journey. I am now about to complete two years of doing nails and I am proud of how far I have come. Read more>>

Laurence McElrea

My first job after college was with John Harkrider, a casting and locations specialist in Santa Monica, Ca. He was very famous and had been featured in Life Magazine. He was 95 years old and still going strong. However, his memory would come and go through out the day. He would claim I hadn’t done something when I had, and after 3 months I found a new job more to my liking. I became a writer, producer, and editor of video training programs for a major retail toy chain. After 3 years we had a recession and my department was closed. That was the beginning of jumping from one audio visual job to another just to keep employed. So then I tried real estate, and built 3 condos with my father.. Then the market crashed and values went down 50 percent, so we had to rent them for 10 years while the market recovered. From there I became a background actor in Hollywood. I have been in hundreds of Movies, TV programs, and TV commercials, and eventually join the Screen Actors Guild. (SAG). Lastly I became a part-time Electrician for the Mission Viejo Unified School District. After 8 years I retired and decided to finish writing “The Adventures of Sappy Sardine.” Read more>>

Tania Pryputniewicz

When I was an undergraduate student at UC Davis, I found myself repeatedly struggling as a lover. I discovered a tarot deck tucked in a bookshelf one day and started using tarot to begin a conversation, in writing, in my journal, to look at my challenges with love. It was more of a rant—just getting the frustrations down on the page. And as a life-long journal-keeper and artist, the tarot’s brightly colored story cards and their organization around physical, mental, emotional, and decision-making aspects of life appealed to me as I began asking why I was attracted to unhealthy forms of love. As is true of all of us, I found that my buried pain points also held keys to opening doors to more joy once I did the work. That work involved witnessing and recording the patterns in writing, accepting them, and hardest of all, forgiving myself for having been a bit of a fool. Read more>>

Kelly Foulk

I’ve been a working San Diego artist and art teacher for 20 years. I use oils and mixed media to create large and often interactive paintings, and I show them at local venues in San Diego and North County. Several years ago I worked with students at Carlsbad High to design custom shoes for Vans. This experience inspired me to explore a new creative interest, hand painting and designing shoes. After designing shoes for Vans, I was contacted by a non-profit based in New Mexico and asked if I would volunteer my art skills by painting shoes for kids with cancer and different life-long illnesses. The kids get to pick exactly what they want on their shoes. The goal was to remind the kids that they are more than their illness. As they wear and walk in the hand-painted shoes, we hoped they would be reminded of all the great things that define who they are. Read more>>

Toma Battino

I started on my 24th birthday, I always liked to draw but was never technically savvy enough to create digital art. This all changed when I got an iPad and an Apple Pencil. I could finally draw, edit, upload, and promote my art from a single device. Read more>>

Stacy Keck

Photography has been a hobby of mine for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I had a pink point & shoot film camera — you know, those flat rectangular ones from the 80s. I’d take snapshots of my friends and camping trips with my family. I loved documenting what was happening around me. I was also obsessed with photography in high school, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I would cut out full-page ads and fashion editorials from Rolling Stone and plaster them all over my bedroom walls. It wasn’t until I was a few years into my public-relations career that I realized I might have a future in photography. I randomly submitted some black and white beach photos to a now-defunct local magazine, 944. They ended up running a three-page spread of my work. I remember calling the editor on the phone, telling her that I was interested in shooting events and editorials for the magazine. That’s when I started shooting nightlife events for $50 a pop, while concurrently working my day job at Caltrans as a Public Information Officer. Read more>>

John Mangiapane Jr.

Since small, I have been mesmerized by the power and exhilaration of the motion picture. My Mom took me to see Jurassic Park in the theatre and the next day I tried creating my own miniature mountain and dinosaur models out of papier-mâché. Ever since then, it became my passion to make movies. I would use my Dad’s camcorder to video and try to create films with my neighborhood friends. Fast forward 20 years later and I pursued these dreams in college at UCSD. My first real success came in a final project for one of my classes in 2005, when I made a documentary on my Dad’s life as a fisherman titled “My Father the Fisherman” (available on the iMDB). After graduating college in 2006 I was eager to begin making my own feature-length movie, of which I would financially produce, write, film, direct and edit (looking back it was a very daunting task considering I wouldn’t finish the movie until 2020!) There wasn’t any money coming in from this passion venture, I needed to make a living, so I decided to begin my own video business based on my abilities learned, specializing in event/wedding videography and commercial production. Read more>>

Stefanie Annis

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved writing. I used to staple blank pieces of paper together to make little booklets, I’d call them ‘Stefanie’s Stories’. Over the years, those booklets turned into journals, and it was in one of those journals that my first children’s book, Coco the Chameleon, was born. Coco the Chameleon is a story that I had been living with all of my life. Just like Coco, I too would wish that I could be more like my classmates, and less like myself. This feeling grew as I grew, and I realized that so many others felt the same way. I wanted to write a story where I could teach kids at a young age to understand their uniqueness and accept every part of who they are. While self-love develops as children grow, I believe that it can be nurtured early on through the books that they read. Read more>>

Deborah Lynn Elizabeth Arboleda

My career actually began on the set of a commercial I was filming when I was just fifteen years old. While working with the hair and make up artist that was to get me ready that day, I had a life-changing conversation that would put me on the path to where I am now. My stylist, Scott, was incredibly supportive of my acting career, but he was aware of how hard it is to make it in the entertainment industry. He gave me a bit of advice that day, “don’t work a dead end job to chase a dream.” He encouraged me to get an education and to pursue something that was flexible so that I could attend auditions still, but also have a solid plan. After graduating high school, I began taking classes for my fine arts degree and attending a vocational beauty school. I graduated my 1600 hours within ten months as a member of the Design Team and an ambassador of the program. To say I was dedicated is an understatement. I was within the top 10% of my school and I was hired at a brand new franchised salon within two days of my graduation. I felt on fire in this career path and I haven’t looked back since. It’s only become more and more rewarding. Read more>>

Jessica Cooper

When I was about 10 years old, my family gifted me with my very first camera, and it did nothing but take off from there. I started by taking simple photos of my pets, and plants around my house and neighborhood. Following my first trip to Europe in high school, that is when I fell in love with landscapes and cityscapes. I came home and I scrapbooked, and I scrapbooked, and I scrapbooked. I never spent so much time, and effort on a singular project. I immediately enrolled in a film and digital photography class when I came back from my trip, and my teacher couldn’t pull me out of the dark room. I’ve found that with a photography eye, you can learn to appreciate things from a whole different angle. Viewing the same things I saw everyday suddenly became much more exciting, and intriguing. A flower is no longer just a flower, but the home to parts of our natural ecosystem. A building is not just a building, but a peak into historical culture. A sunset (my favorite thing to photograph) is not only a sunset, but proof that everyday can end beautifully regardless of how it started. Read more>>

Julie Main

I began my newspaper career in Moscow Idaho as the graphic designer for the Daily Idahonian in 1978. In 1982 I relocated to Southern California and I found myself working for the Valley Shopper in El Centro California, where I met, and married the publisher, David Mannis. David and I moved to La Jolla and launched San Diego Community Newspaper Group, with our first weekly publication, the Beach & Bay Press. Within the first 6 years, we were publishing four weeklies, (Beach & Bay Press, Peninsula Beacon, La Jolla Village News and Golden Triangle News. We continued to expand our reach and titles to include the Uptown and Downtown areas, a monthly Senior Lifestyle tab, monthly SD Pets magazine, La Jolla magazine and PB Magazine, plus annual Visitor Guides. David and I divorced in 2011 and I became sole owner of the San Diego Newspaper Group. Fast forward to 2019 I aquired the Uptown News, Mission Valley News, La Mesa Courier, Mission Times Courier and started the College Times Courier to equal nine titles to our group. Read more>>

Dr. Vangie Akridge

As a child, I was an eager learner – always striving to stay ahead of the curve. I recall being the mediator for playground disputes and trying to find solutions. I was in the third grade when I first identified that I wanted to be a psychologist. I did not know how to spell it, but I understood that it was an occupation that is intended to help people. My achievements in the classroom and maturity on the playground was noticed by my 6th grade teacher who advocated for me to be promoted to the 8th grade. That drive that contributed to my early academic achievements propelled me through high school and to acquire bachelor’s degrees within 4 years with a baby. While I always knew I wanted to be a psychologist, it was my 2nd year at UCLA when I discovered my desire to be an educational psychologist. While home for winter break, a childhood friend took his life 2 doors down from my house. My world was rocked. I was angry. He was a teenager. I had questions. Read more>>

Omar Alejandro Rosales

For many years, growing up I was always the kid on the back seats of the classrooms trying to avoid the teacher’s questions, avoiding reading out loud in front of the class, or even simple things like looking at a person’s eyes when speaking to them. I was always that self-conscious kid, not to mention I was around kids older than me for the most part of my childhood, pressured into fitting in with the rest of the kids back then the music and fashion industry was (and still is) a major influence to me growing up. I’m sure a lot of 80’s and 90’s babies can relate. Starting as a ”loner” in middle school being a Mexican kid moving from the local Latino community schools to a completely diff school near the beach my mother made the decision to put us in a mostly English school Pacific Beach middle school was my home away from home from 6 grade to 8th grade and boy was it a rollercoaster! like I was saying earlier , not knowing any of the kids at that time, being completely alone with no friends, with the shyness and insecurities as a kid it was hell not knowing how to fit in or even simply talking to a new kid in class.  Read more>>


Audrey Doherty

I’m originally from Los Angeles and my career in PR also started there. I graduated from UCLA and worked at several national PR agencies before packing up and heading to San Diego to immerse myself in a more laid-back lifestyle. I launched Chemistry PR in 2009 with a goal to do great work for clients in the real estate, hospitality and lifestyle industries sparked by the power of relationships. We offer traditional and digital PR services, as well as social media management and influencer relations. I recently re-established a satellite office for Chemistry PR in Los Angeles to expand our SoCal footprint and so I can spend more time with my family all of whom still live there. Now I can enjoy the best of both worlds! Last year, Chemistry PR was named one of the Best PR Agencies in America by Forbes which was one of the highlights of my career. We’ve represented some of the biggest real estate and hospitality brands in the world including Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton, Westin, Hilton, Hines, CBRE, Gelson’s Markets, and the San Diego Building Owners & Managers Association. Read more>>

Alexus Danisha

I started when I was 15 in my small hometown of less than 3000 people. When I started, I was very self-conscious of my curves so I tried to channel that into fitness and started posting about my fitness/health journey on Instagram. I gained a following of 2500 people within a week and realized there was a demographic for women who support other women in the body positive movement. That launched my career in content creation with the intention of inspiring other women to embrace their curves, wear clothing they never thought they could and creating business opportunities out of my love of fashion and the Lack of inclusivity in the fashion industry. Read more>>

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