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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.

Kimberly Alvarado

Oh man, where do I begin lol. I grew up with immigrants parents from El Salvador. I am the oldest of three. I have two younger brothers. My whole life I had to be the translator, babysitter, and sometimes family therapist. I always had to be responsible. So, as I got older, I thought I would be a lawyer or something in social justice but three years into college I realized that I didn’t want to go that route. Nothing was really feeding my soul. I didn’t want to have this “serious-common” job. I always had a love for photography, video, and telling a story. The next day I changed my major to communications and got my master’s in journalism. I originally wanted to be a broadcast journalist because I hated writing hahaha. I know, what the hell was I doing getting a journalism degree haha. One day I signed up for a video class and that’s where my love for video began. Read more>>

Melissa Gill

I was born in Lima, Peru, and moved to the states when I was 10 years old. My mom worked three jobs to get us by and that hard work and perseverance always stayed with me. I would have never guessed back then, or even 3 years ago, that I would start my own business but I can 100% say it was on the foundation and sacrifice my mom laid out for me. I joined the Navy in 2013 and that’s how I ended up here in San Diego. I was stationed on the USS America (LHA 6) where I completed the 4 years of my contract and got out. I met my husband there and his Navy orders are what have kept us here in San Diego which I am so thankful for because I love San Diego! Read more>>

Alec Winter

I began the creator’s journey with the knowledge that my mission in this world was to help well-deserving people build their dreams through business growth. My first client was a pizza and sub shop that had been in business for 47 years but hadn’t had a good year in over 17 years. After the owner gave me her last $3,000, I ended up helping them achieve their most successful year ever. Realizing I had a knack for consulting and solving business problems, I just walked into businesses and had conversations with them about what we could do. After every success story came a handful of referrals. I then asked clients to pay me to learn how to do the services I was recommending to them. After a year I began to hire people who could execute on all the things I learned, but do it better. The rest is history and now we work nationwide with dispensaries, cannabis brands, hospitals, new-age medicine, health, and wellness-based businesses and the remaining 30% consist of an array of different industries spanning automobiles to recycling companies. Read more>>

Lulu LaFortune

Hello! I started in design originally with the dream of pursuing a career in the fashion industry. I loved sewing my own clothes in High School and learning how to develop a personal style. When I got to college, however, I learned that there was an incredible furniture design program with an amazing woodshop, metal shop, and plastic lab. I had always loved building makeshift furniture as a teenager -a desk made from two filing cabinet and a door, an old bench turned into a day bed- however a room could be arranged and rearranged, I did it. So, when I saw that furniture design was a viable career path I immediately pivoted. To me, furniture goes hand and hand with interior design and textile design. So, while I was at school, I completed two minors in those areas of study. Read more>>

Brandine Strand

Brandine Strand came up with the idea of Cali Raw Nutrition in early 2018. She was highly motivated after losing her very first dog, a golden long-haired chihuahua with a chocolate brown nose named Clyde. At the time, she was only aware of a kibble diet for dogs and so the quality of life for Clyde’s last five years was not optimal. It was only when her rescue dog, Dharma, started developing allergies shortly after that she was introduced to raw dog food. She saw benefits within weeks and was sold. She was so compelled by the visible changes that she started telling everyone she knew about the benefits of raw dog food. Her passion grew rapidly and she decided to start Cali Raw Nutrition, to help other pet parents enhance their dog’s health & longevity with a fresh raw diet. This was the beginning of Cali Raw! Read more>>

Aria Simuel

My Co-Owner Ciara Langston and myself met in high school and then came to Los Angeles for college where we became inseparable through each of our lives milestones. In 2013 Ciara decided to embark on a surrogacy journey, I myself was there every step of the way. Ciara did a total of 6 journeys totaling in 3 babies. In 2016 Ciara spoke on starting Her own agency which later in 2020 at my bachelorette’s party we put our visions together and created a business plan to create the surrogacy agency Modernly Ever After LLC. I became the 1st surrogate under our agency delivering a health baby girl for our first family out of Michigan. Ciara and myself are the youngest and WOC (women of color) owned agency in the country and on the west coast. We are extremely proud to be a part of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) community. We are excited to help make parenting possible for those who face challenges growing a family. Read more>>

Gianna Latona

When I moved to San Diego at 22, I had no idea what I was going to do when I grew up- but I always knew I wanted a career in fitness. In helping others feel good about themselves. At 24 I was introduced to Pilates and completely fell in love; I like to say that was my gateway workout. I became certified and completely threw myself into teaching as many hours as I could. I learned to create my own style (kick-ass and contemporary!) as well as how to accommodate clients with injuries from rotator cuff tears to degenerative disc disease and everything in between. After a few years of teaching and managing Pilates studios, COVID turned my world upside down. Right away I began teaching mat Pilates classes via Zoom for donations to anyone who wanted to join, as well as virtual mat sessions for my private clients who still very much needed to continue to maintain the health of their ailments. Read more>>

Kaiy Smith-Biesman

Meet Grandma Shaw, where this journey of badassery begins. In a time when women weren’t meant to be anything more than homemakers, she did it all! Momming… killed it! Wife… slayed that! Entrepreneur… umm yes please! And created the foundation for what’s to come. She started working in a factory and worked her ass off until she owned her own. The three top takeaways from Grandma Shaw are as follows: 1) don’t take anyone’s shit; 2) do what makes you happy and 3) ‘La famiglia prima di tutto’ or ‘The family before all else’! From there, we move on to Grandma Julie aka a mirror image of who I’m going to be when I get older and I must say I’m pretty freakin’ cool! Read more>>

Veronica Carr

As a young girl, my mom would often host events at our home, and church. From big to small, she always made it look so easy to the guests that would attend, but I would see all the work that would go into it. It was a hobby for her, and at the age of 15, I planned my first large-scale event. I would go one to make it an annual event, despite not believing I could have a career in event planning. At 18, I moved to San Diego with $500 in my bank account, my acceptance letter to San Diego State, and a dream to create a life here. I immediately obtained a position in hospitality and dabbled in event planning on the side. I attending SDSU to become a teacher, earning my undergrad in history and thinking that I may go on to law school one day. When I graduated, the country was in the height of the 2000s recession. Read more>>

Daniel Gortaire

I started in a South America-Ecuador creating video and photography content for musicians and local businesses, it ended up becoming a talent agency and video production house and build up a decent amount of followers that’s was when I decided also to restart my music career. After a few years, I left all behind, moved to USA to be close to my 3 children in the same city. It’s been quite an adventure to restart from scratch but today my business is starting to pick up after pandemic giving service and many local businesses and my music career it’s better than ever, touring with my band and writing new albums every year. I know is a difficult road to the top but I’m trying to be happy while I try. Read more>>

Caitlin Goehring

I’m an astrologer, Reiki Master, life coach, entrepreneur, writer, tarot reader, and yogi (amongst other things). My business, of the star’s holistic health, was founded in 2019 – although it was very different at the beginning! My academic background focused on sociology and psychology, and post-grad I attended the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts to study holistic nutrition and life coaching. The first iteration of my business was focused on supporting women with eating disorders to shift their relationship to food, eating, and their bodies. After a year of nutrition coaching, it was very evident to me that the work I was doing had nothing to do with food, other than that was what had brought us together. In 2019, I transitioned my business to focus on astrology and mind/body/soul coaching. Then, in 2020, I began a long process of becoming a Reiki Master, which has enhanced and enlivened my work and my life immeasurably. Read more>>

Janay Harding

When I was younger, I tried Karate at the age of 10 and ended up seeing that through until I got my Black Belt at age 14. A year later I decided to explore something more challenging and that’s when I found MMA. Not knowing much about the sport and being quite young, I did this as a hobby until I graduated high school where I then I started training full time and competing in MMA. There’s been many ups and downs during the journey but moving away to Thailand was definitely something that helped steer me to new heights and give me the exposure needed to get into Bellator and move through the rankings. Read more>>

Shagwhelin Bullock

My story or where my journey starts or my path in the cannabis industry started almost 5 years ago when I moved to San Diego from Virginia! I was dealing cannabis to friends back in Virginia but needed to be in a place I didn’t need to hide who I was or what I loved! So, when I helped my friends move to San Diego, I knew I needed to be here too. The week after helping my friends move, I bought a one-way ticket 5 months out and said that was the day I was moving out of Virginia. I saved up and did it. I flew out with a backpack, duffle bag, a box, my dog Riley, and a dream of owning a cannabis lounge! When I came out, I knew it would take a little while to get in the cannabis industry. So, I hit the streets and got a job at a bicycle shop, a restaurant, and a place to rent all in a weekend! Read more>>

JM Balbuena

I came to America from the Dominican Republic (where I was born) at the age of 13. I joined the Navy after graduating from college. While serving in the US Navy, I suffered an accident from which I had a concussion. I got out of the military on 4/20/2014 unbeknownst to me, to treat the issues the concussion created, I would found healing in the cannabis plant. Fast forward to now, I am in the process of growing a cannabis business, Synergy, headquarter in the heart of San Diego, CA. Synergy is a full-service cannabis consulting organization with a focus on licensing acquisition, compliance management, and multi-media marketing. I am the author of the Amazon best-selling book ‘The Successful Canna-Preneur’ and the creator of the cannabis advocacy lifestyle brand ‘Boycott Shitty Weed’. Read more>>

Cole Heavilin

I began my creative journey after leaving a Division 1 college baseball career in 2019. Music was always something I wanted to pursue, so I when I made up my mind to learn music production, I treated it the same way I would try and become a high-level baseball player again – reach out to someone who is doing what I want to do and ask them for mentorship and lessons. I soon linked up with my childhood friend KLAXX (has over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and releases with Slander, NGHTMRE, and more) to learn music production. We did weekly lessons going over all different kinds of genres and topics. I would then go back to my house and try and implement my notes into my own songs. I got completely obsessed… I was putting in about 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for about the first 2 months on music production. Read more>>

Khrystyna Chorna

Who Am I? I am a woman, a wife, a mother, and a business owner and so much more in between. I immigrated to United States from Ukraine when I was 19 years old. Since then, I have been through a lot: homelessness, domestic violence, poverty, but I have been able to persevere and create an amazing life for myself here. I took classes and became a real estate agent in 2009 in the worst crashes in history. Since then, I have been able to stabilize my life, grow in every sense and enjoy this ride, called life. I have been leading women’s self-empowerment events, leading transformational women’s book clubs, mega networking events for badass businesswomen, self-love creative events, women accountability groups, and more. Read more>>

Nights Like Thieves

Nights Like Thieves jumped onto the San Diego music scene in October of 2016. When Mario J. Rivera (Guitar/Vocals) had moved to San Diego from Albuquerque, NM and was looking to start a band. He posted some of his demo songs on the Craigslist community board. In the same night, two friends Steve Smith (guitarist) and Franky Guzman (bassist) independently (and unbeknownst to each other) both replied to Mario’s ad. After a few emails back and forth within a couple hours, a song materialized with music written by Steve and Franky; and a second guitar and vocals laid down by Mario. The track was titled “Distraction”. With a song ready to be played, the guys set a date to get together. However, one thing was missing. A Drummer. Steve hit up his friend and at the time drummer of his band, Aim For the Engine, Scott Ingenito. With everyone on board and down to rock, they met up and practiced together, officially forming the band. Read more>>

Arturo Vilchis and Carlos Ortega

Hello, my name is Arturo Vilchis. I am the co-founder, architect, and designer behind Picnic Voyage. Seeing as the luxury picnic event business was booming, my great friend Carlos and I figured we could incorporate new ideas of our own. This was the start of Picnic Voyage, where we determined to provide romantic picnic boat services, along with Dayra from Picnic Station’s event styling expertise. Our niche and what sets us apart from other picnic companies, is having a luxury picnic experience on our custom-made dingy boat. Its uniquely aesthetic features such as the chairs, tables, florals, and decor, are also what helps make the experience much more Instagram worthy! Carlos originated the idea of experiencing a luxury picnic on water, whereas I originated the niche of a picnic experience on a boat, as well as the architectural design. Read more>>

Victoria Taylor

As a freelance photographer, time has always been important factor in my life, and being able to capture those moments where happiness laughter love overall expression is just frozen and permanently placed on an official document. My grandmother had a family wall I’d stare at all throughout her home. Fun fact I’m actually a San Diego native. Unfortunately, I grew up in poverty and became homeless. I ended up moving up North to Portland or with my grandmother (Vickie Parker) for two years until it was decided that myself and my four siblings would head East to King George County. Being a middle child, I was rebellious and often silenced, adjusting to the new Environment left me feeling alone depressed, and honestly an outcast. Thankfully my artwork became my focal point of communication but it wasn’t until I was introduced to photography in elementary school (Potomac Elementary school) by a teacher named, Tammy Ericson, one of the coolest 4th-grade teachers a rebel child could have in their corner. Read more>>

Dante Rowley

I don’t really want to tell the cookie-cutter version of my “story”. I read a lot of these things and the story is all the same. They talk about where they were from or the school they went to and how that shaped the business they started. That’s a fine story, but a boring one. I started an art gallery called Rosewood because it was next to impossible to get my foot in the door of the art world because my resume was basically school and a part-time job at a skate shop. How do you follow you dreams if you can’t even get hired? Well that art gallery I created wasn’t making any money off the art so it slowly transitioned to what it is today. A shoe store and boutique. It turned into something that was not what I intended. It made money and became popular so I just rolled with it. Luckily through creating that business I finally got my foot in the door of what I originally wanted in the first place. A chance to be in the art world. I recently joined the team over at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego. It’s been a long journey but I’m here! Read more>>

Tina Liebelt

My business partner and best friend, Belinda suggested we start selling some of our handmade original creations online. Sew Geek Studios was born! Our shop features unique geek-crafted items such as aprons, bags, hats, keychains, bookmarks, etc. in various geek-inspired prints. We opened our Etsy shop in May of 2018 and did our first craft fair that month as well. We collaborate on new items for the shop and decide what fun newsprints to use. In 2020 our business took off with people requesting face masks out of our geeky fabrics. Read more>>

Nitty Beat

I am a photographer based in San Diego. I’m also the co-owner of Home Base Smell Good Co. Home Base is a scented candle business/home goods. My partner and I started the candle business a year ago during the pandemic. It’s amazing what you can do and learn during quarantine. But this all started 10 years ago, when I was doing art shows and founded a clothing brand called Hanuit. My partner (Jay) used to own a shop in downtown where I held my very first solo show at his shop. That shop didn’t last very long. I went on doing more art shows, sold a few clothing items of Hanuit Brand, and eventually sold photo magazines. Years gone by and we’ve all grown up. Jay has been very successful with his job where he purchased a few homes and had already gained interest in home goods, it was just an adult thing to do. Read more>>

Alison Miller

In 2019 I moved to San Diego from Richmond, Virginia where I own a small chain of adult boutiques. While I love my shops and remain very involved with my business, I sought space to focus on writing and deepen my yoga practice. Sunny San Diego suits my family perfectly! Immediately upon arriving, I began the poetry certification program at San Diego Writers Ink, which I completed shortly before the pandemic. I began submitting my work to publications and saw more than a dozen pieces published in 2020. I also planned and taught an online sex writing workshop and created the sex-positive literary magazine, Throats to the Sky Literary Magazine. I self-published a book that poetically compares people in my life to crystals which you can find at Verbatim Books. My first full book of poetry is being published by Red Ferret Press in 2021. Read more>>

Cyrus Malik

I’m incredibly passionate about great food, so started visiting local restaurants where I can really showcase their food to City of Los Angeles and San Diego area. In support of these local restaurants, I decided to post their cuisine on my Instagram page and tag restaurant, so locals are aware of their great food. I’ve received nothing but positive feedback from restaurants owners that how much social media has helped them grow their business even during pandemic. Read more>>

Koko Hayashi

When I was living with my grandmother in Japan, I was very close to her. As a young kid, I appreciated her for playing with me, studying with me, and teaching me general life lessons. One day some friends of mine visited my home, and they noticed she has a different kind of body odor, which I didn’t notice. She was embarrassed and bathed more, but couldn’t remove the odor. Years later, Shiseido, the Japanese cosmetics company, discovered that body odor changes with age, and the cause of the body odor associated with aging is nonenal. In Japan where I was grown up, there are many solutions for the odor, but I noticed that there is none in the USA. That’s why I decided to introduce the solution to this country. Read more>>

Renatta Escobedo

I began as a volunteer at San Diego Youth Services – Storefront Youth Emergency Shelters for a class in college. The Storefront Youth Emergency Shelter provides emergency shelter for minors ages 12-17 experiencing homelessness and/or running away. I had no idea what to expect initially, and to be honest was very nervous and full of unhelpful stereotypes about what it meant to be a youth experiencing homelessness. Upon my first day and throughout my early years, all my worries and preconceived notions were quickly transformed and I fell in love with the work and these youth. I was so impressed by the youth’s silliness, motivation, and resourcefulness. They were so fun to hang out and connect with and I always felt honored when they opened up and trusted me. It was clear right away that these youth are no different in potential and capacity to their more privileged counterparts, and instead are just not afforded the same opportunity, stability, resources, and safety. Read more>>

Pete Schlebecker

In 1984 I was asked to build a butsudan, which is a Japanese Buddhist altar. I had been practicing Buddhism already for about 10 years and had been dabbling in woodworking for a few years as well. After the first one, more people within the Buddhist community began to ask for my services and I became a professional woodworker, learning more about woodworking on the run as my business grew. I also began to do other kinds of woodwork, including custom cabinetry and sculptural furniture. In 1989, a museum show called “New American Furniture” came to Washington, D.C, (where I am originally from). This show blew my mind as to the sculptural possibilities of furniture. Many of the artists in the show I noticed had a connection to the Rhode Island School of Design, and I made a determination that someday I would go there and get my Master of Fine Arts degree. Read more>>

Noah Castro

When I was younger my parents always told me I had an eye for photography, as cliche as that sounds it only made sense because even as a toddler id be lugging around an old disposable film camera that had already been used. I’d look through the viewfinder, frame a subject, and do a clicking motion with my finger while making sound effects to mimic taking a photo. Obviously, I wasn’t taking photos then, but by the time I was in elementary school I got my hands on my brother’s old flip phone and was already making little stop motion videos of action figures. Fast forward to freshman year, 14 years old, I had been taking photos with my iPhone for some time now and felt as if I needed to make a jump to something better. I bought my first DSLR that year, a canon t5 rebel, and I loved it. I began taking photos of cars, people, things, anything I could put in front of my lens to be honest. Read more>>

Rebecca Barnett

In 2011, I was diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease and co-infections. I was able to go into remission after almost 2 years of treatment. Since being diagnosed with chronic illnesses, many of my hobbies were limited to being inside. I’ve always loved art. I decided I would experiment with Swarovski Crystals. It’s a soothing activity that occupies my brain and helps relieve anxiety. Plus, I love all things shiny and sparkly. I was working and attending college until I fell very ill again in 2014. I was diagnosed with Dysautonomia. Sadly, I had to leave school and quit my job. I went on Social Security Disability and I felt helpless. I spent the next 6 years taking care of my health. During this time, I was also rhinestoning here and there as a hobby. Read more>>

Ginger King

How I started FanLoveBeauty- It was March 1st, 2019, I was with my celebrity crush/personal mentor Daymond John of Shark Tank at an event. I saw him took out a lip balm and used in front of me. A thought came to mind- if it is something that closes to him, in his pocket, on his lips, it has to be mine as I am an award-winning cosmetic chemist. Yes, lip balms are dime a dozen out there but there are not many good ones. Lip balms are so critical because it is the only beauty product that could be ingested and everyone regardless of gender or sex, does use a lip balm. I set out to develop the world’s healthiest vegan lip balm fueled with superfoods like flaxseed, avocado, coconut and powered by clinical levels of sea asparagus known to boost hydration by up to 6000%. This helps to hydrate lips instantly as well as overtime and is perfect for speakers or people who talk a lot and tend to have dry lips. A portion of proceeds also benefit the suicide prevention foundation thus I call it the “life-saving ” lip balm. Read more>>

Mohamed Hauter

My story with solar started as a humble goal to contribute towards the greater goal of a 100% clean energy world. It is a scientific and realistic fact that our world is undergoing serious climate changes. The debate might linger whether or not global warming is new or historically cyclical. But regardless, clean energy, energy independence, and cheaper energy sources are pros that are not doubted by anyone. My start was tough and required a lot of time and effort to learn, practice, and implement. At the end, I managed to create a company and along the way attract the greatest and most talented team one can find. We are committed to providing custom, reliable, competitive, and efficient solar solutions to all. Read more>>

Ace Funk

Music has always been around me; I can never get bored or tired of it. Through networking, I was able to go from DJing small garage drink ups to varieties of nightclubs up and down California. It’s been a long and testing journey though, some in my position can lose their character and value getting caught up in the notoriety. Where I am today is thanks to the proper guidance and support from all the right people. There really isn’t much to this life, just got to stay consistent and never forget the bigger picture of things. Read more>>

Leslie Hopwood

2022 is the 47th San Diego annual miniature. Started by a group of volunteers with a passion for the art of making miniature houses, rooms, and everything that they contain, the annual show has always offered exhibits, vendors, and a chance to learn from the experts. The restrictions of the last two years has seen the hobby grow in popularity and is now featured on media outlets nationwide. As a non-profit run by volunteers, we’re proud that our annual show has become the largest in Southern California. Some of the original members of the San Diego Miniature Crafters, who run the show, remain part of the group and offer a wealth of experience, while new members with experience or new to the craft continue to join. The work of the group is on permanent exhibit at the craftsmanship museum in Carlsbad and has been displayed at San Diego international airport and many libraries throughout the county. Read more>>

Lauren Shimabukuro

In 2008, I bought my first Stand Up Paddleboard and began exploring my home state of Arizona.  My goal was to paddle as many lakes and waterways I could find, before moving to California. When I would go for these long distance paddles, my feet would cramp so, I would paddle into canyons or bays and do some yoga on my board. During one of my excursions, a couple of kayakers saw me practicing sup yoga and asked if I taught any classes. I started offering donation based SUP Yoga classes. SUP Yoga was a new concept around this time, and I wanted to network with other like-minded water yogi’s so I began to research on the web. From my research, I founded Namaste SUP a free global community that brings stand up paddle yoga enthusiasts from around the world together. Read more>>

Jason Alex

I became interested in music in elementary school. I started off with learning a variety of instruments including violin, saxophone, and piano. Soon as i graduated to middle school I joined band and played percussion for 3 years. Learning new instruments, reading music and having a ear for music came to me naturally at an early age. Both of my parents were in the music industry their entire life. My dad being a guitarist, sound engineer and producer, and my mother was the lead singer of a successful band. I first discovered dance music in middle school from artists such as Deadmau5, Moby and Fatboy Slim. I started attending music festivals and events to see these artists perform live. Read more>>

Ana Gonzalez

I’ve always been interested in fashion and beauty since I was 13. When Covid hit my two 6 year olds (Twins) stopped going to school, while the entire world was figuring out how to calm the pandemic and continue education. My husband Pablo and I didn’t have help with child care and weren’t able to afford daycare. Not being able to find care for them, Pablo and I decided I should stop working. I still felt I needed to have a source of income. We both created “ Pink Spores “ an online jewelry store based on gold filled jewelry. I worked on Pink Spores for a while but then I started to look into lashing. Honestly before I started Pink Spores I was hesitant on what to start first, either jewelry or lashing. I spoke to some friends that lashed as well and felt more couraged to start to have a consistent income. Read more>>

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