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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.

Dr. Maria Espinola

I was born in Argentina during a military dictatorship, which ended when I was still very young. Learning about the trauma that people experienced during the dictatorship led me to become a human rights advocate. My advocacy for trauma survivors was initially focused on public education. I began writing for a newspaper at age 10 and had a radio show at 12. Everybody, including myself, thought I was going to pursue journalism as a career. I later chose psychology because I wanted to directly help survivors of violence heal from their trauma. I came to the U.S. at 20 years old. My experiences as an immigrant led me to gain a better understanding of how people who belong to minority groups and other vulnerable populations are treated. Confronting discrimination and lack of resources allowed me to connect to people who were in similar situations and inspired me to pursue my studies in psychology with a focus on multicultural issues and trauma. I earned my doctorate in psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. I completed my pre-doctoral fellowship in multicultural psychology at Boston University School of Medicine and my postdoctoral fellowship on women’s issues and trauma psychology at Harvard Medical School. Read more>>

Alioune Tandiang

I started my soccer career in 2011 when I was 17 years of age and a Jr in high school and anyone who knows sports knows it’s almost impossible to start up a sport that late. Well, I did it and earned a scholarship at a small Naia school to play College Soccer where I earned my bachelor’s of science in business management. Soccer has changed my life in the greatest way possible, not in my wildest dreams did I think my skills would be good enough to help pay for school and play in front of hundreds of people. I have friends from all over the world because of this game. After my last college game, I knew I didn’t want this to be my last competitive game and I know I wasn’t able to go professional. There are tons of people in the same boat once you get stuck into the 9-5 life you lose sight of your physical fitness goals. You always hear about the freshman 15 but what a lot ex-college athletes don’t realize is the weight you gain after your graduate. You can’t eat like you use too, you aren’t working out twice a day six days a week. Read more>>

Megan Day

The co-founders of Sign and Sealed are Megan Fakes & Megan Day. We first met in design school studying Graphic Communication Design at The University of Cincinnati College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, commonly referred to as DAAP. We became close friends while living together during one of our co-ops in San Francisco. In 2018, we teamed up to design a friend’s wedding invitations, and we loved working together! Our styles complimented one another and we pushed each other to be our creative best. Through this friendship and admiration of each other’s work, we sought out more opportunities to collaborate, eventually deciding to start our own business. We saw an opportunity to bring modern, custom designs to the local wedding market, formally launching Sign and Sealed in 2019. In the beginning, we focused primarily on designing custom wedding invitations, but slowly our business grew to include branding, website, and other graphic design services. Read more>>

Dawn Mongelluzzi Quintana

After I graduated from high school in 1990, I was set to go to Kent State University. My financial aid fell through, since I would be paying for college myself. My older sister, Gina told me to apply to cosmetology school. I thought, “nah, that’s not for me” But I enrolled in nail school, (I was washing dishes at Guarino’s restaurant in Little Italy, while in high school, so I worked there to pay for nail school. I thought it would be great to fall back on from college breaks and summers. I was 18 and fell in love with the beauty industry, I was renting space inside of a Barbershop, La Barberia. Shortly after I started there, I opened up, Nails by Dawn. Fast forward 10 years, I moved the business, changed the name and added more spa services. In 2001, I opened Dream Spa in Cleveland Heights in the Cedar & Fairmount, business district. My husband Alex and I were married the following year, a year after that Alex and I opened up the Barbershop and purchased the building. We ran both businesses but after 9/11 and the housing crash, we decided to merge the Barbershop and Spa together. Read more>>


RiChawn Moncrease

My name is RiChawn and my journey began after seeking solace and discovering the real answer to the big question “what is my purpose, why did God place me here”. I became consumed with learning more about what life is really all about and uncovered this truth, we are all energy, spirits living a human existence with a destiny to fulfill. My personal soul agreement is to share, spread and teach love through reiki energy healing and other spiritual connecting services. As of January 2022, I will be joining a team of the most wonderful and talented ladies at The Whole You Wellness Studio located in Gahanna, Ohio where I will offer my reiki energy healing, heated biomat therapy and private sound bath services. Other services include personal training, yoga ad Pilates. Read more>>

Joe Dagostino

Photography feels like it has always been apart of my life. From Playing with my dads cameras as a kid, to being the Director of Community Darkroom of Akron today, I feel I have always had a camera in my hands. Although there was a digital camera there for a time, film has never left my presence. Today I am committed to film photography and the darkroom printing process. I’ve also been experimenting with alternative process, from hand coating my own canvas, papers, wood and metal materials to print on, too experimenting with alternative development chemistries. Read more>>

Dustin Lopez

In 2020, when the pandemic really took full force, my wife was just about to open her wedding venue. Obviously, this was one of the worst times in history to open an event space. They were left with no ability to even show their space to potential future couples. That is when I decided that we needed to give people a way to see the space with a relatively new technology called Matterport. “Matterport is the standard for 3D space capture. Our all-in-one platform transforms real-life spaces into immersive digital twin models. So much more than panoramic scans, Matterport empowers people to capture and connect rooms to create truly interactive 3D models of spaces.” ( Read more>>

Michael Januska

I grew up in NE, Ohio. I went to culinary school in Florida. Returned to Cleveland, OH to begin my culinary career in the restaurant business. Left from Europe, in 1998. Remained in London, UK as a chef, running a variety of restaurants. Returned to Cleveland, OH in 2013. On December 17, 2016, we opened Old Brooklyn Cheese Co., Cleveland’s first brick & mortar cheese shop reminiscent to the local cheese shops in Europe. We needed to compete with the big grocery stores’ cheese departments, so I decided to make my own cheese and age them on site. Why cheese? A cheese selection was a typical dessert option on European menus. I adopted this offering to my menus. Bringing back to Cleveland a conversion behind a cheese counter with people that love cheese and can offer unpretentious knowledge was always the goal. We grew in public trust for our cheese and cheesesentric offering. Specializing in cheese & charcuterie boards, featuring local artisan food producers. Old Brooklyn Mustards was created before we opened the cheese shop in August 2016. I made a cheese display at an outdoor dinner eventing with Toast restaurant and Goldhorn Brewery. Since, I was set up to produce cheese yet, I created our Original IPA mustard, Cleveland Caviar so I would have a product that OB Cheese makes. Read more>>

Alexa Lee

I’ll start my story off in college, where I attended Cleveland State University and fulfilled my dream of playing division one soccer. If I’m being completely honest, I had the time of my life. I played both with and against very talented and devoted athletes all while making life long friends. I played a couple of seasons at the semi-professional level here in the states and overseas which was an absolute dream, one where I sweat, bled, and sometimes even cried. I attribute any success I’ve had as an adult to those years, and I can’t say enough about the importance of our young girls being involved in sports. I left CSU with a degree in Early Childhood Education and went straight to NYC to tap into a different part of me that I could feel brewing. With a mohawk and 150 lbs of muscle behind me, I signed with a boutique modeling agency in Manhattan. After three months of living in a small apartment with eight other models (all struggling to achieve the same dream), I finally booked a Maybelline commercial. It was that day that I discovered that I love being on camera; starting with nothing and creating a story that can make people feel. After a year and a half of hustling, I finally signed with Wilhelmina Models. I had an amazing agent who believed in me and pushed me to be my best. With my background in fitness, I modeled for many major companies such as NIKE, Under Armour, Levis, Puma, Adidas and Fila. Read more>>

Emily McNamara

As a licensed Intervention Specialist, I spent the last ten years working with children and adults with significant special needs. With my Masters in Educational Leadership, I had once planned on the administrative side of teaching to help grow my fellow educators’ knowledge and resources for their students. I have always desired to have an impact on every individual that crosses my path.BUT… I was also well aware of how difficult it was leading both students and adults while also taking care of my own physical and mental health. Although I had a sincere passion for helping grow and lead my fellow educators, I realized that self-care had to be a non-negotiable in my life first before tending to others. This realization catapulted me into taking a risk I never thought possible – stepping out of the traditional “9-5” public school teaching. Read more>>

Tanika Logan

I am a 36yr old single mother of four. I have always cared for children and the vulnerable population in general. I have always had the heart of giving,.more than receiving. Other people’s smiles bring me joy; knowing I am giving others hope. I have struggled in many areas of my life in the past, and always said “If I get the opportunity, I will change lives” This is how I became a Registered Nurse, and Started my own business, Serving To Be A Blessing. It is an umbrella organization where I have a daycare caring for children and their families; and also a ministry, where I give away as much as I can to families that needs help; things such as $100 gift cards to Kroger’s, Christmas gifts, and Easter Baskets. I know the feeling of being a parent, needing to work, but scared to leave my children in the hands of strangers, trying to finish nursing school, having to bring a sick child to class, so you don’t get behind, or having to climb so many mountains in life, with little help because you don’t want to be a burden on others. This is where my passion to help others and especially struggling moms, who are trying to figure out, “How will I over this. Read more>>

Hope Randall

Now licensed for 10 years it’s crazy to think of where my career has led me. I started in a Mall salon charging $15.50 for highlights. From there slowly working my way up from hourly to commission, moving up in Salons. I was around 4/5 years into my career when I took my first leap into Independence as a stylist, the night before my first day my family was torn apart resulting in my divorce. I continued for 7 months until I made the best decision I could for not only for my career but my family as well. leaving my chair and going back into the corporate salon. During this transition, I was able to fully focus on my family which has always been my top priority, as well as still take care of my clients. From there I slowly rebuilt myself, still growing and learning along the way. Read more>>

Michael Howes

Growing up as a kid, my parents would always bring my sister and I on vacation once a year. Without knowing it at the time, I began to fall in love with travel and it is now my favorite thing in the world. So much so, it has become my lifestyle. Being like this does not make being in places for a long – let’s say 6+ months – period of time easy. College was one of those places. Keeping this in mind, my love for travel began to take over my college experience. As college was so new to me, I kind of let it slide freshman year. Sophomore year, I got to study abroad in France, so I was content. But come junior year, my options were running out. At the time, it was either college in Boston for the next 2 years or travel. Either graduate and get an industry job as a biomedical engineer or go pursue travel. Read more>>

William Mount

I started making podcasts in 2011, in 2014 I started making a music interview/conversation podcast The Sounds of Bustown, with Jacob Huffstetler. We interview bands from all around town and share their music on the show. Jacob departed the show (to move to Chicago), and I continued on alone. We’ve released a new episode every other Friday since the show started and have almost 200 episodes. I’ve also started a few other podcast projects from friends made through The Sounds Of Bustown, and started my own podcast network, Loud Cat Podcasts, to house them all. Read more>>

Stephen Miller

I am a multi-published photographer in Columbus and I also operate my own international fashion publication, LYBELL Magazine. We have now had over 20 different countries featured through publishing 9 issues, but I will delve deeper into that in the late parts of my story. I started taking photos four years ago, after I purchased a car and wanted to get some shots of it. I went out and bought a simple DSLR camera just to get better photos of it rather than using my phone. After a little of doing that and getting bored of it, I started taking landscape photos. A couple photos were reposted on larger Instagram pages, which I thought was a huge deal, even though it was not really so looking back. Once again, I started getting bored of taking photos, since I felt like there is only so much you can take photos of around Columbus, while maintaining uniqueness from other photographers. Read more>>

Mary Johnson

I started my journey back in 2009 after I was tired of being 120 lbs overweight, a failed marriage, and really just wanting to get my life back. I found a local gym, signed up, started working and eating healthy and lost the weight. In 2010 I became a group fitness trainer and started teaching others to do what I did. That same year I began making cold pressed juice “Vitiman Kandie” to help with my digestive tract. I lost so much weight in a short period of time and it cause my normal flow to become offset. My juices not only helped me get regular, they also helped me keep the weight off, my skin began to glow, and I never got sick. I began helping my friends and the rest is history. In 2015, Vitiman Kandie was created and sales increased. In 2016, VK fitness studio was created to help clients on a personal level, and in 2019 Vitiman Kandie Cafe locations were open. I specialize in health and wellness and the best way for me to help my clients was through food, herbs, and all natural products. Read more>>

Maddie and Ellen Coticchia

Maddie was a Montessori teacher for six years before she decided to switch career paths. Maddie has been a lover of all things food for the majority of her life. She spent two years living in Italy where she further developed her passion for cooking and charcuterie. For years, Maddie loved making cheese and charcuterie boards for friends and family. This is where the idea to start Sweet Brie Co. came about. Maddie started the business in February of 2020 with the intention of making cheese boards in the Cleveland area. Because Ellen has a background in graphic design, she helped Maddie with her branding and marketing from the start. After a few months, Ellen decided to join Maddie full-time in her venture. While they started with the intention of making cheese boards and grazing tables, in the summer of 2020 they decided to expand their offerings and teach virtual workshops. During the summer of 2021, they started teaching in person workshops as well. The girls have since launched a master-level, on-demand class teaching individuals how to build their own cheese boards at home. Read more>>

Casjmir Briggs

First I made it this far because of God. I remember back in 2015 when my mom drew my very first logo my 2 children and I was living with her at time. I didn’t know it then but she planted a seed within me. Then life happened I fell into depression you know becoming a mother at 16 can leave you feeling so unfulfilled at a very young age when you should be enjoying your youth but instead your raising kids living paycheck to paycheck you get burned out no time for nothing because your responsibilities are greater than you could have ever imagine but God right. So let’s fast forward to 2019 I had what you would call and outer body experience and in the moment I knew I mattered and I had great purpose. I quit my job and started my business in June of 2020 God gave me a version matte babes G•L•O•W. Since then Ive shipped all over and I’ve done pop up shops in most of my surrounding areas here in Ohio. I literally have matte babes all over the world I could have never imagined but God knew and I’m so grateful for where I am and how much my business has grown within this past year. Read more>>

Emily Norrick

After graduating high school in 2011 from my hometown in Lexington, Ky, I attended Paul Mitchell The School for cosmetology. I started my career at 18 years old, and had no idea just how hard it would be. I stayed in Lexington and did hair for about 5 years before moving to Ohio to be with my now husband. I had to start completely over and rebuild my clientele and everything I had worked so hard to get all over again. I won’t say it wasn’t challenging or really frustrating at times, but what I will say is how much I have grown since that time. I gained more opportunities in a bigger city. I gained education and a clientele who has followed me for several years. I have built relationships and friendships. And most of all, the confidence to love what I do and actually be really good at it. If you would have told me almost 11 years ago that I would be here today, I would have laughed. I worked hard to be where I am today and am so grateful I didn’t give up. Read more>>

Janita Ford

I started Libra Alchemy because I was interested in stones and crystals after initially making jewelry from fossils beads and metals. The more I learned about the connections to energies the more I engaged with my spiritual side. I wanted my brand to show my customers that a spiritual journey doesn’t have to go in a certain order or look a certain way. Read more>>

Jessica and Jonny Casey

We had worked together previously at a salon in West Chester, after both of us had left there we reconnected and ended up starting a family some years later. After working at a salon in Norwood together we decided to open our own salon. We had a 1-year-old and a second baby on the way, and knew it was time to do what would be best for our family’s future. We came across the spot by Findlay Market and couldn’t pass it up. After a lot of hard work, the rest is history!. Read more>>

Antoine Williams

I was a sophomore in college, sitting in the library with my classmates studying for a final. Everyone was worried about the test then I said from there “ why we worried non of us have been to class “ they all started laughing. From there, one of my classmates said “you are funny would you like to host an event”, I said sure let’s do it. I went from the nickname pork chop to Teddy or Teddy the comedian and I haven’t looked back. Read more>>

Samer Chedid

My business partner and I are both Mediterranean. I am Lebanese and he is Italian. After getting to know each other we realized how similar our cultures and foods are. We decided to put it all together and create a Lebanese Italian fusion of flavors from our homes. Read more>>

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