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Orange County’s Hidden Gems

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 Orange County’s gems below.

Eco Balance

We are Pili & Evelin, and we created Eco Balance almost two years ago. We are from two different countries in South America with many things in common. We became friends almost ten years ago when our oldest boys were playing soccer. Unfortunately, asthma and allergies run in our families. After many tests, we discovered that conventional cleaning products were affecting us. For this reason, we decided to make a change in our lives and make our natural cleaning products. Each product was rigorously tested until they cleaned the way we wanted. Then, we decided to share it with friends and family, thus creating our brand Eco Balance. We provide safe products with simple ingredients. Every step we take, we make sure it is the best decision for not only our brand but for our families and others at the same time. Read more>>

Christina Brotman

Working at my 9-5, I would often daydream about becoming my own boss. When the opportunity presented itself, I took the leap of faith in the midst of the pandemic to finally start my long-time dream. Although it seems counterintuitive to start a business during a pandemic, I saw an opportunity. Read more>>

Xiomara Romero

I am a mother, wife, Colombiana, lover of nature and psychotherapist by profession. My life experiences and passion to be a change agent have added a few other things to my identity as a Feminist, advocate for immigrant rights, racial equality and an Ally for LGBTQ community. I’m currently practicing as a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Orange County, CA. I specializing in transitions in young adulthood, anxiety, trauma, depression and grief and loss utilizing a multicultural perspective. I am creator of UNIDAS-Latinas in mental health consultation group for Latinas navigating private practice. My newest project has been being a co-host of Cafe con emocion podcast with three other mental health advocates. Somos dos Colombianas y dos Mexicanas! In this new podcast, we highlight social, emotional, political, and economic barriers impacting mental health in the Latinx community in Orange County, CA. My favorite thing about private practice is being able to work in multiple capacities of creativity and having different contracts that allow to reach underserved communities. Read more>>

Travis Puglisi

Prior to the international health crisis generated by Covid both my wife and I worked in the event production industry, traveling the country working for a number of music festivals and tours. We’d had a child in 2016, our lives were changing, and I largely had lost interest in crafting large format parties for people who I struggled to identify with as I aged and they stayed the same. By 2019, I had cut all of my contracts to avoid total burnout but decided I wanted to start a side project…something that felt like a “Passion Profit Project.” I’d been an avid solo hiker for a number of years and my self-guided studies and observations around botany, animal behavior, and local culture had arrived at a point where I had an intimate narrative to share with both locals and the guest community. On the last day of 2019, I was granted my permit to operate a professional guide service within the boundaries of Joshua Tree National Park, had secured my liability insurance, and had my first clients on Feb. 11 of 2020. This was before the collapse of the event production industry of course. Read more>>

Sean Kao

Aquatic Sports Performance was born out of my parent’s garage where I had built a garage gym in September of 2018. In an effort to build clientele, I started training people for free in the garage starting March 2019. By October 2019, I was coaching enough people to where I began operating out of a facility in Brea. We take the responsibility of training our athletes and clients very seriously as they have trusted us with their athletic careers and health. To honor that responsibility, we look to provide the highest quality training and schedule flexibility. To provide this, we’ve worked seven days a week since October 2019 (excluding the quarantine time period between March 2020 and June 2020). It has taken a lot of hard work but have also been rewarded with slow and steady growth. At the time of this writing, we’ve now coached over 70 in-person clients and over 15 remote training clients including Olympians, Olympic Trials qualifiers, NCAA champions, high school athletes, moms, dads and everyone in between. Read more>>

Vivianna Severance

I’ve always been that kid who didn’t fit in. I couldn’t grasp the competitiveness of my peers or their shallow conversations. I needed depth I couldn’t find in others, so I spent a lot of time alone. No, don’t feel sorry for me because alone time was and still is a balm for my soul! In that time alone you could find me outdoors, in the sun, literally playing with fire (sorry mom). I had a long necklace chain that I would scry with before I even knew what it was. I was very intuitive as a child, sensitive too. Animals and drawing, along with making mud pies with all the twigs and leaves with “witches” brews were my life. Fast forward to my twenties, I was already in a job that fit my dreams. Working with animals and a successful business owner. I was delving into my gifts including Tarot which I hadn’t known was practiced by members in my family. I was on my way! Until the day I read the cards for a potential partner and ignored all the red flags. My gifts went into hibernation while I learned all the hard lessons. I spent years in an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship that took years after it ended to recover from that deep seeded trauma. Read more>>

Vinny Rico

I’m the co-owner of VV Fit Studio, a fitness studio that my sister, Valerie, and I started in 2020. VV Fit was founded to fulfill one of our lifelong dreams of owning a business together. We wanted to create a company that highlights our values and showcases the talents of others, and of course to have the chance to work together as the unstoppable brother-sister duo that we are. My sister and I grew up as dancers, and our morning alarm was our dad blasting an 80s power ballad or a freestyle mix, of course, with our dad singing along. This served as the background–really soundtrack–for our whole childhood, so to say that music and movement was a part of our lives would be an understatement. Music and movement shaped our identities. After graduating college and being away from the dance world, I needed to find creative outlets to move my body. In 2011, I found yoga and fell in love with a new physical challenge, and found solace in the unification of body and spirit. In 2012, I completed my 200-hour yoga certification; I also became certified in hot yoga, yoga-lates, and yoga sculpt. Read more>>

La Vette Jackson

Cooking has always been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. As a young girl, I grew up helping my mom in the kitchen. I especially remember her giving me more range as I got older to prepare some of the deserts during holiday seasons. I didn’t realize I was gifted in the kitchen until so many family members and coworkers would tell me, “You need to open your own restaurant.” As time went on, I began volunteering to cook for interns at my local church. I served in that role for five years, Those interns loved my cooking and I became known as Ms. Jackson (at least that’s how I was addressed by the interns). In 2018, my daughters and I were trying to think of a business name and to my surprise “Ms. Jackson Can Cook” was born.Afterward, we developed our logo and started cooking for friends once a week. They would order from the weekly menu we would create. That was fun but more of a hobby. We soon realized we were just breaking even. We later figured out that we would make a larger profit by catering. Read more>>

Kevin Crockett

I began out of law school at one of the largest personal injury law firms in California. I rapidly absorbed their excellent training and found significant success while there, but eventually I wanted to expand to reach even more people who need my help. I also knew that if I started my own firm, then I could hand-pick an all-star team that would work well together and collaboratively help me achieve even greater success for injured accident victims. And that’s exactly what we’re doing now. Read more>>

Erin Schalk

My entire life has been what I call “semi-nomadic,” meaning I’ve found myself living across the continental United States, as well as in Okinawa, Japan. In my early twenties, my world shifted drastically in both wonderful and terrifying ways. I found myself married to the love of my life but also sent across the country, far from family and the home I had known. And each year, my husband was being sent away again and again — oftentimes overseas. Life would continue to catapult me far outside of my comfort zone, stretching me well beyond the tools that I had at my disposal. Art and restorative writing became two of my key coping strategies, providing generous places to process the full spectrum of emotions and fears. In time, I began to feel a magnetic pull toward teaching to share the benefits of a sustained, creative practice with others. I can trace the beginnings of my career as artist, writer, and educator to a steel blue Nissan Cube that I purchased in 2010 in Okinawa, Japan. Read more>>

Kassandra Sophia Casanova

Kraftwheel started off as a space to confidently share my crafts. And I went through so many different crafts such as resin keychains, decorative tumblers, and a few others. That was the natural crafter in me. But it wasn’t the same fulfillment as creating something from my heart. And then came being vulnerable enough to share it. That was the toughest part. Creating something that connected to me and the fear of it not connecting with others. I thought the only way I could capture someone’s interest was by making something completely customizable to them. But I took that chance and it’s been so fulfilling. Alongside my creativity, my confidence has also flourished. I’ve learned to trust myself. And the connections I’ve made thus far because of that have been beautiful. I realized I wanted Kraftwheel to become a space of that said trust and self-love. The products I create are in hopes of sharing that reminder that we all have that strength and beauty within us. Sometimes we just need someone or something to remind us of it. Read more>>

Tony M Fountain

I began as a rapper. It started in, I believe, the 8th grade when a friend of mine (Rico) handed me a rap song he had written and wanted my thoughts on it. Playfully I wrote a response diss song, and we continued back and forth this way for the next few years. Years later, I began entering showcases and things of that nature. Still, I had also started a family and felt I owed it to my kids to be around rather than being gone on the road all the time, so I let go of the idea of pursuing music any further. Not long afterward, let’s just say my ex-wife developed some issues and wasn’t in the picture anymore. As a single dad of two small kids, I didn’t have a lot of time on my hands to go out and hang with friends. Still, I needed an outlet to keep my mental health strong, so I immersed myself in studying how the music industry worked, bought some equipment, and began to help develop local artists. I realized most artists don’t really care to learn the business side of things and would rather focus solely on being an artist. Sometimes focusing on too much can kill an artist’s creative spirit. Read more>>

Jessica McNeil

I’ve always liked drawing since I was a little kid but didn’t take any art classes until middle school and then one year of art in high school. I knew I enjoyed art but just like most people, I didn’t know I could make a career out of it. Towards the end of high school, I decided I wanted to become a teacher so when I started going to Santiago Canyon College, I told my counselor that I’d like to go into teaching and therefore started taking child development, some other General Ed. Courses… and then art for fun! After taking child development, I decided working with children was not something I was interested in, which is so ironic because I am an art teacher now and love it!!. Read more>>

Zoe Joy

The Joy Haven is a Mr + Mrs team, with JOY in our name, literally (it’s our last name). Rich is from California, and Zoe is from Northern Ireland. We met in Sydney, Australia and quickly recognized a strong sense of family values in each other which we both loved in one another. When Rich moved back home and Zoe for the first time to the States, we dreamt of building a life together that incorporated that family core, celebrating others and bringing them joy through our combined passions, creativity and gifts! The Joy Haven started actually with restoring forgotten about furniture and selling vintage finds. Rich was able to use his really handy creative skills in building, restoration and creative redesign. In parallel, Zoe found her strength in curating booth rental spaces, styling each piece and coordinating. Our clients and event organizers enjoyed our sense of style and began to ask if we could style events with our pieces. The Joy Haven grew into a space that we felt could use our point of view. Today we offer specialty tablescape rentals, event styling services, as well as custom backdrops and installations for clients both commercial and of course family-style. Read more>>

Vera Ann Nero

Vera Ann the CEO & Founder of her very own Vegan & Cruelty-Free cosmetics line. Stemming from her own experiences. She was eager to learn more about the beauty industry so she joined! Vera Ann started out doing lashes & brows for her friends on the weekends then it turned into a PASSION! As a result, Vera Ann Cosmetics was founded in 2017 with a full passion & desire to provide varies looks for women with many options! New Releases Drops Every Month – Stay tuned Dolls. Read more>>

Jillian Fortner

My story is only beginning. I got my start in the entertainment industry through community musical theater. I had minimal dance experience and no acting or singing training. I didn’t have high expectations for myself, I was just there to have fun. Over time, I realized I wanted to do more and more. Being on stage sparked a passion in me I never felt before. So I decided to invest all my time into becoming a better performer. I started taking voice lessons and I’d practice singing every day in my garage. My grandma, with her musical background, was a huge help as well. I always benefitted from her honest feedback. I couldn’t afford to take acting lessons as well. I picked up tips by observing other performers around me. Although I was improving immensely, it was a rough road. There was always someone who could sing better, act better, dance better. The competition and rejections were always there. Regardless, I persevered because it was important to me. I’m glad I continued because I started to see my hard work pay off when I booked my first professional job. Read more>>

Lorie Lau

I’ve always been in love with planning and organizing things, I would consistently help my family, friends, and neighbors set up their events, I would volunteer my time to assist with the event planning at the schools around my house, churches, and some local businesses. I knew I enjoyed it very much and that it was my passion. However, I didn’t pursue it as a career until many years later. I got my BBA and 2 Minors, one in Finance and another one in Medical Billing, and after working for over 13 years in those fields, I decided to finally go for my dream. We officially started back in 2016 when my husband proposed to me and we wanted to plan our wedding together; hence the name of our company. (H & L are our initials) H & L Lovely Creations was born out of the idea to help couples plan their special day by indulging them with services of excellence and elite vendors to make their planning journey unique, enjoyable, and beautiful. We believe planning is the foundation of a perfect wedding or event. Read more>>

Valentina Tammaro

Believe it or not, it all began for me when Pirates of the Caribbean II came out. I’m sitting in a movie theater with my dad, and that three way sword fight comes on and boom. That’s when my theatrical artist life began. All because Johnny Depp is having an epic sword fight and Kiera Knightly is out there yelling at them for being idiots. I had actually already been in youth theater conservatory at South Coast Rep for years before that, but until then it had just been a place for me to be creative while giving my parents a break. And it. Changed. My. Life. I was blind before, and now I could see. I was like, “I can do this. I can do that. I want a sword fight.” Later at SCR, I actually did get to have a sword fight. SCR raised me creatively, and I went on to graduate from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. Since then, I’ve directed, written plays, had a play go onto a festival, did the web series thang (DOGWALK) and I just finished filming a short called “Monster” where I also got to dabble in puppetry. Read more>>

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