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The Valley’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 the Valley’s gems below.

Brittany Carel

The typical ugly duckling story. Growing up, I wasn’t the prettiest, sure my parents told me differently, but the kids at my school made it very clear to me I wasn’t the pretty one. In middle school, leading into high school, I wore braces, thick glasses, and a backbrace… to top it off add poorly cut side bangs and hand me down clothes. The most ironic part of the story was that I can from a family of models, looking at me at the time you’d never know. I was bullied in school for my appearance and clothing, wearing Payless version of Nike shoes. Safe to say school was rough. I’ll always remember asking Austin to the middle school dance and being flat out turned down. By senior year I traded in my glasses for contact lenses, my braces taken off revealing a new smile and that back brace was properly retired. A new era for me. Read more>>

Isaiah Frizzelle

Once upon a time, there was this little dude, and then BAM! Plot twists everywhere! I feel like life has been an abundance of what feels like side-quests, subchapters, possible redirects but nothing short of me growing. I saw this quote, “The you from five years ago would be proud of who you’ve become” and only recently did it hit. As an actor, as a podcaster, as a writer, as a trainer, as a human, I’ve experienced life in so many aspects in the last five years alone. Five years ago, I never even considered starting a podcast, writing a book, or just being the person that I am currently because for me, my focus has always been centered on “Am I good enough for this?” vs. understanding that I may actually be far better of a human than I think. Read more>>

Eleen Yaw

I always have a dream to be a teacher. I am a full-time mum since 20 years ago. Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to pursue my dream as a yoga teacher and I stood up for it. It was never easy but I counted my blessings when I had classes to teach. I enjoyed the privilege of sharing with my students and clients my knowledge and experiences. I never thought I would be a yoga therapist today because my dream was simply teach, like what a school teacher would do. Be a therapist was a step forward in my yoga journey because I have the desire to empower each one who steps forward to learn more from me especially parents with special needs children. In addition to such knowledge and training, I have a bigger goal in life as well, which is to learn how to empower and trust myself through my journey in life. One day, I know, very soon, I can provide even more powerful and enriching teaching through coaching. Read more>>

David Bonfadini

I saw my first trick at six years old. At eight years old, I started learning sleight of hand. In my teenage years, I started acting and found myself on shows like Malcolm in the middle. At age 23, I left acting to start a “normal” career and seven years later, I decided to take all my experience and start building my magic brand. After doing bday parties and special events, I started making videos. My videos now have over 800 million views and counting. Read more>>

David Nitzsche

Long backstory short, after graduating film school I took a two weeks road trip from Florida to LA (hitting Mardi Gras along the way and surviving) and got to LA with no money and no job. Shortly after, a free couch on Criagslist led to becoming friends with the guy, who was friends with another guy, who needed an office assistant at a Production Company. Thats how I got my first job and how I immediately learned that it’s who you know and being ready for the opportunity. That is still the mantra I live by to this day, and if I had to narrow it down, how I’ve gotten to be where I am. Over the years, I’ve worked as a freelance editor at various companies and with many different directions. I was staff for a bit at The Mill in LA but ultimately decided that I was happier and more productive out on my own. As life and work took a turn towards remote, I realized that I thrived this way and that my connection to people and companies actually got stronger. I took that to the next step and created my own small post-production company, Workprint. Read more>>

Mary Bohn

Today, I am a scenic artist working in the film and entertainment industry painting props for photoshoots, like a slab faux marble bathtub for Kylie Jenner’s new cosmetic line launch on Instagram, to plastering and painting a backdrop for The (Dixie) Chicks for an interview with Billboard Magazine, (which also placed in their top 2020 photoshoots for the year!). More recently, I painted a series of canvas paintings that are going to be seen in Franklin’s penthouse in season five on the show “Snowfall”. My list goes on and this is how it started… I was born and grew up in a small town in Ohio. My first commissioned oil painting was requested at age sixteen, which this commissioned piece also won grand prize and first prize in a local county radio station art contest, and I have been professional since. My entrepreneurial spirit was encouraged at that time too, by my mother to put ads in the classifieds for artwork. The phone started to ring… In high school my M.O. was that of being the “artiste’” of the school, in charge of decorating committees, president of the art club, artist of the yearbook staff, etc. I loved designing, painting, and coordinating projects for events!. Read more>>

Hersh Chopra

I come from a very average immigrant family who moved here from India with very little but worked hard to achieve what we may consider an upper middle-class status. I grew up learning to value money mostly because I saw how hard my parents worked to give us a comfortable life even with not so lavish salaries. And so, I never asked my parents for money as soon as I started working. My first ever job was at the student store in middle school where I earned a few bucks (less than what most kids at that age get in the form of an allowance from their parents), but my first real job was in college as an assistant for an Astronomy professor at UCLA. Since then, I learned to save money and use it towards any college expenses I had – tuition, rent, food, etc. I interned at a couple of different companies during college summers and continued to use my earnings towards the same. Once I got a full-time job after college, I started paying off my student loans from undergrad and investing into a 401k. Read more>>

Kenny Carkeet

I grew up playing music since age four. I started playing for my Church in Orlando, FL when I was about ten years old. After entering high school, I took up the drums and guitar to form punk rock bands with my friends. For the next ten years, I would play with the same band of friends doing big local shows and small state-wide tours. In 2005, I enrolled in Fullsail University in Winter Park, FL., mainly to learn how to make records so I could make my band’s first album. After completed my Associate’s Degree in Recording Arts, I decided to stay for my Bachelor’s in Entertainment Business. After graduation, I did a brief ‘stint’ at Florida A&M University pursuing my law degree. After less than one semester, I quickly realized it was far from what I wanted. So I sold everything I owned, packed a bag and my dog, and drove west to pursue the music dream in LA. Read more>>

Gabrielle Furlong

I grew up not being led to be active or spend much time outdoors and eventually, that type of lifestyle catches up with you and affects how you feel and even dictates your lifestyle habits. Everyone can find a way to get their body moving in a way that they enjoy, but it usually requires an external motivation if it’s not what you’re used to. For me, it was during my adulthood and not my childhood that I discovered that I personally love to be outside. I love hiking, biking and basketball specifically. Once I realized that we are meant to move our bodies and meant to have fun in doing so, I knew it was time for me to take my journey to the next level of helping others and being that motivation for them to live a different lifestyle. Read more>>

Mysteretical Podcast

We originally met on a Zoom Game Night with some mutual friends at the start of the pandemic. We ended up bonding over true crime and how we both loved watching Unsolved Mysteries as kids (yes, kids). And, jokingly, we said “hey, we should start a podcast!” and that’s how Mysteretical was born. It was a lot of trial and error at first but we have persevered and remained consistent and respectful to our listeners and each other for our first year – our Anniversary Episode is in October!. Read more>>

Julius Gordon

I moved to Los Angeles in 2013 and I was making ends meet by waiting tables in Santa Monica. I was performing at open mics around the city and doing songwriting showcases. I met an artist at a songwriting showcase and I began working with her and helping with songwriting on a project she wanted to release. She was not super strong vocally at the time so before her sessions, I would warm her up and coach her a bit on the music we were about to record. This went on for years and she and I eventually became friend. Towards the end of 2016, I was fired from the hotel I was serving at and didn’t know how I was going to make money after that. I told her what had happened at our next session and she told me “why don’t you try vocal coaching because I’ve stopped going to the coach I had because of how effective the things you’ve shown me.” That sparked the birth of JG Music Education. It took about three months and wrote the theory text that we use in the course and planned out exactly what teaching would look like for me (which has completely changed throughout the years, lol) and just took the leap at the top of 2017.  Read more>>

Chelsey Hall

Working in the grocery business for more than thirteen years as a store manager, I was ready for a change. At the time, in 2014, I was really into running and high endurance workouts, specifically Spartan Racing and Cross Fit. With my love for fitness and nutrition, I really enjoyed meal prepping for myself, family and friends. It was this unconventional side job that ultimately led to the creation of Muscle Grub. I gathered a small team that consisted of family and a few friends and we started cooking out of my home and delivering healthy, prepared meals twice a week to our clients. We have such a passion for food, family, and fitness that we couldn’t wait to share our way of clean eating with everyone in Bakersfield! Six months later, after obtaining some momentum and a growing client base, my Mom- Amy (an amazing chef), and family friend, Marcie (the best full-time bookkeeper in Bakersfield) joined the team. One year later, we officially opened our doors at our current location complete with a commercial kitchen and a storefront where we cooked and packaged up to 1200 meals a week. In 2018 we re-branded by changing our company name to MODERN GRUB. Read more>>

Jonathan White

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known what I wanted to do with my life. Science and medicine have always been fields of interest and research, in particular, has fascinated me for some time. Dedicating my life to improving the lives of others is very appealing to me. I decided to choose the field of Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) because I was (and still am) genuinely compassionate about shaping the lives of individuals who have communication disorders and who rely on speech-language pathologists (SLPs) to improve both their abilities to communicate more effectively and their quality of life. Growing up, I have always enjoyed helping others communicate more effectively. If someone said something incorrectly, I was there to correct it. If anyone needed help pronouncing a word, I was always willing to provide assistance. Unbeknownst to me, there was a career that would allow me to practice just that. Read more>>

Austin Cain

My whole life, I played soccer and dedicated 100% of myself and my time to the sport. During this time, I never made music but it was always a part of my life and it seemed to always attract me vicariously through people I knew, specifically my Uncle who was the lead singer in a local Vegas Christian band. I remember my favorite thing to do outside of playing soccer was to go see him play. He introduced me to the music world I wasn’t exposed to at the time being an only child. I continued my soccer career throughout my teens and received a division 1 scholarship to play at the school of my dreams. During this time, I meet one of my best friends. Come to find out he made music. Soon I found myself diving into music spending long nights writing, trying to record myself in study hall until 4am going to sleep for an hour then going to practice at six. I was addicted, definitely not good, but that didn’t matter. Four months passed, and the love I had for soccer and the dream I had to play pro disappeared and music became my life. Read more>>

Michelle Stokes

I’m a little girl from Detroit, Michigan who moved to Woodland Hills, CA with my family in February 1980. My Father, Michael Stokes is a Grammy award-winning music songwriter and composer. He’d gotten an A&R position at A&M Records, which landed us in CA. My mother, Linda Stokes, is an iconic Fashion Designer (Cher, Beyonce, J-lo, Steven Tyler, Magic Johnson, and the late Joan Rivers and Kobe Bryant to name a few. So needless to say, I got my talents from a combination of my parents. I was very involved in high school with dancing as well as being the head cheerleader. I placed top ten at the USA cheerleader camp my sophomore year. Out of 35,000 cheerleaders. Dancing lead me to auditioning for recording artist after graduating William Taft High School and began touring with major artists.While filming Will Smith’s “Gettin Jiggy Wit It” music video, I met wardrobe stylist June Ambrose, whom was looking for a designer on the spot. I recommended my mother, who she was familiar with and they began collaborating on iconic projects. I always loved clothes, being that my mom either made my siblings and my clothing, or she made sure we were dressed in the latest fashions. Read more>>

J.Lyle

I’ve been acting as a kid. I grew up around creatives. Back in the late 80’s / early 90’s my Mom wanted to find a way to help contribute to the bills. She got me and my siblings in the industry. I’m the youngest of four so I had the least amount of experience and exposure at the time. Seemingly ironic that I was the one most drawn to the arts and performance. My Dad got a new job so we had to move. I moved all over as a kid. From Texas, Utah, California, to Arizona. Arizona was home for most of my life. My Mom tried to feed that need through local theater, school musicals, show choir, academic decathlon, etc. But it didn’t quite fill me up. When I was 22, I was living with my roommate at the time and decided I had to put all my energy into this career or I would regret it. I attended some arts schools in Arizona, Camera Technique Classes, and a 2 Year Meisner Intensive. I had successes in Arizona working my way up. I was one of three faces for corporate University of Phoenix for a number of years. I was signed with my Agent. But Arizona only has so much to offer. Read more>>

Jay Riggio

I spent 15 years working 9-5 jobs. The entire time I’d get home after dark, drink coffee and make art. After a decade plus of pretending to fit into a world I clearly didn’t fit into, I decided to leave and do what I love full-time. And that was making art. The past eight years has been spent evolving my art practice and showing in galleries around the world and country. Read more>>

Shira Yevin

Back in the day, my band Shiragirl crashed the Vans Warped Tour in our pink RV after noticing an absence of female musicians on stage. We then created the Shiragirl Stage, hosting over 300 female artists including Paramore and Joan Jett. After Warped ended, we wanted to continue our mission, so we founded Gritty In Pink as a monthly event in LA with an “All Girl Jam” kicking off in Jan 2020. We had three magical months of girl-driven music mayhem, with over 50 of LA’s best female musicians- then COVID hit. So we started a weekly Instagram livestream fundraiser, raising thousands of dollars for various charities including ACLU. We then launched an online network for female musicians, an exclusive platform with virtual events. We are now about to beta launch our new marketplace, connecting women who work in all aspects of the music business with industry pros of any gender who want to hire diverse women. Read more>>

Art Podell

I began my journey in Greenwich Village as one half of a duo called Art and Paul. We were signed to Columbia Records. This was in the late fifties. Rumor has it that another Art and Paul had to use their last names when Columbia signed them a few years later. I think one of them was named Garfunkle. The original Art and Paul albums were re-released by Sony Music in 2020 and are considered folk classics. We ended Art and Paul when we moved to L.A. in 1961 right after a successful run as the first folk music act to play at The Troubadour. We played a 14 weeks engagement there, probably a record. After that, I wrote songs for The Smothers Brothers and other folk music acts. Then in 1962, I became one of the original members of The New Christy Minstrels and within a few years, we had played hundreds of concerts including Carnegie Hall and the White House for President Johnson. We enjoyed a full year as regulars on the NBC weekly Andy Williams show. Read more>>

Ryan Skinnell

I was born and raised in La Crescenta, a small burb up the hill from Glendale. I had two brothers and a sister, my mom stayed home to raise us, and my dad worked as a musician in Hollywood. I graduated from Crescenta Valley High School in 1997 and went to college at UC Santa Barbara, where I met my future wife. After I graduated from college, I spent a few years bumming around–in Orlando, FL for a while and then in San Francisco. In 2004, I returned to the Valley to get my Master’s degree in rhetoric and composition theory at California State University, Northridge. When I graduated from CSUN in 2007, I was living in Burbank with my wife and 8-month-old daughter. I finished my MA program and decided to pursue a career as a professor, my family and I picked up and left California for almost a decade. First we moved to Scottsdale, AZ, where I enrolled in a PhD program in rhetoric, composition, and linguistics at Arizona State University. After I earned my PhD, I took a job as a professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of North Texas, just north of Dallas-Fort Worth. By that time, we had a second daughter–she was 5-months-old when we left Arizona. Soon after we got settled in Texas, we had our third daughter. Read more>>

Laura Haug

I worked in Entertainment for 12+ years as a Project Manager in Post Production and could see how much people ebbed and flowed between finding the balance of work/home life. I watched burnout, frustration, and anger play out in this industry from people’s unmet needs and the ego driving the show. Once I started being an Intuitive Guide, I’ve also seen this dynamic play out with people in all industries as I have taught yoga, life coached, read tarot cards, and channeled reiki energy healing on clients for the past seven years. Being born and raised in a small Missouri town with four siblings while being highly sensitive to people’s emotions around me, I found myself in observation mode for most of my life. This observation skill set has taught me to listen deeply to others and see how they view the world. I can also sense and feel their pain points and what they truly desire or where they are looking for support to be seen and heard for who they authentically are. Read more>>

Lindsay Watkins

In 2011, I began working for Career Systems International (CSI), a human resources consulting company. I had just graduated college into one of the worst job markets in recent memory and my degree in public relations was not being used. I took an opportunity from the founder of CSI, Dr. Beverly Kaye, and began my work as an office admin. I quickly learned that Beverly’s philosophy of “engage, retain and develop your employees” was not just “talk.” After about a year at CSI, I began learning about a new learning technology called Adobe Connect Meetings and how some of our training solutions were being delivered virtually. I was very intrigued! I had been using computers since I was seven and always loved being the “tech-expert” in the family. Beverly allowed me to take training courses and virtual host certifications to expand my knowledge base. I began to carve out a position for myself as Virtual Learning Production Manager and began to oversee the delivery of over 200 sessions a year.  Read more>>

Elizabeth Russo

My journey started when I was 16 years old and drove all night with a friend from the bay area to LA to meet one of our favorite actresses, Gillian Anderson, who was hosting the AIDS Walk that year. I had never been to LA before and as soon as we got here, I knew that I would live here one day. LA embodied everything that I wanted and needed. Diversity, art, culture, fashion, music, entertainment, and the overall feeling of opportunity and freedom. When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to continue learning, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do yet. I played the saxophone growing up and loved music and knew I wanted to be in the entertainment field, so I pursued a degree in recording arts/sound production. While in college, I met a girl who would later become one of my best friends and we decided to move to LA together. I was 20 years old and my whole family drove me to LA, got me settled into my new apartment, and wished me well. Read more>>

Rachel Lang

When I first became an astrologer and psychic medium, it wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. In addition to the usual stressors of entrepreneurship, I also had an added challenge of educating others about the various ways we can use astrology. Some people didn’t take my work seriously, and some of my closest relatives thought I had gone to the dark side! For a few years, I worked a full-time job while building my business on the side. I started my practice in Nashville, where I lived for eight years. Then, I accepted a job as a marketing director/astrologer at a socially responsible fashion company and moved to LA in 2010. The visionary behind the company, Robin Keyser, was really ahead of her time by merging business and spirituality. It has become more of a trend today. My client practice grew over the years, and I love working with a variety of people all over the world today. In addition to that, I teach classes, write horoscopes, and lead ritual gatherings. Read more>>

Gwen Hollander

I was born and raised in Miami, FL, and have been into the arts for as long as I can remember. I think my first experience with live performance was in 1st grade when I started competing in Odyssey of the Mind (a worldwide creative problem-solving competition that has a writing/performance component). I think that’s when I was first bitten by the acting bug, but it wasn’t until I saw the touring production of “Phantom of the Opera” when I was 13 that I knew I was going to be an actor. I started taking voice lessons immediately (and also kind of snail-mail-stalking the guy who played the Phantom, who was incredibly kind and sent me many autographed photos that are still hanging in my childhood bedroom… I was totally that kid). I went on to study musical theatre at an incredible performing arts high school in Miami (New World School of the Arts), and I also started working at one of the amazing local theaters (Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables). Read more>>

Nessie Blaze

I’m a tattoo artist and muralist from Bristol, PA. I moved to LA in 2013 to pursue my career full-time. Never wanted to work for someone once I made the choice, no matter how hard it got and I’ve now worked for myself for the past ten years creating and selling my work. A good friend gave me a good opportunity to be a part of a show called Black Ink Crew Compton and it gave me a great platform for people to see me all over the world. But I’ve still been working from home all this time, just hustling, trying to be better day after day. I’ve gained celebrity clients like Haha Davis and Lil Mosey over the past few years and have done quite a few murals around LA. I am not a hustler, I’m THE hustler. Read more>>

Andrew Chavez

I started out playing Alto Sax in elementary through junior year in high school. I also started DJ’ing in high school. So that took over after I stopped playing sax. A DJ friend of mine asked me if I wanted to go with him to tour MI in Hollywood to check out their engineering program. I didn’t even know what an engineer was at the time. So we went and my mind was blown. I signed up, ran through the course and graduated in 1997. From there, I ended up landing a job as a runner and later an assistant engineer at Enterprise Recording Studio. This is where I met Linda Perry. I started working with her when she was mixing the Pink Album “Missundaztood” with Dave Pensado. This started a 12 year run of working with Linda day in and day out from about 2003-2015. In these years, I really developed my engineering chops. We recorded everything from single vocals to full bands to 36 piece string dates at Capitol Records. We recorded almost everything under the sun. Read more>>

Shabnam Khalili

Born and raised in the city of angels, my life is a plethora of many consistent themes; traveling to beautiful places, devouring all the food (of course saving room for dessert), rooting for the LA Dodgers and most importantly- capturing it all. I love trying new restaurants, whipping up different recipes, decorating my home and sharing everything in between with my followers in the hopes of inspiring them to live their best life. As a kid, I always imagined myself as a news broadcaster or TV host. With the power of social media, I have been lucky to create my own platform sharing the things I love with my little but mighty community. They say, “love what you do, never work a day in your life.” I’ve never been the nine-to-five, sit behind an office desk, kind of gal. As a free-flowing creative, I thrive on the freedom to travel to different places and meet new people while connecting all the dots. I started my career as a content curator in the music + broadcast industry but took a break to finish earning my degree in Business Marketing at CSUN.  Read more>>

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