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West LA’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 West LA’s gems below.

Ralf Lichtenberg

I was involved my whole live in music. At an early age, I started to play piano and a little later the clarinet and drums. I sung in a choir and had a lot of stage experience but, playing given music was never my forte. So, instead of practicing the usual classics (which I highly admire), I started to improvise and having fun exploring what I could do with the 88 keys of a piano. In my teenage years, I went through a lot of school changes. Music was still a big pillar but, I didn’t see a possibility to do something with it because I thought that all the great composers are dead and composing is not a “thing” anymore. Clearly, I was very wrong and when I listened to the score of “Forrest Gump” by Alan Silvestri and “Apollo 13” by James Horner I realized that I wanted to do this. Still, I took a little d-tour before I studied music. First, I got my degree in psychology in Mexico and specialized in music therapy and then I went back to Vienna to study music. Read more>>

Jamie Christopherson

I was born here in Los Angeles when my parents moved out in pursuit of making it in the rock & roll scene. My life growing up in LA was pretty great and colorful. The entertainment business seemed normal – one of our neighbors was even a working TV/Film composer and it really opened up my eyes to see someone doing that for a living. I was fortunate that from early on, I knew that I wanted to be a composer, but I still wanted to get out of LA to experience college and other parts of the country. So I went to a liberal arts college in New York called Vassar and really got into classical theory and composing there while at nights playing in jazz and rock bands. It was the best of both worlds. After college, I spent a year in Boston assisting a working composer and working as a music engraver, and then found out I got accepted into a great graduate program at the University of Miami in Florida. I got my master’s degree in media music and then came back home to LA. I’ve been back here now in LA exactly 20 years, and it’s been a wild and wonderful ride so far. Read more>>

Esther Hess

I am a developmental psychologist specializing in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children, adolescents and young adults impacted by autism spectrum disorder. While I was working in my private practice in West Hollywood, I regularly heard my patients’ parents bemoaning the fact that there did not exist one cohesive Center that could provide their children all the various therapies that were prescribed (for eg. mental health, occupational therapy, physical, therapy, speech and language support and educational therapy) instead of my parents having to travel all over town so that their children might receive the complex care they needed. I began to dream of creating just such a Center, A ‘one stop wellness’ where families with children with special needs could go and have everyone’s needs addressed. But, I was a single parent with limited resources and lots of financial responsibilities. Read more>>

Richard Spurling

ACEing Autism was founded in the summer of 2008 by Richard Spurling & Dr. Shafali Jeste in Boston, MA as a family run organization with the invaluable efforts of its volunteers & supporters. We launched our first program at The Longfellow Club, Wayland (MA) with 15 children. In the spring of 2009, we added a second location, The Weymouth Club in Weymouth (MA). Richard quickly realized that he could greatly enhance the lives of children and families with autism through tennis, and he made a commitment to dedicate his career to the development and expansion of ACEing Autism. In early 2010, Shafali was recruited to the UCLA Center for Autism Research and Treatment, a center that has been a leader in the field of autism research for decades. Shafali and Richard relocated to Los Angeles in 2010, and since then Richard has focused on program development and expansion. ACEing Autism now has sites in Los Angeles, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Dallas, Pittsburgh, San Diego, New Orleans, Nashville, and Indianapolis. The expansion continues, as we are just beginning to meet the needs of the thousands of children with autism across the country. Read more>>

Paula Iglesias Perez

I would love to say that the film industry has been what I have always wanted to do from the beginning, but that is not the case. Living in a country like Spain, the options in this industry are pretty limited, and it could be seen more as a hobby. My future aspirations were to be a biochemist, a career that my parents accepted. However, without telling anyone, I talked with my father about what I wanted for my future, I applied to a film school. Throughout those four years, my interest in filmmaking took another level, and I found in my father a great fan of Italian 70’s cinema, who helped me along with my career. You could say that I was fortunate when I finished college because I got an internship for a Spanish production company that did projects for Netflix. I worked for three and a half years on projects like “Cable Girls,” “Morocco: Love in times of war,” and “High seas” in the costume department. Then I decided to move to Los Angeles and study filmmaking again. In this opportunity, I met my current boss, I did many movie projects learning how the industry works in the USA, and I have also been promoted and create a network of contacts for my future. Read more>>

Caroline Lesley

I grew up in Canada and loved performing monologues in my bedroom and creating shows/characters for my family and friends to watch. I got my first professional agent in high school and worked on a few films. and theatre productions. I went on to study at the prestigious Ryerson Theatre School in Toronto. Upon graduation, I worked on a number of projects in Toronto. Theatre, improv, TV, film, and voice-over work. I moved to NYC in 2005 and worked on all kinds of projects. I was the voice of Yoplait yogurt for several years, a UCB performer, a red carpet correspondent for Entertainment Weekly, worked on soap operas, comedic TV (The Onion), appeared in magazines and on billboards for Farmland Dairies, produced and starred in a one-woman show in the New York Fringe Festival, starred in an indie film, produced and starred in my own short film and had my first baby. New York was good to me!. Read more>>

James Ragan, Ph.D, Litt.D

James Ragan’s poems have been celebrated by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney “for sparing no passion in believing they sing.” Born in Duquesne, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, to immigrant parents from Czechoslovakia, Ragan grew up with English as his second language. He earned an MA and PhD in English Literature from Ohio University (1971) and Honorary Doctorates from St. Vincent College (1990) and London’s Richmond University (2001) where his poetry was praised for exploring subjects “with compassion, and with a single voice one trusts. His is poetry of conscience.” Czech Nobel nominee, Miroslav Holub, lauds his poetry “for dominating the art of poetic narration with insight that marks major poets” (1990) and Pulitzer Prize winner Henry Taylor calls Ragan “a snake charmer whose words work real magic.” His ten poetry collections include In the Talking Hours (1979), Womb-Weary (1990), The Hunger Wall (1995) Lusions (1997), The Tallinn Poems, Selected (2005), Too Long a Solitude (2009), The World Shouldering I (2013), The Chanter’s Reed (2020), Nothing Disappears (2021), To Sing us out of Silence (2022), and Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Read more>>

Kristin Mitchell

I relocated to Los Angeles about a year ago from New York, one of the fun outcomes from the events of 2020. I moved out here with a job. But shortly after relocating, I knew the job wasn’t sustainable. So! I quit, took two months to travel, and now I am officially doing the work that I’ve wanted to do for about five years which is bodywork and coaching. I have an immense love for the body and immense sympathy for people who are dealing with emotional pain. My practice, Nourish the People, is a way for me to help people heal themselves while being creative. Using information and techniques that I love. Read more>>

Paul Kreibich

I’m a musician, a life-long professional drummer born in L.A. and raised in So Cal. I started drumming at age seven. I have been playing, touring, and recording since I was about 15 years old. My first big gig was with the great singer Carmen McRae when I was 23 years old. I went on to tour and record with Ray Charles for four years. I have played and recorded with many music legends such as Gene Harris, Mose Allison, Woody Herman, James Moody, Red Rodney, Anita O’Day, Maceo Parker, the Wrecking Crew All-stars, Bill Perkins, Conte Candoli, Pete Christlieb, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and more. I’ve been a music professor at Cal State Fullerton for many years and also teach at the Windward School in West L.A. My wife Merle has been a music booker and promoter for many years. We have lived in Mar Vista L.A. since 1993. Read more>>

Julia Cassano

I officially started my career after college working in corporate media in NYC for Discovery Channel. However, I always had odd jobs and side hustles all throughout high school, college and my early corporate career. Whether it was designing a logo for a friend of a friend or creating visual brand assets for a client I picked up in a cafe, I had to be doing more than just my day job. I also picked up an adjunct teaching gig at the Pratt Institute lecturing on marketing, branded content and freelancing. After about two years in corporate + all my other hustles, I decided to take the plunge into freelancing as those gigs were making me more money than my corporate job. I quit and began working as a consultant for start-ups in NYC. When the pandemic hit, I lost my main client just as I was about to sign on full-time with them. At first, I was discouraged and worried but it was a blessing in disguise because I would have just ended right back in a corporate-style job making someone else’s dream come true and having no work/life balance or passion for what I was actively working on every day. Read more>>

Flavio Bisciotti

I am a multi-faceted individual with several deep areas of interest. This includes my artwork and also my design company “Bisciotti design+built” As a young architecture student in Buenos Aires, I began making objects, and I was also immersed in drawing and painting. As well as had relation with the most important artists at that moment. I received my degree in 1985 and set up a successful architecture practice in Argentina. During that time, I opened my first art gallery. In the early 90s, I moved to California to pursue an artistic career, and I founded Bisciotti Design, a furniture manufacturing company with a factory in Downtown Los Angeles. This unique line of furniture could be characterized as eclectic and fanciful, post-modern with a renaissance twist. Now with over 25 years of experience in furniture design and interior architectural detail, I can create anything that one can imagine. In the late 90s through a partnership with real estate developer colleagues, I had the opportunity to design several buildings in Venice and Hollywood. I designed every detail of these custom modernist multi-family lofts, from door handles to custom ironwork to cabinetry and lighting. Read more>>

Dr. Sarmela Sunder

I am a double board-certified facial plastic surgeon and the founder of Sunder Plastic Surgery, a plastic surgery practice located in the heart of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. I am also an educator and master injector with Allergan and travel regularly to speak at conferences around the world. As a globally recognized master injector, I have the honor to train fellow doctors and nurses on my advanced techniques. I love being able to educate and mentor the future generation of medical professionals and have also authored several book chapters, including a guide for plastic surgeons to prepare for the facial plastic surgery board certification.m I am frequently featured in the media to speak about facial plastic surgery and injectable trends. Some of my recent features include Allure, Elle Magazine, KTLA, Marie Claire and Real Self. In addition to dedicating myself to my growing plastic surgery practice, I am also passionate about humanitarian work both domestically and abroad. I perform cleft lip and cleft palate repairs as well as ear reconstructions for patients born without an ear. I am also an active participant in Face to Face, a national program offering my services pro-bono to victims of domestic abuse. Read more>>

Glenn Damato

My brother says I’m a born storyteller. But every time he reminds me, it’s more of an accusation than a compliment. My worst offense came at age eight. I made up a detailed and vivid story about today’s thunderstorm sending a massive tree limb crashing through my third-grade classroom window, badly injuring five students. I even recited remarks from the ambulance crew. My mom was frantic. She made a dozen calls to find out who was injured. Within minutes, a swarm of parents invaded the convent (it was a parochial school) and demanded a full accounting of how such a cruel hoax could be perpetrated. If memory serves, I got off easy. No small child could invent such a tale unless he was suffering from mental problems not his own making. They must have felt sorry for me. In my teens, I dreamed of being a scientist-writer, a lawyer-writer, or a jet pilot-writer. Writer had to be part of the deal. I started right away, but I couldn’t commit to a story for more than a few weeks. Actual editors responded favorably to my sample chapters and query letters, but by that time I had moved on to a better story. Read more>>

Karin Gutman

It all started with my Snoopy diary. I think I was drawn to writing initially as a form of self-care. I grew up in an alcoholic home and writing was my way of staying connected to my inner truth and voice. I became a professional writer with an MFA degree and an eclectic mix of credits, including writing for animated television and teaching story structure at the university level. I now run my own business, Spirit of Story, where I guide people in discovering and writing their true personal stories. I offer workshops and retreats and also work with many writers privately. I first fell in love with memoir producing a spoken word series, Spark Off Rose, in Los Angeles for 13 years. Each month we would invite seven people to write and perform their personal stories inspired by a particular theme. I began to notice how transformative this experience was for people who were writing and sharing about the things that matter most to them. At the same time, we were building community. Read more>>

Dillon Brandt

I have started in Dallas Texas, I’ve been a competitive cheerleader for a long time and got the blessing of being on amazing teams. Cheering made me into the person I am today in terms of learning dedication, hard work, and striving for things I’m passionate about, and I have also been in film school for a decent amount of time. I am now living in Hollywood to pursue acting which is something that has been close to my heart. Read more>>

Kaela McDowald

Blk Wax Bar started years before it was an actual business; as a child I was constantly doing hair, makeup, skincare services… literally anything beauty-related. Of course in the 90’s and early 00’s this career wasn’t seen as a full-time job so I was deterred by most family members and told to pick something else to do- most except my aunt Heather who was a chemical engineer and told me to keep it up. She had a vision for me to be a stylist with her own products line. As a child, I envisioned working with her in her lab, coming up with formulas to help with hair loss, skin concerns and more. Unfortunately, my aunt passed now but Blk Wax Bar carries her vision for my future in it. My mother and I utilized my background in cosmetology, her background in business and countless hours of research to bring this dream to fruition. At present, Blk Wax Bar is a skincare brand dedicated to clean, organic products and results!. Read more>>

Julianne Loof

I was a complete nerd from the beginning. And I would carry that title proudly into adulthood. It was seeing my first science fiction film in theaters that had really done me in. And even though later on I would find Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace to be—nostalgic good but terribly awful—it was the tip of the iceberg into my love of production design. I fell in love with the fact that the setting of a story could be a character on its own. After a few short films and a stint career in independent film distribution, I was introduced to the production designer of NBC’s Parenthood, Steven Jordan. I had the opportunity to work for Steven on a handful of shows including: Enlightened (HBO), Parenthood (NBC), Full Circle (DirecTV), and About A Boy (NBC). I joined the Art Directors Guild in 2014 on David Duchovny-led show Aquarius (NBC) as an assistant art director. My latest endeavor has been art directing season 2 of Mr. Mayor (NBC) starring Ted Danson. Read more>>

Risa Sheppard

Upon graduating from UCLA with a degree in theatre arts, in 1974, I was a would-be actress in Hollywood. A lover of movement, I read about a man named Ron Fletcher and his school of Body Contrology, which he adapted from his studies with Joseph Pilates. From the moment I walked in, I took to it like a duck to water and immediately felt like a dancer… without being a dancer. Not long after, I was asked to teach! I realized teaching was my true calling in life. When Ron semi-retired, at the urging of a client, I began going to her home and teaching Pilates mat work. That’s when I coined my own method, The Sheppard Method – a blend of Pilates and my own healing modalities. I took the work from the machine to the floor, which is much more challenging! Always having the dream of someday opening my own studio, it wasn’t until about 20 years later that I followed through on that dream. My dream studio hosts a successful teacher training program which has graduated hundreds of talented students. Pilates continues to be my passion and am looking forward to many more years of sharing this fine art. Read more>>

Chivonne London

I would say that I have always been great with my hands. Since I was five years to maturity, I played competitive soccer, my position was Goalie and nothing could get past me. You could include playing the piano, writing, Massage Therapist, and Aesthetician to that list where my hands have been the conduit. With over 18 years in the beauty and wellness industry, I first started out as a Massage Therapist. Desiring to provide my clients with a more complete experience, I naturally dove into the field of skincare. I have done everything in this industry, including traveling as an Aesthetician, bringing skincare and the spa ambiance to events, hotels, on set production, and into people’s homes. I developed my skills by working with various skin types, often customized my client’s treatments by formulating products specific to their needs, this is where I discovered a passion for ingredients. Read more>>

Avery Norris

Ever since I was a young girl, I was outgoing and ready to put on a show for everyone. Singing, acting, and dancing (but not very well). I grew up a huge soccer player and thought that would be my track for life. That was until I went to high school and took my first theatre class. Sophomore year I was in my first musical and from that moment on, I knew that I couldn’t do anything else. Read more>>

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