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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.

Nina Connor

I felt drawn to the world of aesthetics from early age. The local skincare studio was my hangout spot since I was a teenager. I started getting regular monthly facials an age 16 when I developed mild acne. I remember one of the times I went for a facial and thinking to myself that THIS is what I want to do one day. Fast forward to my move to Chicago at age 23 and my childhood dream coming true when I enrolled in New Age Spa Institute at age 25. I truly enjoyed every part of my training and particularly learning about facial massage. I graduated from my program in 2007 when the country was in the middle of recession. Because of that, my start was really slow considering the fact that monthly facials was not something people prioritized at the time. Read more>>

Maurice Pierce

My journey first began in Savannah, GA at the start of the pandemic. Like many, I was furloughed from my job after five years of excellent service. With a family to help support and a dream to keep alive, I had to rely on my faith in God and myself to keep my fire burning. Prior to the pandemic, I knew my calling in life was so much bigger so in a way the pandemic forced me to jump. After being laid off, I began using my voice to uplift people through good times and bad times. From there, I created my brand, “Built For This.” This brand created a space for all to express every thought and feeling towards their current state with the understanding that no matter where you are in your life, you were “Built For” that moment, therefore you can maintain and/or overcome. Read more>>

Lisa Schnitzer

After being in the corporate world for all my career, I left to start my own business six years ago. It was a bold move and a risky one, but I knew in my heart it was the next step for me. After managing a busy litigation law firm for 15 years, and managing various other businesses, I knew that I had UNIQUE skills that could help other business owners who get too busy to delve into details about why things might not be functioning the way they should, or as efficiently as they could. Read more>>

Omar Lemus Ramirez

At around the age of nineteen, I was cleaning out my closet because my room was messy. And while I was cleaning, I stumbled upon a bunch of photobooks from my childhood. Pictures my mom had taken during my early ages of life. And that’s when the idea came to me. I decided that since I’m turning twenty soon, I will start documenting the next decade of my life through film photography like my mom did when I was little. Next month will be my one year anniversary of doing film photography. For the past year, I have captured moments in my life, photoshoots, and what my eyes saw with a film camera. I think what I love most about it is the nostalgic feeling of seeing a picture that looks dated but is very much in the present. As of right now, my plan is still going. I’m still taking pictures while I’m living in my twenties. I hope to venture out aside from my main goal and also grow with my film photography. Do more photoshoots, concerts, car shows, events, etc. But for right now, I’m in the moment. As it should be. Read more>>

Loonar

Hip – Hop artist Loonar (Levi Nichols – rapper/producer) bridges the gap between electro and hip hop with trendy melodies and intricate verses. He brings an energy that is in the spirit of James Brown mixed with the vernacular of Outkast. He was born and raised in a small town by the name of Paris, Texas and got his degree in music education at Texas A&M University. With classical backgrounds in musical performance, Loonar showcases his talents by giving you a well-sequenced and interactive live show. He currently resides in Austin, Texas where he has been featured on Da Big Daddy G Show, KXAN News, The Austin Chronicle and NPR. Read more>>

Art of Austin

After moving to Austin in 2007 and becoming immersed in the art scene, I felt inspired and invigorated by the amount of creatives I was able to connect with here. I bought the domain artofaustin.com in 2010 with the intention of showcasing and highlighting the thriving artistic community here. I felt like the artists I was meeting and creating with needed an additional outlet – a deeper exploration and a way to connect the public not just to the artwork but to the artist behind the work. In 2016 we officially launched our brand, website, and social. We started a monthly featured artist showcase which included interviews of each month’s artists to get to know more about them and their personal story and what lead them to Austin. To date, we have featured 60 artists here in our fine town and have grown into a large collective of like-minded creatives. Read more>>

Bengie Velasquez

@Home Dialysis LLP was started in 2019 by a group of amazing people with a great heart for the dialysis community. Our partnership started with people who come from a background in dialysis. Our general partners came together with a great purpose to go above and beyond to bring the greatest service directly to the patient’s home. All of our general partners have over 10+ years of experience in the dialysis setting with chronic, acute and home dialysis. As nurses, we have seen firsthand how the patients thrive and overall are much more healthier with home dialysis. We have seen many success stories and seen the turnaround in many patients. @Home dialysis serves many areas and regions around the state of Texas. We have several options available for the patients and their families. We like to specialize the patient dialysis with what works best for the patient. Read more>>

Derek DeWitt

I was born and raised in NW, Iowa in a town called Cherokee. There I spent a lot of my time outdoors either playing or working. I was always a creative kid, either building something or drawing. I had originally planned to go to college for either architecture or engineering but made the pivot to Film production late my junior year of high school. I wanted to tell grand stories that had an impact the same way movies like Clerks, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and others had affected me. I graduated from the University of Iowa in 2018 with a handle on the technical side of my craft but a lack of knowing what I wanted to say. So, I have spent the past three years trying to learn what I want out of life while pursuing my photography and videography career. I moved to Austin in July of 2020 looking to be in an area where I could grow creatively. Since being here, I have started to focus my efforts on telling stories around sustainable and regenerative environmental practices which I see as the grand problem of our time. Read more>>

Jesse Lemons

I met my wife Amy in October 2018. One day she gave me a gift that she said she bought off Etsy (which at that point I had never heard of), and that lead me to look at a bunch of home decor, and then finally at art. “It might be fun to paint”, I told myself. “There are things I want to buy from Etsy that actually might be more fun to do myself.” “Go for it” Amy told me. And in January of 2020, for my 35th birthday, she got me my first set of brushes, canvases and paint. I was off to the races! I couldn’t stop painting. The focus and determination I was putting towards painting was practically meditative to me. It’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. Read more>>

Matt Johnson

Mill Scale Metalworks was founded by Matt and Caleb Johnson in 2018 in Lockhart, Texas. Since barbecue is a part of the collective identity of Texas, they set out to build timeless and uniquely identifiable smokers and grills. With hand-built craftsmanship to stand the test of time, they can be passed down for generations. In a fast-paced world, they provide the opposite: food cooked slowly, with a piece of equipment that could take a lifetime to master. Matt and Caleb wanted to build something that can be appreciated by the chefs and pitmasters practicing traditional Central Texas cooking techniques or the weekend warrior starting a new journey cooking with fire. The prize is the process. Read more>>

Madison Baker

I grew up in Canton, Texas, which is a quaint rural town about an hour east of Dallas. At a very young age, I remember having big aspirations. When asked the age-old question of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I became accustomed to just saying “myself,” because where I’m from, making music professionally isn’t really acknowledged as a sound career choice, and many folks have a lot to say about it— often little that’s encouraging. I was singing before I spoke complete sentences and was fascinated by professional musicians and creatives and the art of performance. Though I was heavily influenced by country music due to my surroundings, I grew up listening to a lot of old R&B. In my young teen years, I grew obsessed with powerhouse pop artists like Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Adele. Read more>>

Kaitlyn Zolli

When I had my first baby, I became a stay at home mom. I was thrilled to have the time with my little one but, being the first of all my friends to have a baby, I had no idea how moms met other moms or what to do to fill my days. I quickly searched for a way to give me and my little one the interaction and schedule we needed. . . Enter FIT4MOM Austin. I began FIT4MOM when my first daughter was three months old and it immediately gave me everything I didn’t even know I was missing. I had a community of moms in the same stage of motherhood as myself, a way to get fresh air and movement in every day without worrying about childcare, and the first little friends for my daughter. Coming from a fitness background, it wasn’t long before I went from client to instructor. And then in November of 2019, the (then) owner of FIT4MOM Austin let us know that she would be stepping down. Read more>>

Carissa Rumps

My love for photography goes back to high school. My dad gifted me a film camera for Christmas one year and the rest is history. It started with my love for Macro photography. I had the power to magnify the tiny details that we miss daily & that was magical! It was as if I submerged into another world. I loved getting creative and viewing things with a whole new perspective. From then on, I became my own subject, channeled teenage angst and would pose on self-timer, create looks & concept shots in my spare time. I became a storyteller. It wasn’t until I had a family of my own that I really saw the true gift of Photography. To be able to freeze time and forever return to these fleeting moments is extraordinary. My husband bought me my first DSLR in 2015 and I began photographing our boys and the moments I never wanted to forget. Next, I worked on building my portfolio. I would visit friends to play around and take photos of their families and children. Read more>>

Christine DePauw

I had my own company for ten years, Love Shack Designs, where I crafted custom headboards and beds. About six years in, I decided I needed a good camera to take pictures of my work. As soon as that camera arrived, the end of Love Shack Designs began. I just fell madly in love with photography and wanted to take pictures of everything and everyone. I signed up for classes at Santa Monica College, took online courses, and started to spread the word and accept whatever work came my way. It was a boudoir shoot with my sister-in-law early on that lit the fire in me to pursue this genre that I truly believe is changing the way women show up in this world. It’s a common thing for a client to tell me that she’s walking differently, dressing differently, being kinder to herself, exuding confidence that she didn’t know she had. To be a part of a shift of that magnitude is so special. Read more>>

Duncan Jones

The origin of this entire project was a childhood spent with National Geographic, Steve Irwin, The Discovery Channel, and Rudyard Kipling. Wildlife became an obsession. Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, The Jungle Book, etc. I loved exaggerated stories, and by that I mean romanticized. We all know the realities of the world, but as a writer, if you can dance on the line of truth and “maybe” then you’ve really nailed it. It’s the way children see the world: they want to know the truth, they really do, but they don’t know the limits yet. They don’t know what is or isn’t possible. In their world, the lion really could be a king. He’s still a lion, so why not the king? The wild dogs really can run forever. They hyenas really are laughing. The parrot and the peacock really are jealous of each other. Read more>>

Katie Mizuno

I became an artist by studying SFX makeup at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and self-teaching illustration while living in Tokyo. These were comfortable endeavors and periods of exploration that I look back on fondly, but the beginning of my career, more specifically, as a tattoo artist was much more punishing. My legs are riddled with art that I tattooed on myself in desperate attempts to learn. I walked my leg portfolio into a well-respected shop in San Fransisco, I was hired, and at that point my career took off so quickly that I barely had time to reflect back on the harshness of my apprenticeship, my nearly empty bank account, and the physical and emotional pain I endured to finally reach that goal. Once I was inking other peoples’ skin, I came to discover how meditative, challenging and rewarding this craft can be. As I traveled to various shops, tattooing became less of a job and more so a lifestyle. Read more>>

Zinnia Seibel and Meg Houston

We’re the minds behind Conscious Coven. We met in December 2017 at Art Basel in Miami. We had a mutual friend that brought us and a group of ten other women together to work the show. We soon realized that we both lived in Austin and quickly hit it off, bonding over similar interests and compatible personalities. We both had various passion projects outside of our income-producing jobs within the service industry but had experienced, time and time again, discrepancies regarding recognition and compensation when it came to sharing the fruits of our creative labors. We would often get into lengthy conversations about how we longed for a safe space in which we, and other like-minded individuals, could connect, share and be compensated appropriately for our skills and efforts. In addition, we deeply craved community and connection beyond the social gathering norms of meeting for drinks, partying or being immersed in the nightlife scene. Read more>>

Alin and Roee Erenshteyn

Four years ago, we left our home country to start a new life in the U.S. We moved here with two very small kids and five extra large suitcases. When we arrived in California, we told our little ones this would be an adventure for all of us to share together as a family. As we settled into our new jobs in the San Francisco Bay Area, we were grateful and busy – but we were also missing the creative, entrepreneurial spark that we shared while living back home. In our past lives, we were what some might call small “big-time” entrepreneurs. Roee ran a coffee catering company for ten years and I (Alin) owned and managed my own fitness studio. The common thread wasn’t coffee or exercise, it was people. We yearned again for those special moments that we shared with friends, family and newcomers that inspire conversation and learning. Roee’s expert barista talents combined with my passion for curating the perfect coffee & treat pairings lead us to create Afuga Mobile Espresso Bar – a full-service Italian-inspired coffee experience for every occasion. Read more>>

Ashia Walker

I have been a Massage Therapist for almost 12 years. I began my career accidentally as a second career change after my oldest son showed interest in attending Massage School and Although he couldn’t attend at that moment, it was an amazing opportunity for me to change the course of my life. I am a single mother of eight and in and endless cycle that many single moms find themselves in, Working and struggling to make ends meet. Going back to School, Working & Raising a family was a struggle but I found the passion I was looking for in life in Massage Therapy. For Me Massage isn’t just a day at the spa it is a way to change someone’s LIFE! Massage became a passion for me when I discovered the health benefits for so many chronic pain issues and common medical issues many people suffer from including Asthma, Blood Pressure, Fibromyalgia & so much more. I personally have benefited from Massage Therapy over the years to reduce pain of Fibromyalgia, as well as completely allow me to reduce my blood pressure and become medication-free. Read more>>

Monet McWhirter

Monet McWhirter, a reformed risk manager, is Content Creator at ineffable scapes. I grew up in a small town and spent most of my time playing sports, working at our family ranch and raising animals. Apparently, I inherited my mother’s sense of adventure and my father’s appreciation for nature and wildlife resulting in an endless desire to see new places and chase new wildlife. With my mother’s passing, I have continued to share many beautiful sunsets with her, although I think she continues to prefer a good beach sunset over any others (I don’t disagree). While I love any good view of the great outdoors, near or far, I remain committed to my ongoing search for another glimpse of the bighorn sheep. Follow me @monetmcwhirter12 for entertainment and captures. Read more>>

Cassandra Garza

I’ve always been creative, my parents have photos of me as a toddler with my art easel drawing and painting. They even have pictures of me in Pre-K decorating cookies. I always had an assortment of art sets or utensils which meant I was always drawing and painting what I could. In those younger years, I tried my hand at mini art contests and UIL but never really got recognized. I felt like others were more talented than I was, but that never really stopped me from continuing to draw. When I got to High school, I tried to focus on integrating my culture with my art. I created a self-portrait with rice and beans (Latinx household staples) and continued to learn about different techniques to make my art unique. Fast forward to my college years, I knew I wanted to study art so I could continue to learn and build my craft. It was so hard! Everyone around me just seemed better and more advanced. My classes were small and there was little diversity within them, being that my school was a predominantly white institution (PWI). Read more>>

Betsy Caceres

I am Venezuelan, married with two kids. I am a cultural manager, education consultant and hard worker, positive persona with great ideas and expectation in my live. I have 20 years of expertise in the cultural field in Venezuela and five years in EEUU. I worked as a Programming Director in the renowned Chacao Cultural Center in Caracas, Venezuela. My husband Alvaro (great support in any adventure) and me decided in 2015 to find a better place to live looking for better opportunities for the family due the social, politic and economic difficulties that my country Venezuela has been living for more than 20 years. We researched so many options and finally, we decided to move to EEUU. Looking for a better life, we moved to Boca Raton in Florida in 2016. We started our adventure growing a new local office of Tutor Doctor, an educational services franchise in Boca Raton. It was a very hard beginning with too many goals and obstacles: learning English, learning American culture, learning a new town and community, learning about Education, learning about curriculum and how to develop business in Boca. Read more>>

Alexander Scott

I am an audio engineer, music teacher, screen printer, and a founding member of the band SATALiGHTS. I grew up in Mexico City. My mother and I moved to the United States when I was about 15 years old. We lived in a suburb of Boston, MA for a number of years until life changed and we found ourselves in Cibolo, Texas. My mother and step-father bought a house in this quiet suburb outside of San Antonio. After a short period of time, I found myself bored out of my wits and lusted for more adventure. I wasn’t very keen on regular schooling and had failed out of college a couple of times. So through some cosmic alchemy, I ended up finding very non-regular school located in the heart of Austin, TX. The school was called Mediatech institute and for the first time in my life, I truly felt like I was in the right place. At the time, Mediatech was located at the very famous Arlyn studios. Walking into this building, I immediately knew music would take over my life completely. Read more>>

Kierra and Jenyl Henry

We’re the Henry sisters and we loved talking to people or to anyone who would listen. We were always told we held great conversations so decided to put it in a podcast. For as long as we can remember, we have been told by our friends and others that they WISH they were as close to their siblings as we were or they were an only child. That was our biggest inspiration to create a platform for others to feel a part of our sisterhood. So with every episode, our goal is to bring joy and laughter to anyone who listens and to ensure they feel a part of the conversation. Read more>>

Josh Dean

In 2007, I started helping my brother with his cabinet business. I knew absolutely nothing about the trade and was starting out learning basic carpentry skills. My brother had built his company in Albuquerque, NM and in 2009, my wife and I relocated to Austin. In Austin, I decided to continue to make a living in the millwork industry as I had learned that I enjoyed building things. I was fortunate enough to land a few jobs with a few big named builders in the luxury residential millwork world, and from there, my passion for woodworking blossomed. In 2013, I decided I wanted to explore another aspect of the industry and find a position that would advance my skill level behind the scenes. I began working for a local commercial millwork company as an estimator, pricing large projects and landing contracts. At the same time, I attended ACC to receive my AUTOCAD certification. Spending eight years as an estimator, I started to miss the creativity and began to desire to build things again outside of what my “honey-do” list was at home. My wife and I started posting little side projects here and there on social media, and after a few orders we felt like we could grow the business to be something more. Read more>>

Alejandra Narvaez

I always knew that I wanted my own business. What my business would be and how I was going to get there were questions I had yet to answer. I grew up having several different interests while hearing “No” so many times that I’ve lost count. Growing up in a Hispanic family, respecting your elders and getting their approval is a pretty big deal. I grew up with the mentality that my elders were always right and that they knew what was best for me. Their plans for me were that I’d be the first generation in our family to make it to college and become a doctor, a lawyer, or a teacher. Around that time, I also struggled with body image issues. I got teased both at school and at home for being thin. So thin that my mom took me to several doctors to make sure something wasn’t wrong. At 12 years old, what I heard about fitness or “being healthy” always seemed to revolve around losing weight. I was the complete opposite! I wanted to gain healthy weight, not lose it. I felt that I couldn’t relate to anyone. Read more>>

Kara Ottinger

I attended a conference once where the speaker asked us to tell our “story” but said, “I don’t want the complete rundown of where you started and ended up today, I want something more profound… tell me about a turning point in your career journey.” So, that is where I will start today. My turning point was when I was working in a costume shop as an Assistant Manager. I loved that place, Rose Costumes in Denton, TX, I recommend a visit there any time you are in town. Much like Lucy in Disguise in Austin except even more magical if you can picture it. I started editing their website, taking studio and stage costume photography to showcase the store online, working on their advertisements and social media and I loved every minute of it. I still loved the customer service and creative freedom aspect of the job but loved the ability to be creative from working online even more. To create visual representations of things and bring them to life to get people interested in the store was exciting. Read more>>

Beth Wilkas

At 42 years old, I was 180 pounds and deep in my alcohol addiction. The summer of 2015, I said enough was enough. I quit drinking and worked on my recovery every single day. I started running and weight lifting. From there, I got a job at a local gym at the front desk. It was then that I decided I wanted to help people lose weight, get strong and accomplish things they never thought possible! I became an Intern at the gym and got Certified in Fitness Nutrition and Personal Training. At the same time, I lost close to 30 pounds over the course of a year, gained muscle and improved my relationship with food. Now I have my own Online Coaching business and help hundreds of people have a better relationship with food, lose weight, gain strength and become their best self!. Read more>>

Charlie McGarty

In 2011, I started my journey in recovery from addiction. I was severely overweight and going nowhere in life. My experience was in manual labor jobs for most of my adult life. I had started many things like college but never finished. Physical fitness became a huge part of my focus after 2011. It was personal at first then it became my career. I began working in the addiction treatment industry as a wellness coordinator. I found passion and purpose in bringing wellness-centered programs to people during their path of recovery. 2017 I started my first business called Active Recovery Coaching. We provide wellness programs to treatment centers around central Texas and one on one coaching at multiple YMCA facilities in Austin. We now have ten male and female coaches that support people throughout our community. In 2020 I opened Active Recovery Homes which provides housing and coaching for clients in early recovery. Both businesses are growing and expanding at a great rate and I look forward to my next venture. Read more>>

Marvin Alleyne

I started as a kitchen installer… but my background is full remodeling… it was a slow start with all of the local kitchen cabinets companies doing smaller jobs to work my way… also to show them that I can do the work as the time went on I have earned my way to do bigger projects and to become a staple in Austin as my business grows. Read more>>

Franchesca Dosouto

I have always loved working with people and I fell in love with the real estate industry when I began with Keller Williams in 2018 back home in Rhode Island. I started my journey working there on the operations side of real estate, assisting agents through their transactions and supporting them. In December of 2019, I was offered a job in Austin, TX with a past employer in business development. I decided to take the leap of faith and move here. I decided to still pursue a real estate license in Texas and I began taking classes in my evenings and on weekends. In January 2021, I decided to leave my business development role and commit to real estate as my full-time career. I have been fully committed and loving every second of this path ever since. Read more>>

Sheridel Sevilla

I’m originally from Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico and I moved to Austin since I was 15. My mom took me to do my permanent eyebrows. Before that time and after the horrifying healing processed that I didn’t know, I was amazed by the change in my face. A year later, I got the opportunity to buy the full manual, products and machine so I began as a self-taught in 2003 (16yrs) and got certified professionally in 2007, in 2011. I became the first Mexican instructor of the American Institute of Intradermal Cosmetics. Being the youngest in its range and three years later, I opened the first School of Micropigmentation, Traditional and Airbrush Makeup for Spanish speakers as Beauty Couture School & Medspa. Giving the opportunity to graduate more than 100 women with professional degrees to start their own businesses in USA, Mexico and Latin America. Read more>>

Kirstin Oliver

I started off as an intern, working Minimum wage at a cable company called Cox Communications. After touring across the country with a pastor, and working for a six months period with no pay, no phone, no way to take care of myself or my family, I begin to do research into real estate and registered for the real estate program at Houston Community College. However, I still had no clue what I wanted to do, and where I was going to end up. I got tired of where I was, on the road and I left the pastor in Memphis, Tennessee at around 3 AM in the morning, (kinda escaped and ran away) in fact… My best friend paid for the Greyhound ticket. When I finally made it home, I still had no knowledge of what I was gonna do until one day, a very dear friend of mine, introduced me to my current mentor and broker. Well, let’s just say he took a chance on my purple hair, and leather skirt. I got the intern position at the first real estate firm I ever had the honor and pleasure to work at. Read more>>

Hannah Smith

My journey with my bakery business started in the summer of 2020, and unlike most people my journey was not forced by the unfortunate circumstances of covid. I was a new single mom looking for a way to make a living to support myself and my sweet newborn. I tossed around many different ideas, but nothing really had me convinced. Being that I had time on my hands I began to skim through YouTube and I stumbled across videos of cookie decorating. I’ve always had an artistic side and I thought, what’s the harm in trying. I researched and studied the art of decorated sugar cookies for about 2 months before I made my first set. By my 3rd set, I made my first sell!. Read more>>

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