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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.

Leanne Thomas

Growing up, I was always active and full of expressive energy — jumping from dance class to piano lessons, to guitar lessons, to tennis practice, etc. Expressing myself and maintaining an active lifestyle have always been passions of mine. Fast forward after earning a degree in Graphic Design at the University of Georgia — I moved to NYC for a dream graphic design job. While I was excited to get away from the familiarity of living in the south, I didn’t anticipate the stress I would feel on my body from the constant race of the city and the pressures of my job. Over time, I had fallen into a sedentary lifestyle that was simply not me. I needed to make a change, and I decided to begin exercising again to refocus and regain my physical, mental, and emotional health. Read more>>

Matt Kerley

I started tattooing in Greenville, NC while I was attending the School of the Art at ECU. I have a double BFA in sculpture and painting. I graduated in 2005 and have been tattooing ever since. I traveled a lot during that time tattooing all over the country and overseas. I recently relocated three years ago back to Raleigh, NC. A year ago, Dean Caves and I opened Old Ghosts Tattoo in downtown Raleigh. 416 W South St I also run and operate a clothing company called Death Mask. Selling everything from t-shirts, prints, and patches to coffee mugs, resin sculptures, and original art. Read more>>

Alex Lewis

It all started when I was around 10 years old. My dreams of becoming a performer ignite after watching multiple artists from all around the world. My journey began back in High School in 2008 taking theatre arts I class and auditioned for my first ever musical, plus doing concert chorus. After doing the wizard of oz as one of the guards, performing multiple shows for the chorus. I knew in my heart that this was my thing, here is my safe space, here is my home. Been a storyteller is a huge responsibility to transmitted your message to a new audience and immerse them into it fills my soul. Today I had done more than 15 shows and I’m represented by a local talent agency. Read more>>

Louis Deveseleer

In the last 10 years, I have lived extended periods of time in 7 countries (and 5 continents), worked 4 different jobs, learned 3 languages, traveled thousands of miles by bicycle, found a passion, got married, and started a business.  10 years ago, I was 21 and I was in a depression. I was studying Mechanical Engineering in Belgium, where I am born. I was partying a lot and drinking often to the point of memory loss. I had fun times, but I was sad inside. I failed to get excited about anything, especially the future. I felt stuck on a path that wouldn’t bring me anywhere good and I had no idea how to change that. Life looked covered in a gray mist. Things started to clear out when I went on studies exchange for one year in Munich, Germany. The change of environment provided me with what felt like a huge breath of air after spending too much time underwater. I met people from all over the world and was constantly learning and adapting to new situations.  Read more>>

Kenneth Williams

I’ve always been in front of the camera doing entertaining videos for my family, my 2 sisters use to dress me up and have me put on a show in front of my mom and dad, but up until middle school my views changed and I was all for being a veterinarian so I for years up until junior year of high-school I always wanted to be a Vet, I changed my major senior year of high-school to Business and marketing because at the time I was very heavy into drop shipping items, I had 3 small online businesses doing very well at that time so I figured I would pursue business heavy, Business comes second nature to me, I left college my sophomore year and started to really pursue YouTube and then I ran into some local film makers online and they put a bug in my ear about making films so I started to do research on it and turns out that really sparked a flame inside me.  Read more>>

Brooke Freeman

I started dreaming of building a cut flower business when I was working as a full-time mental health and substance abuse therapist at Waynesboro Family Clinic P.A. in 2018, after my husband, best friend, and I was in a catastrophic boating accident. I wanted to spend a little less time in the office and more time with my family, taking care of myself better, and spending time with God in praise because we got a MIRACLE! I needed to spend time in nature. You may have seen us on national news about ten miles out in the Atlantic Ocean after our boat capsized. For the full story, read my book, “Freeman: Through The Water” available on Amazon. My family’s lives were different after this. I started bouncing into my grandmother’s homes with flowers every week and their faces would light up! My family had farmland and agreed to let me use a small piece of it, that’s all I needed at the time.  Read more>>

Amber Smith

At my core, I am a dreamer who believes that we were made for more. My life story is just like so many other entrepreneurs. I’ve had my ups and downs. I’ve celebrated joy, experienced heartache, and loss but my stories are the threads that together weave my story. I’ve never done things in the “right order” or at least what society tells us we should do. Instead, I graduated high school, gave birth to my son a few days later, went off to college, married the love of my life, with a lot of help from my family graduated college right on time, and went off to find my first “big girl” job. Life was good but I knew there was more for me out there. After waiting six years, we finally decided we were ready to grow our family. Two weeks later I was let go from my job due to downsizing. We waited six years to have another child and I didn’t want to wait longer. I wanted to be able to enjoy my pregnancy, unlike the first time. I never wanted anything so bad in my life.  Read more>>

Alfred Harvey

Grumpy Rocks® was born in a small art studio in Raleigh, NC called March Hare Gallery. The gallery was open from 2011 to 2015 in the Carter Building in Glenwood south. It was a space my husband, Jose Harvey, and I used to create and sell our artwork. He focused on photography and while I’m a scientist by schooling, I used the space to return to my love of sculpture. I originally focused mainly on crazy monster sculptures that people loved to look at, but few people were brave enough to buy and display them in their homes. One day, instead of making a large monster, I just randomly made a small rock-shaped papier-mache ball and put my eyes on it. I was going to give it a smile, then at the last minute decided that the rock was grumpy for some reason – perhaps he didn’t get his snack, or could only find one sock that morning. To my surprise, it sold while it was still wet. Read more>>

Marti Hampton

Marti first came to Raleigh nearly 30 years ago as a single parent on welfare with 3 young children. After considering her career opportunities for her new life, she chose real estate as it seemed like an industry with an unlimited “ceiling”, where you have the ability to earn as much as you put into it. Although she was hesitant at first, she began working actively at a boutique no-name firm with 2-3 other agents. As her confidence in her work grew, she reached out to Prudential Real Estate and spoke directly to the lead broker. “Mr. Roseberry, you don’t know me, but my name is Marti Hampton. If I come to work for you, I’ll make you a lot of money.” Marti made that dream come true. She worked for Prudential for 8 years, assembling a team of all-star agents. She would later find a better financial opportunity at RE/MAX – which was then a new brand in town. She doubled her income in the first year of working there and was named “Rookie of the Year”. In 2001, she expanded her opportunities by purchasing a RE/MAX franchise in Raleigh.  Read more>>

Priscilla Erwin

We each began within the wedding industry. Brooke owned a local catering company and I owned a wedding planning business. When the opportunity presented itself to renovate and restore a historic property in Holly Springs with the ultimate goal of opening a wedding venue, we jumped at the chance. Brooke and I put our own blood, sweat, tears, and money into restoring the 7,000 square foot home built in 1840 to its original glory. Opening in 2015, we’ve now hosted hundreds of weddings and special events for couples from all over the world.  Read more>>

Daniel Lupton

Sorry State Records started as a record label in 2005, releasing a 7″ vinyl record by a band called Direct Control. In an effort to distribute that record as widely as possible, we started bartering for stock with other similar record labels in the punk rock scene, eventually building a small stock of records that we would sell on our website and at concerts. I always reinvested any revenue back into the business, so we kept putting out records and acquiring more stock. It took over one-bedroom in my house, then another, and eventually it was too big to share my living space. So, we opened our brick-and-mortar store in 2013, hoping to do a little bit of walk-up business while using the space primarily as a warehouse and fulfillment center for online sales. Read more>>

Antoinette Wells

Being the oldest of nine children, taught me leadership at an early age. I went on to attend college at Shaw University an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in Raleigh North Carolina where obtain my bachelor’s in criminal justice, and then went on to obtain a Masters’s from North Carolina Central University in Durham North Carolina. With all of my degrees and accomplishments, I still knew that I wanted to do more.  I have always wanted to start my own business but I just never knew what exactly. I started to do some research. One thing that I knew Is that I love the beauty industry and especially beauty products. That’s when I began to make homemade soaps. I started off making soaps for my family and friends and then turn my passion into my business. Read more>>

Saman Khoujinian and Gabe Anderson

Gabe and I grew up in Miami, FL. We met in high school through a couple of mutual friends and instantly started playing music together and forming a tight life partnership. I left Miami to go to college in Chapel Hill in 2009. A year and a half after that, in the middle of one of Gabe and I’s first tours, Gabe decided to drop out of college and move to Chapel Hill. That’s when we started to tour a little harder and get pretty serious about music. Gabe started playing drums in several bands and touring more while I started to get deep into producing, recording, mixing, and generally living in the studio. We were doing so much creative work with so many different folks. Our musical net was getting wide enough for us to harness some of that energy and reflect it back at the world as Sleepy Cat.  Read more>>

Warner Little

My photography journey began as a hobby in early college, that quickly turned into a passion. I fell in love with photography by realizing that I could capture the beauty of Christ through his people and use my images as a way of service to bring joy to others! That realization then bloomed into what is now Warner Ann Photography. While my business is founded in Christ, I emphasize an inclusive, welcoming community for people of all races, religions, and orientations. My images capture priceless memories that last a lifetime. Read more>>

Tetiana Volkodav

Photography has always been my passion since I was a little girl and played with my father’s broken old film camera pretending to be a famous photographer. In my early teens, I used to do photo sessions with my friend on a “point and shoot” film camera. We looked for the locations, choose outfits, and had fun. When I bought my first digital camera, I started to learn Photoshop, I could spend hours working on my “art projects”. I bought my first DSLR camera 11 years ago and shot friends and family. After my divorce in 2014, I started to volunteer as a photographer on many charity events for kids and family, worked with few charity organizations back in Ukraine. After I moved to the US, I continued to do photography as a hobby before 2020 when I finally decided to pursue my dream and opened my business “Light breeze photography”. I love my craft due to a constant need of learning something new. Read more>>

Crystal Watts

I remember loving to create as a child. I loved sketching and taking art classes. Vivid memories of driving to a pottery class with my grandmother or staining my clothes with photography solutions are fond recollections. I compiled quite an art collection my mother kept for years (and maybe still has) in a large trunk somewhere.  My professional training came later at Meredith College studying Fashion Design under Dr. Eunyoung Yang. As a student, I participated in various community shows in Raleigh and Charlotte including Redress Raleigh and FashionSpark. The department was very supportive of their students, and I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship for their Paris Study Abroad Program. Part of my time was spent interning for Elie Saab during Fashion week in his Paris salon. Read more>>

Shiraz Dalal

Well first of all I want to take a moment and thank VoyageRaleigh for finding stories in the area and sharing them with everyone!  What could be more necessary than inspiration and motivation, especially during the times we find ourselves in.  As for me, I’m homegrown raised here in North Raleigh!  I used to be a 5 yr. old kid going to the observation deck at RDU watching those big planes take off, and taking people all over the world for grand adventures!  I always dreamed of being a pilot and maybe even an astronaut one day!  It was in 7th grade and a move in N. Raleigh to Wake Forest- Rolesville Middle School and then High School that changed my life, and set the foundation for me chasing my dreams! I continued to “pad the resume” in high school and got involved in everything, from student government to yearbook, to captain of the soccer team!  After high school and a slight detour in life, I went to the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs!. Read more>>

Joe Payne

I would have thought you were crazy. I’ve always had an interest in the visual arts and studied History of Art and Cinema at university back home in England. But once I graduated and got a corporate job, my sole focus became studying for my MBA and building my successful career as a sales director. It was all I really cared about. But, then, my outlook on life suddenly changed and my priorities took a total of 180. The catalyst for this was when my wife and I learned we were expecting our first child. I immediately got the urge to buy a “proper” camera to document our journey from newlyweds into parenthood. I then immersed myself in learning the art of photography and shared my images on social media. Friends saw my photos and asked me to take pictures for them: families, babies and, then, my first wedding which I shot the day before my first daughter was born.
Those two days changed my life forever.  Read more>

Molly Dohm

I started refinishing furniture about 7 years ago when I found a vanity at a thrift store that I wanted to paint for myself. I quickly fell in love with so many parts of the process – from the problem-solving needed for repair work to the therapeutic painting, to the end result of a massive transformation.  A few years after that when I had more space, I refinished a few pieces for myself and friends/family. Then one day I decided to buy an old China cabinet to refinish but had nowhere to actually keep it so I decided to sell it. I started just doing it as a hobby and selling the pieces because I had no room to keep them.  I didn’t get serious about refinishing furniture as an actual business until last year during COVID when I had a lot of time on my hands and started working on more pieces and building my Instagram presence. I created a Facebook page and then an Etsy shop and now I can sell and ship my pieces nationwide. It has turned into a great little side business that allows me to flex my creative muscles and I am so passionate about it!. Read more>>

Emily Cooley and Kaley Eads

Our names are Emily Cooley and Kaley Eads and we are sisters, as well as the owners of SMS® Raleigh. Kaley had worked as a sitter in college for SMS® Indy and fell in love with the company from the amazing families and connections she had made. In the Spring of 2018, we discussed what was next in both of our careers, and in a test of faith, we decided to pursue opening up our own SMS® location here in the Triangle. We have loved the opportunity to work and grow this business together. It’s truly been a blessing and we are so thankful for the friendships and connections we have made over the past 2 1/2 years. Read more>>

Christin King

I started CKCreations at the end of 2016/ early 2017 after leaving NC State, applying for jobs in design, and getting lots of closed doors. CK was always a dream of mine from the as early back as high school, making and designing custom sharpie shoes for my classmates and enjoying the process of taking their ideas and turning it into art. I truly decided to just go for it. Almost 5 years ago, pop-ups were just starting and small business without a storefront (or working capital) was hard to navigate! But I knew I had the skills to brand and market myself and I knew I could network through social media. My main focus was to show up like me! Someone authentic that people wanted to support and help a local artist which turned into a full-fledged one-stop design shop! I’m now designing for major local brands, have a locally-inspired art-based merch collection of my own, and get to do what I love every day!. Read more>>

Sandra Carrington-Smith

Gaia’s Kitchen and Catering started taking shape from a conversation I had with my teen daughter one morning about a year ago. Morgan was vegan (I was not yet at the time) and she was telling me how much she missed certain foods, especially mac ‘n cheese. I took it as a personal challenge to create a vegan mac ‘n cheese that could be close enough to the animal-based one, and when I finally served it to her, Morgan was super happy. Over the course of the next several days, she continued raving about the vegan mac ‘n cheese, and she shared how much she would love opening a vegan restaurant someday. The topic came up in conversation more and more often in the following days, and we decided that in these times of uncertainty, opening a restaurant would probably not be a good idea. Read more>>

Megan Clark

I discovered metals as a medium at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I initially enrolled to study fashion, but took a beginning metal and jewelry course as an elective and got hooked. I enjoy the challenge of precision and the properties of the material.  The following is my artist statement, which explains that better.  There is magic to fine craft. Its conception doesn’t appear as though forced, but simply, it became. A well-executed piece of art has the mystery of birth. I began to work with metals in college and enjoyed making jewelry because of its intimate scale and its relationship to the wearer. It is important to me that for centuries jewelry has been used not just for adornment, it has been used to encourage, congratulate and remind. It is a way for people to connect. Read more>>

Allie Wilmoth

I am the owner of Wilmoth Interiors, a design firm specializing in full-service design, project management, and residential remodels. A year into owning my business, I had the opportunity to join the HGTV Love It or List It, design team, as the Design Coordinator. This opportunity led to great connections in the design world as well as a wealth of knowledge on residential remodeling and construction.  I knew I wanted to be an Interior Designer since I was 12 years old. I would redecorate my room and friend’s rooms every chance I got. In high school, I began taking classes for Interior Design and competed in student design competitions. In my junior and senior years, I won Gold for Interior Design at the Family Career and Consumer Leaders of America student competition. Read more>>

Caleb Smith

Growing up I also loved video games. I also had a passion for sports. I played soccer and after graduating high school I went overseas to Germany and played there for a few years. In July 2018 I met someone who first introduced the esports industry to be. I had heard of esports and saw it on TV once. I honestly thought it was like chess. People play it and the best in the world make money. He told me about Twitch. I looked at it and said “this is JUST people playing video games. “In August 2018 I learned how big the esports industry was. I was following Gary Vee closely at the time and he said he was getting a Twitch. Because he said that I went online and took a deeper look at the app and came across Tyler “Ninja” Blevins who was named Times Magazine’s top 100 most influential people of 2018. I immediately fell in love with Twitch and watching other games. I continued to do more research on the industry and saw how big it was in Korea and I knew that the Most High presented to me a golden opportunity. Read more>>

Indyia Ashley

Without giving up all the juice and having family and friends come after me lol I will just say that my life growing up was far from conventional and as I grow more and more life continues to grow even further from orthodox and I’ve learned to love it! I’ve lived in many places and been to many schools, I’ve worked some random and unrelated jobs and traveled to random places I’d spend days sharing specifics… Through it all I’ve learned and witnessed so much; all I do now is sit back in a state of overwhelming gratitude for all that I have taken with me along the way while simultaneously and equally appreciating all I’ve learned to leave behind! Furthermore, my “versatile”, if you will, childhood and adult experiences and encounters have led me to my true purpose which I believe is helping, leading, and protecting the youth! The youth will be the foundation and founders of what we see as the future!. Read more>>

Princess Jones

I started back in 2015 just baking for friends and church family in Greensboro, NC. I love to bake and it gives me so much joy to provide love through baking, The name Sweets2thesweet came about by sitting down talking with a great friend of mine. The name involves providing sweets to sweet people. Providing joy, love, and smiles to people who love sweets like me. I took some years off from baking due to having to relocate. But towards the end of 2019 into 2020, I started back baking more for work functions. That led to people asking to purchase my baked goods and that has put me where I am now looking to continue providing those joyful and loving baked goods to customers all around the world.  Read more>>

Giovanna Torrieri

My passion for storytelling began at a young age. And when I say that, I mean elementary school me was running around my backyard using my parent’s laptop camera before I was lucky enough to receive the first camera of my own. Now, I’m an ambitious and creative photographer who is passionate about capturing the real, raw, and intimate moments as they happen. I’m a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, where I studied business and photojournalism. These two areas of emphasis have prepared me to offer my clients a professional and seamless experience with communication and a unique gallery of timeless photographs. Read more>>

Brian Pate

I was originally licensed in 1993 with Fonville Morisey Realty on one of the Raleigh offices. While there, I began my teaching career in 1995 and taught pre-license and continuing education for the FM Real Estate School. From 1998 through 2000, I worked with Coldwell Banker Advantage. After being diagnosed with Lupus Nephritis, I returned to teaching during my chemotherapy so I could stay in the business.  After finishing my treatments, I returned to an office for Fonville Morisey as an assistant manager where I served until September of 2006 when I was hired to be the director of new agent training.  From there, I was moved to managing an office in Youngsville from 2009-2012. In November of 2012, I joined my current company, Keller Williams Preferred, and have been there as an agent, Team Leader, coach, and Broker in Charge during my tenure. Read more>>

Chris Deal

This all started when my wife wanted a few custom furniture and decor pieces for our home. We see wood, furniture, and other materials being thrown away all the time. Our thought was how can we use some of those items. So began Grit and Nails, a husband-and-wife team on a mission to have good quality furniture and decor, using items that others may throw away, but bring out the beauty. A piece of pallet wood once planed down, can look new again. Or keep it rustic for that shabby chic look. I had no prior experience with woodworking so everything was and has been self-taught. Picking up new skills and methods to perfect the craft as I go.    We have expanded into new collections with new wood to bring a more finished piece into your home. Either way, each piece is as unique as you are and we want every custom piece to be exactly what you want. Read more>>

David Alan

I grew up in a really small town in Pennsylvania. I was very small and effeminate, so I was bullied quite a bit. Reading was my escape. I spent quite a bit of time at the library. I always thought it would be amazing to have my own book there. Life happened, and I never wrote any books, but I always thought about it. Four years ago, my husband, Eric, jokingly gave me the name “T-Rextra” because of my short arms and extra-ness. The name struck a good nerve. I first started by getting a license plate for my car that says that. Then I had the idea that T-Rextra sounded like a great character for a children’s book. I had in my mind what they would look like, but I can’t draw, so I needed an illustrator. I have an old friend that I hadn’t seen since second grade, but we’re friends on Facebook. Her daughter Hope is an amazing artist. I told her what I was thinking, and she nailed it.  Read more>>

Melitza Spies

Growing up, cooking and baking was always a big part of my life. It was one of the most important things in our family, especially being from a Puerto Rican family. Food was what connected each generation-the flavors, the traditions, sitting together around a table, the way it made you feel when you took that first bite of your favorite dish. I’ll never forget the feeling of pride I felt when I made something for my family as a young adult and seeing the look of satisfaction. Little did I know, years later, that I would pursue a career where that feeling continued and grew stronger. I grew up watching my entrepreneurial parents own various successful businesses in addition to their own careers so, naturally, I have always wanted to own my own business. I obtained my B.S. in Fashion and Textile Technology in 2009 but I always talked about going to culinary school one day. Read more>>

Chrissy Vorpagel

Cha House originally started off as an idea for investment. Friends of ours were steadily making a name for themselves in Chapel Hill where they founded the first Cha House house right near UNC. I thought it would be a fun adventure to hop on board when they asked if there was any interest in helping become a franchise. My partner at the time, and I both have quite a bit of restaurant experience and jumped in.  We spent the majority of 2019 planning, learning, and building the business. We were specially trained in the art of making boba from scratch, brewing tea, and cooking some high-end Asian street food. Each recipe is a special family secret from two sisters who brought Cha House to the states. Read more>>

Julie Anderson

I have always had a passion for taking photos but in late 2019 I was battling a bit of depression and needed to make a change. I decided to take my photography hobby and turn it into a true passion project. My 2 kids were out of the infant stage and a health scare in my family made me want to shift my priorities around and transition to a job that offered me more flexibility to be with them. I also wanted to focus on myself, my mental health and make this dream of mine a reality. So, I picked up my camera and launched One Wild Life Photography to make the most out of my One Wild and Precious Life (based on a poem by Mary Oliver).bI quickly learned that turning to start a business (while also working full time) is an extremely challenging adventure. The first year was a whirlwind due to COVID but I started by dropping fliers in mailboxes around my neighborhood offering porch photos for $40 during the “stay at home” documentary photo trend. Read more>>

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