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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.

Belinda Keller

I lost my little point and shoot household camera in the snow on a trip to Hawks Nest sometime in 2008 or 2009. Digital cameras were just beginning to become available to the general photography enthusiast and I decided then to buy one. I picked one up at a pawn shop cheap just in case I didn’t take to it. But I sure did take to it. I learned everything I know from online photo forums google searches that started with “how?”, and reversed engineered images I saw and loved. I researched how they were created, and all about the creative ways artists were making images with the settings, lenses, and hour of the day. I was hooked. I am also a part-time actor in theater and film/TV very occasionally, so I had lots of friends who always needed updated headshots, so I practiced on them and soon began a small business charging starving artist fees for headshots made outside of my house. Read more>>

Passion Smith

Growing up as a child, I have always been fascinated with birth. I remember watching birth shows on TV and Youtube and just being in awe. My mother never made me turn it off. When I went off to college, I wanted to pursue being a Labor and Delivery Nurse but for some reason, it just did not sit with me so I decided to stick with social work. When I got to my senior year, I had to complete an internship. My internship was at the YWCA in Greensboro, NC. I had an AMAZING supervisor named Brandi Collins-Calhoun who was a part of many reproductive justice associations. She also served on many committees and advocacy boards locally, statewide, and nationally. She began to teach me about alternative birth options such as home births and birthing in a birthing center.She also talked to me about doulas, breastfeeding, natural births, health disparities, midwives, etc. It was through her guidance and education that I found my calling and decided I wanted to dive into the more holistic side of birth work. I became a doula through this organization almost 5 years ago and I have been in birthmark ever since! My long-term goal is to become a midwife and attend home births. Read more>>

Damita Rhodie

There are several reasons for birthing BMH. We started the business due to Covid-19 and having to home-school my kids due to their health conditions of Sickle Cell Disease and Asthma, so I was forced to leave my public job. We also started this business to build generational wealth and leave a legacy for my kids as being a single parent for many years. Another reason the business was started is to be able to offer employment to our community who would have issues getting employment at other jobs. Read more>>

Lawrence Charles

This was never a dream of mine, but I must say it was definitely destined! Lobster TrappN started on my aunt’s back porch with just one deep fryer and the determination to provide for my children 30 days in, I started to receive recognition from celebrities via social media and that was the fuel to the fire that had already ignited in me. I began to take my craft to the next level… consistency is key! I offer a variety of seafood and homemade sides, specializing in Lobster tails, lobster bites, and that oh so famous “LB Sauce”. We now have been blessed with a brand new food truck and are excited to satisfy appetites around the world. Nobody said the road would be easy; took dedication and determination to get to where I am now. No time for comfort… “It’s BIGGER than ME.” All praises are due to the highest. Read more>>

Terron Parker

My love for music grew when I discovered I had an instrument of my own, my voice. While attending East Carolina University, I began writing music. I was very shy but doing music gave me an outlet and way to express myself. Read more>>

Charhonda Crawford

Massage therapy was not in my playbook at all. My first major was early childhood education because my dream is to open a preschool for 3 and 4 years olds. So, I decided to find a career that would allow me to fund myself and other business owners too. Upon starting school, I quickly realized that this was something God intended for my life. It allowed me to learn so much about myself and the world around me. I began to see massage therapy as my gift and that I am a natural healer. Read more>>

Jalan Ward

I’m Jalan, and I created a company in 2019 from a random dream. True story. “The Proud Black Brand” was then manifested. Usually, when someone explains their business storyline, they will start at the beginning of its development. The Art of Storytelling is very special to me, so I would like the readers to understand that my purpose was already written before it even started. At the age of 28, I believe it is best to explain that everything results back to my childhood. I was constantly observing, drawing a variety of interests, and noticing how big the world is, outside of Raleigh. I considered myself an open-minded kid who felt different as it pertains to taking a liking to stuff other kids may not necessarily care about. Introverted some may say, but I was always interested in everything the world was visually projecting. Being raised in a single-parent household, I believe instills some unique, and powerful traits within yourself because you find yourself spending a lot of time to self-develop. The positive side of this is having the advantage of seeking your purpose early on. Read more>>

Hezekiah Williams

I started out as a Political Science Student at FSU and shortly after returning home, I found myself working both in an office and part-time with JCrew. Both bore me and I couldn’t see myself doing a career in an office. I started looking up drones just to film the fishing trips that I take out on the boat and purchased one, finding out later that o would need a license. I studied and got my first part 107 in 2017 and found myself filming for FSU’s campus promotion later that year. From there, I purchased my first camera and began doing small events until I worked my way up to graduations, and weddings, mentoring with several career professionals that I either knew or met & putting myself through hours of film lectures in my spare time. I also started working for a company that films & streams high school sports tournaments which helped me to gain a great deal of field experience. Read more>>

Maegan Jackson

I started hair school while having just had my second child. I had a one-year-old (16 months ) and a 4-month-old. I worked part-time as a waitress at cheddars and went to school at night. I finished a year and some changes later. I divorced their father in the midst of finishing school and really just had to find myself again. I then chose to work at a Merle Norman salon and absolutely fell in love with everything in the beauty industry. We did full makeovers on pretty much every client and it just made my heart smile to make women happy and bring back their confidence. I now own my own private suite and work by myself in my pink modern room and couldn’t be happier. Every day, I try to remind women who they are and that they are beautiful inside and out. I love working with women and I feel like I have really found my purpose in life. Read more>>

Allie Capo

I am a singer/songwriter and guitarist of Allie Capo Music. I write and produce my own music. I also have my own clothing brand “Capo Vintage”. My brand is where I design original clothing apparel as well as reconstruct thrift store pieces into urban fashionable wear. I have always been creative since I was a child. I started leading songs in the choir at the age of six, I was a dancer and I loved the art of all sorts. I am from Raleigh and I graduated from North Carolina Central University back in 2015 with a bachelor’s in mass communication. While I was a senior in college, I wrote for the campus newspaper with the position of Arts and Entertainment editor. There I would cover arts and creative events in the Durham community. By going to these different events, I was able to network and meet a lot of artists and creatives in the community. This is how I transitioned into being a singer-songwriter. After graduation, I began to go to local open mics where I would sing and showcase my talent. From there I was able to create a name for myself and then was able to land a number of singing gigs through the city. Read more>>

Ray Boyd

I was introduced to selling drugs at the age of 12. Shortly after my 17th birthday, I took the life of a young man from my neighborhood. I was ultimately sentenced to 50 years in the Connecticut Department of Correction. I went in the system a seventh-grade dropout, reading at a third-grade level. While in prison as a juvenile lifer, I had my ups and downs. However after thirty years served, I came home with all of my mental faculties. I’m a published author having written “ The Model Inmate” which was published by FAMS Publishing out of North Carolina. Big shout out to Shontae Corey-Hogan for assisting with bringing my prose to the masses! I was released from prison on November 15, 2021, since this time I work as a Broker’s Assistant for a Real Estate Company I go to school for Real Estate and I started my own publishing company S.U.N. Publishing. I plan to release two titles under my imprint this year. Just this month, I was invited down to the city of Miami, Florida on February 24th to take part in their Black History Jazz, Arts and Authors event taking place on Feb. 26, 2022. I also advocate stopping solitary confinement and Juvenile Justice laws in the State of Connecticut. Read more>>

Tiffany Carver

I’ve always loved event planning and DIY projects. Several years ago, I got my certification in wedding planning and had coordinated/planned a few weddings, including my own. I was very much a DIY bride. I got too busy to really build or sustain a wedding planning business so I let it go. Around 2015, I started crafting as a hobby and as a means of stress relief. I was going through a very trying time in my life and so crafting became my escape. Friends began to request items and I also got a lot of referrals from them. I was making tumblers and t-shirts and other personalized crafts which I really enjoyed. I didn’t intend to start a business so initially, it was more of a side hustle. I did that for about 5 years. In 2019, my daughter turned 16 and so I planned/designed/decorated a beautiful celebration for her (with the help of friends and family of course). Read more>>

Madison Kearney

I discovered my love for fashion and modeling at a young age. My sister has been snapping pictures of me for as long as I can remember! As I got older and my passion for the industry grew, I began to realize that I didn’t look like the models I saw in-store campaigns or on runways. I had a hard time finding fashionable clothes that fit and flattered my body and slowly began feeling self-conscious in front of the camera. The more I compared myself, the more I felt like I didn’t belong. After a year of not modeling, I felt the lack of creative flow. I knew I needed to get back in front of the camera so that’s what I did! I learned to embrace my body and the things that made me different from everyone else. I began wearing clothes that made me feel good and having more fun with my photoshoots. Now I share my life and my fashion online and it’s connected me to some of my closest friends from all over the country! Read more>>

Jason Lord

I’m an interdisciplinary artist and arts educator based in Durham–I’ve lived and worked in the Triangle since 1994 when I moved here from Vermont. I’ve taught in constructivist and inquiry-based schools for most of my adult life, helping students to make connections among multiple learning areas and then choosing the best way to share their findings, whether as a stop-motion animation about water rights, an electronic music composition investigating fractals and other natural patterns, or a sculptural shrine celebrating community identities. As I’ve developed my art practice over the years, I’ve noticed boundaries breaking down between visual art, music, performance, and writing as each area informs and elevates the others. Just as my work as an educator encourages the sharing of information in multiple modes, my art practice also embraces fluidity across media and disciplines. Read more>>

Cole Dragotta

Prior to Covid, I worked for a multimillion-dollar company as their social media marketer and graphic designer. When Covid shut everything down, I was furloughed. 2 months later I decided to start a photography business. I started with doing outdoor photography for seniors, families, newborns, and more! Almost 2 years later, I have grown my business to car, wedding, and product photography. I started small while still learning the basics and moved into offering website and graphic design services on top of my photography services. Read more>>

Matthew Gulliver

17 years old when she had me, and my little brother followed shortly after. My dad wasn’t in the picture, so sports not only became our first babysitter but our coaches became our father figure. I grew a deep appreciation for sports and physical fitness. I respected the preparation and discipline required to be successful. This led to years of success in athletics, I went on to wrestle at NC State University and obtained a degree in Physical Education. When I first graduated college, like many ex-athletes, I started at Enterprise Rent-a-car. I spent six hard years there washing cars in a suit with the title of manager, working 60+ hours a week. Looking back at it now, I’m grateful for my time there and the relationships I made. I transitioned into software sales next. Financially, I found success and I finally had a great work-life balance. Still unfulfilled, I was missing something. I started to do group fitness instruction on the side with an old college teammate of mine. I lead some boot camp-style classes a couple of days a week. I being to gravitate more and more to the gym. Read more>>

Gerald Dickerson

I’m from a small town called Eden, it’s on the northern border of North Carolina. My father was in the military we have lived around the world. I would spend the majority of my life in Germany and would complete high school in Fort Knox Kentucky. I would later graduate from North Carolina Central University and obtain my Bachelors in Science in Criminal Justice. I would then begin working for the of the largest banking entities in the nation for about six years. It was during the pandemic that I took a leap of faith and launched my gourmet popcorn business. Read more>>

Jaida Deans

I am a 20-year-old social media influencer, Party promoter/Host, and full-time college student in Raleigh, North Carolina. My journey all started in middle school, where I would post pictures on my Instagram and just simply be myself. At this time, Instagram was one of the most popular apps and people loved being in touch with people’s lifestyles! I had my own style and was always in the latest trends, so people liked keeping up with my lifestyle. Going into high school, I started gaining a bigger following when I got into Party promoting and hosting for teen parties in Raleigh, NC. At this point in my life, I started gaining over 10k followers and started creating a lifestyle out of something I loved to do! As of right now, I’m getting more into modeling, hosting/promoting, and lastly creating a bigger platform on Instagram and TikTok! Read more>>

Tosha Marshall

I am the owner of Soul Sista Body Essentials. I have always loved creating my own blend of body products but never thought that it would go any further than just creating for my kids and myself. I have psoriasis and two of my kids have eczema so we have extremely sensitive skin in our household. I have always had a hard time finding products that would properly moisturize our skin but it became even more of a task once COVID shut the world down. I decided this would be a great time to create products for sensitive & healthy skin. I never honestly thought that it would turn into a business but I was inspired by my awesome family to start my business. In their words “just do it” and that is how Soul Sista was born. I chose the name Soul Sista with the help of my niece and it just stuck. I make products for your SOUL and I’m a female so I added SISTA for a little razzle-dazzle… haha. My product line started with body butter and oils and continued to grow. We now offer body soaps, oils, body butter, bath salts, and body scrubs. Read more>>

Kiea Taylor

I’m a 32-year-old mother of an 11-year-old daughter named Kiaja. I’ve been a Nail Artist for a total of about 16 years and licensed for about 12. I solely own a contemporary nail salon, Tips & Needles, as well as my own nail product line ( I have a roster of celebrities that I’ve serviced including; Dutchess (Black Ink) Lira Galore, Diamond Strawberry, Bridget Kelly (Love and Hip-hop) Vanessa Simmons, H.E.R., etc. As well as working as a lead nail tech for NYFW for 5 seasons running. I also travel across the country to teach upcoming nail techs my skills and techniques. I’m known as a unicorn because of my bright colorful personality, look, and unique style. In high school, I wanted to be different so I started to paint my own nails and that began a hustle between classes and before/after school at Durham School of the Arts. After high school, my grandmother, Barbara Taylor of Durham, offered to pay for me to go to nail school. We found a newly opened beauty school and she paid the fee upfront for me to attend. I had to pause after a while to have my daughter. Read more>>

Kayla Kassakatis

I have been an English teacher since 2013 and am a stay-at-home mom of 3. A few years ago, I had two miscarriages and was determined to change my skincare products to cleaner ingredients. I changed my diet, lifestyle, makeup, and more to make sure my body was as healthy as possible. After finding makeup with ingredients I loved, I tried the makeup. I fell in love with the simplicity and the way the makeup felt on my skin. I never thought I would ever sell makeup in my life, but here I am 2.5 years later and loving it! I get to help women find confidence in their natural beauty with a simple, 5-minute makeup routine completely custom to them! Read more>>

Love Small

After Being laid off from my steady 5-year career in the department of corrections industry after giving birth to my youngest daughter. I set out on my new career path faced with countless unknowns. My very first warehouse was my daughter’s room with my bathroom as my dressing room and my living room as my shipping area. A year later, I was setting out to find my brick-and-mortar locations. January 11, 2018, I was blessed with my current location. To later find out that the building was up for foreclosure. Three days before my grand opening the building was up for auction. With potential buyers viewing the property, I still had to keep a smile on my face and continue to paint my floor and stock my inventory without shedding tears or showing fear on my face of losing everything before it even started. Being in high vibrations we received two great need building owners that allowed us to continue our business venture. I then knew that success is based on your creativity, motivation, dedication, research, and the ability to manage the organization. With hard work and determination. I know reach thousands of lives inspiring through fashion and strengthening their spirituality. Read more>>

Beth Williams

It goes back to when I was 12 years old and developed cystic acne. Sometimes, I couldn’t go to school because the pain from facial cysts was so bad, not to mention how it injured my self-esteem. It was hard to understand why other girls my age could get a pimple, dab on a little over-the-counter medication, and clear up in a day. For me, any breakout set off a long ordeal that sometimes left behind scars. That’s when I started learning all I could about makeup in hopes of camouflaging my skin problems. This was before online tutorials, so I became a student through advice, tips, and tricks offered by magazines and learning through good old experimentation. It didn’t take long to discover that makeup was about more than trying to achieve beauty and look good. It became an aid in building confidence and feeling positive about myself. Because of the challenges I experienced with my skin, I knew there was so much more to people than what is on the surface, which helped me develop empathy and start connecting with people on a deeper level. The more I did that, the more it confirmed that confidence in the outer helps empower inner beauty. This inspired me to become licensed in esthetics, be true to my passion for makeup, and follow a calling to help people utilize it to feel better about themselves. Read more>>

Molly Tieng

I am a first-generation American originating of Cambodian descent. I am the first person on my mother’s side born on American soil after both of my parents’ families were sponsored to America by Christian churches during the Cambodian genocide in the late 70s. My mom’s side of the family started life in America, working in the furniture industry, and my dad’s side began working in the jewelry industry. Their marriage was arranged. When I watched my father work his way to becoming a jewelry store owner and me and my sister going to work with our parents, we were first introduced to the amazing world of fine jewelry. My dad was an amazing skills man at jewelry repair and creating custom jewelry. My mom handled sales and logistics. Growing up in the business, I developed a deep love and passion for fine jewelry. I am now taking everything I learned by second nature from my parent’s experience and have evolved it into my own! I currently operate as a private luxury jeweler, channeling and curating bespoke jewelry designs, looks, and styles for authentic clients with their truest selves and who value quality products and exceptional relationships. Read more>>

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>>

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