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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.

Dr. Nikki Smith

My career began in the financial services sector, where I received my brokerage license. Still, only in the service of being knowledgeable on how I help market financial services and products to clients — I had no intention of actually being a financial advisor. My skill set and education were in marketing communications and branding, and I succeeded. While successful, it could have been more fulfilling, so I sought an opportunity to use my marketing skills specifically to assist minority-owned businesses in reimagining their branding strategy. My business ad did advertising then, focusing on brand strategy, website development, and social media marketing. I chose the name “addo” because it means “to inspire” in Latin, and I sought to build brands that inspired and connected to something deeper than the surface-level product or service. I challenged business owners to think about “what problem are you attempting to solve” so that their value proposition became clearer and their brand was built for the long haul. Read More>>

Sarah Dhue

My name is Sarah J. Dhue. I was born and raised in the Alton/Godfrey area. My first love is writing – I have been writing since elementary school. I completed my first book in the summer of 2010. That book, ‘For Two Cold Minutes,’ was first printed locally in 2012 and finally became my first self-published book in August 2014. I participated in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2015, 2017, 2018, and 2019 – the resulting novels were ‘Monsters,’ ‘Murder in the Marsh,’ ‘The Happening Just Off of County Road Q,’ and ‘Welcome to Lake Vautour.’ Read More>>

Jeanette Days

Who is Ms. BYD? Ms. BYD is me! I am Jeanette Days, founder and Chief Creative Officer of Beyond Your Dreams Events & Graphics (BYD Events & Graphics. I have planned and designed events for almost 20 years. I have worked in many aspects of the events industry, from setup, catering, and banquet staff to event management. Read More>>

Darrick Calvin

Founded in October 2020, the Leon Calvin Boxing Gym was established to allow youth from underserved communities to learn boxing skills and avoid negative influences and situations – especially youth violence. The organization’s namesake, Leon Calvin, was an up-and-coming professional boxer who lost his life to gun violence at 19. He was the oldest son of Boxing Hall of Fame and Former World Heavyweight Champion Leon Spinks. The family also produced World Champions Michael Spinks and Cory Spinks. The presence of a boxing gym led these men to become boxing greats and positive men in their community and beyond. The Leon Calvin Boxing Club is a 501c3 organization that serves youth ages 5-17 in boxing but also offers mentoring, homework assistance, summer camps, and character & leadership development. The organization is led by Executive Director Darrick Calvin and his wife, Geriel Calvin, who manages day-to-day operations. A team of 10 volunteers comprise the Board of Directors, and those members also coach, mentor, and assist in all programs and activities. The Leon Calvin Boxing Club is a single-owner LLC with 501c3 status. The gym operates in Dellwood Recreation Center at 10266 West Florissant Ave. and 3363 Parker Spur Florissant, MO 63033, both in North St. Louis County. Since starting in October 2020, the Leon Calvin Boxing Club has served over 200 youth in the boxing program and well over 7,000 community members. The organization has hosted holiday events, school supply giveaways, summer camps, and field trips for the youth and families in the community. Read More>>

Precious ‘Simone’ Whitener

It all started with others seeing the things I could barely see in myself! I came from a single-parent household. My father passed when I was 5, so my mother did her best to raise us and provide for me and my siblings! Education wasn’t in my background, so I needed to determine what was possible. When I say education wasn’t in my background, I mean there was no one to show the way! My mom didn’t finish HS, so she told me and my siblings that she hoped we would complete school! She told us to be “better” than her and complete HS, and that’s all we had to do to be successful in her house.

So, I set out to complete HS. I was involved in sports, leadership groups, and student council, and I was a high school student and a star track athlete at my school! I had teachers and coaches pouring into me and reminding me of my gifts, talents, and abilities; it was a real treat! Being involved in sports and exposed to different people and sceneries helped me see what was possible!

Again, since education wasn’t in my background, anytime I wanted to go after an opportunity or something new, my background’s fears and insecurities would cry out louder than my possibilities. That being said, I was fast on the track, and many people would approach me about possibly attending college, but honestly, I never dreamed that big! I didn’t think college was for me! My mom didn’t go that route! My aunts and uncles didn’t go that route, so college seemed as if it wasn’t something that a girl like me would succeed in. I ran track in HS, and local track stars would encourage me to run for the Saint Louis Blues track club! I didn’t know much about them, but I enjoyed watching my sister run; I loved racing her even though she beat me every time! I enjoyed running for the club and getting to know new people! I started getting good at the sport and was recognized for my speed & talent. I ran for The Saint Louis Blues Track Club for 3 years & and in my senior year, the unexpected happened.

The late Joey Haines scouted me, former Head Coach of Southeast Missouri State University. He offered me a full-ride track scholarship, and I went to college – something I never thought possible for me! I owe the Saint Louis Blues Track Club and the late Rodney Dotson for believing in me during high school. The Saint Louis Blues has a unique way of grooming, training, and coaching local talent to be the best at their craft and curating opportunities for athletic scholarships! I owe it to Joey Haines for taking a chance on me! He gave me a shot, and I’m forever grateful for that!

College opened my eyes to new possibilities and helped me see that there was more “out there” for me. I majored in Social Work and minored in Psychology! I always wanted to help people and give back to the community, but I never knew how I would do that! It took me having amazing professors who allowed me to share my heart & my story to help me realize how I could make a difference and leave my mark on the world! Read More>>

Mary Ellen Bryan and Paige Walden

Today, CommUNITY Arts STL is the result of the merger of two arts organizations that came together during the pandemic to optimize resources and expand our outreach. In 2006, Mary Ellen and nine local dancers, seeking a creative outlet, joined forces to create choreographic works to inspire others. The performance group Collective Motion went beyond the stage, developing a Social-Emotional Learning arts curriculum for schools. In 2017, Paige Walden and a group of artists gathered to organize the CommUNITY Arts Festival in response to a shooting involving a local dancer. The festival’s mission was to mobilize the arts community to address and heal the impact of violence on our city. Fast forward to 2020, when businesses worldwide faced resource challenges due to the pandemic. Paige and Mary Ellen decided that consolidating the resources of the two non-profits was the most resilient solution. Collective Motion and CommUNITY Arts Festival merged under a single non-profit entity called CommUNITY Arts STL. Read More>>

Muddy Banks Brewing Co.

Who We Are. Co-owners Drake Bequette, Makayla Bequette, and Mitchell Wideman embarked on the journey of bringing their dreams of a craft brewery to life in September 2019. Both Drake and Mitchell started home brewing years ago, where they developed a love and passion for brewing and wanted to bring that to their hometown of Sullivan, Missouri. If you’ve spent much time around here, you will have realized we are fond of the thousands of miles of muddy banks lining the numerous creeks and rivers of the area. We seek refuge from the searing heat and humidity perched upon them, floating between them and even sliding down them, but we also seek refuge from the hustle and bustle of life. Now, nobody is as good a host as the Meramec River or Spring Creek banks. However, our mission is to provide a refuge to the great people of the area, locals and visitors alike. We are veterans and proud children of Missouri and are excited to share a cold beer, a plate of food, and a great time with you. Read More>>

Thomas Ousley

Thomas E. Ousley is an internationally recognized retired educator and truancy prevention expert. Ousley is a life member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. He is a community advocate and is known for his Candor. Ousley is a devoted brother, husband, and father. Mr. Ousley is a St. Louis native who spent his life educating and mentoring youth. While teaching, Mr. Ousley worked on many developmental and educational initiatives to assist low-income students in attending college. He found that too few of his students who deserved to go to college enrolled because they believed they could not afford to go. As a result, Mr. Ousley began the Infinite Scholars Program in 2003 to ensure that financially disadvantaged students deserving to go to college could receive the funding they needed. For 20 years, The Infinite Scholars Program has helped thousands of students nationwide understand the importance of a higher education and ultimately assisted in making their dreams of pursuing a higher education a “true” reality. Today, ISP continuously gain global recognition for outstanding and invaluable college access and success services. ISP is considered the largest recruiter of minority students who attend accredited colleges and universities nationwide. ISP thanks Thomas for his vision and dedication. Read More>>

Bradley Fritsche

When I was growing up, I always admired cars. It didn’t matter if I was riding in them, watching movies about them, or playing with them in my room. When I turned 16, I got my first vehicle and spent days cleaning it and making it perfect. So much so my parents told me I’d better be careful or I’d clean the paint right off. Cleaning cars never felt like a chore, though I did it because I was satisfied knowing I was taking care of my belongings. That mindset has continued week after week for the last 7 years. When I was young, I always dreamed of having my own business. Although I always needed to decide which direction to go, I wanted something of my own. I went to college to get my degree in business, where I learned many valuable skills about the business world. At that point, I just had to find the path I wanted to take. Read More>>

Cristal Pride

Growing up in a low-income country exposes you to the harsh realities of healthcare accessibility and living conditions. We should be grateful for what we have, especially in a first-world country. Even though I grew up in a low-income country, I only fully understood the reality of poverty and harsh living conditions in certain areas once I was exposed to it after graduating from medical school. Read More>>

W. Mark Akin

The short story is that I am a professional classical guitarist. The longer story began when I was in the 4th grade. I started with guitar by getting a guitar for Christmas when I was 10 years old. This was a random gift because I didn’t even ask for it! This was an electric guitar that sat in the corner of my room for a year, and it was at the end of fifth grade, that I went to my mom and asked her for guitar lessons. Within about a year or so, I got pretty good and got into hard rock and heavy metal. Bands like Metallica AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, etc., were my bread and butter. I kept down this track, developing my chops and overall guitar ability. It wasn’t until high school that I decided to pick up classical guitar, along with picking up other instruments. I was doing both electric guitar and classical guitar throughout high school. Read More>>

Angelique Lampe

I started cooking with my nana at an early age. I am child number 9 of 13 children and loved it, so I have worked in alot of style restaurants and continued my love for cooking. I always wanted to own a little diner mom-and-pop place run by family members and myself. Keeping family working and close and customers’ bellies full. I have four children and 15 grandchildren. So, my love for cooking continues. COVID hit, and we are all getting older, so we are starting my dream while slowly closing his dream business down. I love the food trailer way more than my original dream of the diner because I go right smack in the middle of all-foot traffic instead of waiting for customers. Being child 9, I may add, life was brutally broken. I later got into drinking as it was normal for my family. I got into legal issues where I found recovery and freedom from something controlling my life besides me and my god. So 8 years have flown by sober, and with a felony, any great jobs are out the window. So, my husband decided to give it a try. We found the trailer to purchase, and from there, it’s been wildly fast and furiously happening. We got all permits and licenses for all counties touching ours. Thousands of years later, it’s been an amazing first year of business, alot of growing and scheduling. I only double-booked 1 time, lol. Without sobriety and a challenging program in my county, I may never have found my way to living my dream. Read More>>

Bassam Al Nahari

I am Bassam Al Nahari, born in December 1990 in Hodeidah, Yemen. My childhood was a continuous journey of exploration within a world filled with engineering tools and exciting objects. These tools were like toys to me, but in my unique way, allowing me to enjoy playing while understanding how things work. My passion for invention grew slowly and steadily. As I grew a little older, I started designing toys by myself, and not only that, but I would assemble them from scrap pieces and available parts. These experiments were my gateway to the world of engineering and creativity. My family played a significant role in encouraging and nurturing my talent. My father was always my biggest source of inspiration. He taught me how to learn crafts and fix things by myself. He always said, “Learning a craft will make you self-sufficient.” This advice shaped my approach to life. I was always eager to understand how things work around me. For this reason, I took it upon myself to repair anything that was broken at home. I found joy in discovering the causes of malfunctions and finding solutions. Read More>>

Corbin Salthouse

My name is Corbin Salthouse. I was born in Overland Park, Kansas, and like Dorothy, I was whisked away, but not to Oz, to the wonderful land of St. Louis. I attended St. Clement for elementary school and DeSmet for high school. From there, I stayed in St. Louis and went to Maryville University. I graduated from Maryville with a B.S. in Biomedical Science and two minors: chemistry and psychology. I spent four years in Kansas City earning my D.D.S, two years in Pittsburgh completing a Pediatric Dental Specialty Residency, and two years in Cleveland practicing pediatric dentistry. I have since moved back to St. Louis in the Ballwin area. I am married to my wonderful wife, Daniell, a Pediatric Resident Physician at Washington University / Children’s Hospital. We have a wonderful baby boy, William, born this September! Read More>>

LT Evans

How Boozey Bites was born: My best friend made a Hennessy Cake for my boyfriend’s birthday on November 17, 2017. The cake was amazingly moist and flavorful. The alcohol complimented the pound cake and didn’t overwhelm the cake. As a third-generation bartender, I was very intrigued with the concept of creating liquor-infused desserts that packed a punch while maintaining the integrity of the product. For my birthday the following January, my best friend made the first Checkerboard Cuban Rum Cake and further impressed me with the artistry and decadence of this dessert. Then, I said, we’re on to something. We also decided that I should formalize the business with the guidance of my best friend as an advisor. So, I took the year to learn as much as possible to experiment with various recipes, conduct market research, explore packaging, and define operations and logistics. In honor of how we started, we officially launched Boozey Bites as a business and our website on my boyfriend’s 50th birthday, November 17, 2019. Read More>>

Reginald Lindsey

Growing up, I had a great sense of compassion for helping others. Whenever my family members had minor aches and pains, I would naturally help out by massaging them. My interest in massage therapy grew with the positive feedback they gave me. Later in high school, I became interested in both Eastern and Western approaches to massage and other methods to heal the human body and promote wellness. After graduating high school, I went down various paths to find myself and my purpose. Ironically, things came full circle upon my finding The Healing Arts Center. HAC is a massage therapy school located in St. Louis, Mo. There, I attended a free massage class for individuals interested in entering the massage field. I instantly fell in love with the school and its program. It sparked my interest to dive in and learn as much as I can that massage therapy had to offer. On July 28, 2017, I graduated from HAC, completing the 600-hour massage therapy training program. I began working at local massage franchises in the city, continuing my education and gaining more experience and skills to add to my massage tool belt. I became well-known for my blended style of massage. By blending the two modalities of Swedish Massage and Myofascial Release Therapy, I can provide a slow and deep yet relaxing therapeutic approach that many of my clients enjoy. After a few years of working professionally in the field, I went on to open Soul Massage and Wellness. Read More>>

Cort Holland

Being young and playing outside, my brother introduced me to skateboarding at the age of 10. It was new for me to learn, but I soon found a love for it. I then began to ride the skateboard almost everyday. With time I only became better. Years later I found that there were more people like me skating around in the city of Saint Louis. We became close friends from the love of skating. We began to meet up at random places and skated around the city. I used Instagram to share my love through digital media and noticed many people were interested in learning. I started teaching people throughout the city and began the group SkateStl. Read more>>

Emily Greenwell

I grew up in Detroit, MI. I started dancing at age 4, I continued to dance competitively as well as attended a performing arts high school. After graduating I knew I didn’t want to go to college so I moved to NYC and sought out my own education doing training programs and open classes. Through assisting and being mentored by some AMAZING humans I was given opportunities to teach and choreograph, which has now become my passion! Read more>>

Renee Steward

I have always been a creative person. Growing up, I constantly (and still do) have tons of ideas all the time. My home didn’t really support that, though, so I never explored my creative side. As a grown-up, I worked a corporate job and put all of my time and energy into my work. My creative side would always poke through though. Anytime I would get a little time, I would find some kind of crafty thing to get my hands in. I was managing retail stores at my corporate job and had worked my way up the ladder, but I was feeling so lost and unfulfilled. Nothing in my life felt like it was going right. Read more>>

Vahdet Karatas

Our club was started in 2016 with 5 members, our current mentor being one. They set the layout for the club, its rules, amendments, office positions and we are continuing what they started. We learned from their experiences and improved upon them. The first year they were only able to hold one fundraiser event, now, despite COVID, we were able to host two fundraiser events (currently working on the third) and have held interfaith dinners, volunteered at food banks, park cleaning, and made donations to several charities/organizations. Read more>>

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