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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.

Alta Franklin

I am an assistant coach in the Girls on the Run (GOTR) program. My current site is Fox Hill Elementary, in the North Kansas City School District. I have been an assistant coach for the past ten seasons and have been a part of the program since it began there in 2018. I quickly learned and liked the vision and mission of the GOTR program. I was impressed with the focus of its curriculum. I like how it concentrates on the mental and physical well-being of each girl as an individual and as a valuable part of a group, team and community. Important life skills are embedded throughout eight weeks of lessons and trainings in preparation for the 5K run at the end of each season. I enjoy teaching and exhibiting these core values that help build character and prepare girls for lifelong success. One of my main goals is to ensure that each girl knows and feels like she is special and that she can be free to be who she is. Read more>>

Benjamin Gipson

In 2021, a few friends and I were sitting in a coffee shop, chatting about the state of local music in KC and how there are so many great unknown, local artists who just never have the chance to be seen, heard, or discovered. We joked about making a name for the “little guys”, for the “underground homies” and having the city support them. After releasing my first single and playing my first two KC shows with some great musician friends, we realized that there was a need- a need for a network of local artists from all genres and experiences that have the opportunity to showcase their work. There are a few local record labels or niched collectives that are looking to do this on a small scale but not one that is for all artists, all people. Beyond music though, we know that artists of all types- photographers, videographers, visual artists, poets, etc.- thrive on connectivity and opportunities to grow their craft. Many times though, unless you know the right people, it is difficult to go from passionate hobbyist to being paid for the art you make. Read more>>

Leanna Mazzeffe and Colette Ferrara

We are Leanna and Colette! Together we make LC Creative Media. We have been lifelong friends – we attended grade school, high school, and college together! To no surprise, we joined the same sorority at Northwest Missouri State University in 2014. Come 2017, we were tasked to make our sorority recruitment video. The two of us had too much fun making the video and thought… maybe we should make a business out of this. Sure enough, shortly after the video was released someone messaged us and said “Hey, will you film my wedding?!” Even with little experience, we were eager to do it and replied with “ABSOLUTELY!” This year, we will have filmed nearly 40 weddings for some amazing couples and we have been blessed to share in their big days. Read more>>

Malek Robinson

Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri! I’m an entrepreneur/creator in fashion! I started as a customer of a local brand Love365Apparel and literally fell in love with not only the creativity of the design but the message behind it! It all started in 2018 just dropping out of college to follow a dream that one day eventually turned to a business partnership with the owner of the brand Montrae Strickland. The partnership began off a purchase which had led to me eventually selling his bulk that he had from his pop up Shop! The following month brought him 900$ cash in an envelope and we were business partners from then on which led to a story mode of Love365Apparel and a collaboration with an up and coming clothing brand “Heartfelt” by a local artist Bobby Jackson. The brand was more than just love it was about spreading a message that people can live with spiritually, mentally, & physical and continue 365 days out of the year! Eventually, after putting a series of work with that brand out it led to our first collaboration!  Read more>>

Alexis Webb-Bechtold

My love of art (especially public art) combined with my extensive background in outdoor experiential education, challenge course facilitation and recreation management helps me create art adventures that encourage people to explore the world around them and find deeper meaning in what they do every day. Read more>>

Christine Schneider

I have always loved to make things. My artistic mother gave me the tools and freedom to follow my creativity as a kid. I came to Lawrence to attend KU and graduated with a BFA in Visual Communications. Before starting my own illustration and design business, I worked in newspaper, advertising and corporate design environments. During those years, I also worked in my free time as a children’s illustrator. I eventually went out on my own full-time, starting Yellow Pencil Studio, Inc. in 2006. Here, I work with a variety of illustration and design clients, creating anything from puzzles for kids’ magazines to branding for small businesses. I’ve illustrated a number of children’s books and authored a few of them. In addition to illustration and design, I decided to explore letterpress printing, which is something that has been in my family for four generations. What started as a side project, printing a few greeting cards, has grown into a full-fledged letterpress print shop where I print anything from business cards to wedding invitations. Read more>>

Sally Stevens

I grew up in the small town of Seneca, MO, where I was the “weirdo,” and my best friend was the gay boy, who unfortunately could not live his truth during our time in school. In junior high, an instructor sent me home for “causing a disturbance” in Science Class as I tried to emulate Cyndi Lauper. I spent a portion of my senior year punished with in-school suspension after defending myself from an individual harassing my friends and myself for dancing to The Cure at a school dance. My friends and I were also the victims of an assault while visiting a local town for a speech tournament because the assailants didn’t like the way we looked. We also continued to receive flack for the color of our hair and clothing choices after graduating. People would tell us to “go back to the city where [we] belong[ed].” It was a scary time to be the “weird little kid.” In 1994 I was able to get to the city; I moved to Boston and would take the bus to New York almost every weekend. It was during this time that I found my people. The Queer community embraced me with open arms. I found a community of artists, designers, and beautiful “freaks” at the many clubs I attended. I remember being awestruck seeing Amanda Lepore with her glamorous red hair and porcelain skin the first time I walked into Patricia Fields. Read more>>

Jeevan Dhaker

I was born and raised in a small town in the Rajasthan State of India. Even from my childhood, I had a dream; to do something different in my life. To pursue my dream, I left my mom’s village when I was 12 (after 8th grade) and started to live in a different city with my friends. Then I moved to a different city to complete high school. Finally, I moved to a much bigger city, Jaipur, to complete my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Geology. Then there was a big change in my life when I decided to be a content creator / Storyteller instead. It was hard, but it gave me much more freedom to use my creativity and make a positive impact on society. I moved to the United States in 2019 and started to live my new career in a new culture. I now live my life as an Artist; so I’m an Actor, Model, and Content Creator / Storyteller. I create a variety of content but my comedy and Food content is really popular. I use comedy to make people’s day and food to raise awareness about animal and environmental safety. I’m now working on some films so, many more big projects to come soon…..I love what I do and live everyday with gratitude. Read more>>

Cierra Brown

I was inspired by my Uncle, Brad Boldridge when I was 3 to play the piano, so I started playing by ear. My Grandpa, Thomas Winston, would always sit me on his lap and sing blues songs to me which is where I discovered my love for singing. At age 13 or so, I started taking singing and piano lessons at Southland Conservatory of Music under the direction of Bill Johnson whom I adore and will always call family! At age 15 my mom made me join the teen church choir where I met some of my best friends to this day! It gave me a balance from classical to Gospel music. I went to Pittsburg State University where I studied classical and opera which was a huge challenge because in my heart, I was definitely a soul/ R&B singer. My vocal coach, Stella (Hastings) Lua, really taught me a lot about enjoying the process of music and discovering my voice and sound. Read more>>

Aja Fuel

When I graduated from high school in 2019, I always felt that college or the military was the only way to be successful because I thought I would need a degree to start my business so I attended UAPB in Arkansas for business and management, but that wasn’t the only way out. Although college is still a part of my goals, I have put my focus elsewhere. After spending a lot of time and having patience, I decided to attend barber school and investing into my business/ brand. In 2021 decided to take a lot of risks and putting everything towards my career trusting my motive and vision, I knew that I could not only have a successful business for myself but one to inspire and help the community. Once I began barber school, I wanted to wait until I gained clientele and reached a target audience & market to exceed my business. The first thing I did to extend my business was to not only provide services for hair cuts but adding natural hair services such as locs, twist outs and natural hair care products because I wanted my clients not only to come to me for services but to maintain good health with their hair as well. Read more>>

Chantel Robinson

I go by recording artist Yung Chawn. I started in grade school. Literature, language arts, reading & writing were pretty much my favorite subjects in school. I used what I learned in those courses to begin writing poems any chance that I could get. I was so excelled in writing poems that eventually, those poems turned into raps. I wrote my first rap at 12 years old. I haven’t stopped writing raps since then. I always kept a notebook full of raps I once wished to record in the studio one day. It’s crazy because I became so good at it that’s other people wanted me to write raps for them to use!!! I mean it was my passion after the outcome. Once I turned 15 yrs old, I began going to local recording studios to finally put my raps on wax. It’s really been on since then. I also have participated in American Idol. Yes, my hidden talent is singing!!! I always had a thing for music. I also played the drums for Willie Arthur Smith’s Marching Cobras who are a drillteam famous all around the world!. Read more>>

Scott Renyer

I was about eleven or twelve when I borrowed my mom’s old Kodak Brownie camera way back in the early seventies. I shot a couple of rolls of film. That’s when the photography bug bit me and started my interest in photography. Then in high school, I read an article on Ansel Adams. That article had a major impact on me so I took two years of photography classes in high school that is the only formal training I’ve taken. As to how I’ve gotten to this point, well I’m a full-time student in the university of life; no degrees just awesome experiences some good and some not so good. I carry my camera with me at all times because you never know when you might get that million dollar shot. Read more>>

Micheala Miller

I began my non-profit career in recruitment at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Kansas City. In 2018, I collaborated with the local Homeless Period Project Chapter to host a Period Packing Party for the youth enrolled in the BBBSKC program. This is where my passion for addressing period poverty ignited. I began pursuing my Master’s in Public Administration with a Nonprofit Leadership emphasis at University of Missouri – Kansas City and completed my studies at the end of 2020. While in school, I co-founded a local nonprofit where I integrated addressing period poverty into its mission of inclusive and unapologetic sex education. Eventually, the mission became too big for one organization and starting January 2022, I founded Strawberry Week to provide free resources for menstruators in Kansas and Missouri to work towards eliminating the stigma surrounding menstrual health and hygiene, and to provide education and awareness on the epidemic of period poverty. Read more>>

Mary Modeer

In the mid-1990’s, I struggled with chronic pain and other health issues. I was placed on a variety of medicines that didn’t work for me. In an effort to find something that worked for me, I turned to alternative medicine. I had a brief experience with aromatherapy and herbs while living in the mountains of Colorado. I decided I wanted to help others have alternatives in dealing with health issues also, but I knew I needed to learn more, so I pursued an education. I am a Certified Aromatherapist having received my certification from The School for Aromatic Studies. I have also received education from the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine, Aromahead Institute and American College of Healthcare Sciences. I also decided to start a company that produced products that were natural and pure, without all the harmful aromas and chemicals, so Plant Serums was born September of 2015. Read more>>

Amy Esplin

I grew up in a family where my parents owned their own business, and at one point, all four of us kids worked for them. I was the youngest and would run part of the operations. I was just so impressed with the lifestyle they created, and I wanted that for my future family. Neither of them had a formal education, yet they ran a successful heating and air conditioning company. My Father successfully designed, engineered, and ran large commercial projects. My mother ran the financial side and managed the technicians. Their business created a wonderful life for us kids, and I was hooked. I had a business bug. If my parents could do it, I could too. I married young and had a family early on in life. A time came when my spouse and I moved to Boise, Idaho. When we made the move, we decided it would be best if I stayed home with the girls. Life moved on, and years went by. My husband was showing signs of anxiety and depression, and the road was rough. Then one day LIFE hit hard. The unthinkable happened. Read more>>

Zelverick Gordon

As a young creative, I began producing music for local rappers in my hometown of Waycross, GA. My brother, Adrian Smith would take me to studios in town to collaborate with other local artist. This was the beginning of how my journey as an entrepreneur started. Upon graduating high school, I attended South Carolin State University and later transferred to the Art Institute of Atlanta where I earned my Bachelor’s of Audio Production degree. These programs helped me hone in on my knowledge and creativity in the areas of music business and extending my audio creativity not only in music but also film, video games, live production and events. After taking a few video production classes at the Art Institute, I also acquired a passion for film that led me to writing scripts. Read more>>

Jocelyn Foye

I am an artist by training, an activist by calling and all that I do is inspired and informed by being a mother and my sense of purpose to create a better and more just world for my kids. My organization, The Womxn Project, came out of the 2016 elections and the very real threat of a Trump presidency. I sat at the kitchen table with a few fellow moms from different backgrounds who decided to come together to push back on the undermining of all we stand for and believe in and push for the kind of changes our state needs. We wanted to figure out how to bring people together to shift power and change how things had always been done – a system where our voices were not being heard and power was hoarded among old, white guys who were way out of touch with the values of most people in our state. We wanted to do things differently to center those most impacted by the status quo way of doing things and harness creativity to shift the conversation. We wanted to make it clear that we all have a role to play – and can bring our skills and lived experiences to make a difference. Read more>>


Bee Cherelle

After graduating with my Master’s degree from Loyola (Chicago, IL), I returned to Kansas City, MO where I worked with pregnant women and adolescents. I developed a passion for working with women, especially black women. With that passion in 2018, I developed Her.Listic a brand to promote holism in black women. Within that same year, I hosted my very first mental health event, “The Silent Struggle” which focused on the mental health of black women and children. Although days and a year or so had gone by, my passion for my community remained. I have always had a heart for helping others. But it was not until adulthood when I began to notice the weight and honor of being a black women. I was tired of “The strong black woman” narrative. So, In 2020, I created a podcast titled “The BlackHer The Berry”, promoting mental health awareness in black women. Within that same year, I experienced a depressive episode that I could not hide from family and friends. After reaching out for professional help, I began to research herbal medicine. Read more>>

Kristin Summers

As a self-care coach, intimacy guide, writer, speaker and app creator, you’d think by the description I just gave you that I’ve always been an ambitious person. The truth is – I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Growing up in the country in Missouri, I imagined following the “Life Checklist” before me. Graduate high school. Check. Graduate college. Check. Marriage. Check. Kids, House, Car, Dog and the other D – Debt- that comes with it. Check Above All. So what happened? What cataclysmic event occurred that transformed me into this multi-passionate CEO? Mental illness. Shortly after my third child, my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and anxiety from the birth control shot. Doctors said it could take up to two years for my body to regulate itself again. I questioned the very foundation of my identity and realized that it was shambles. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted anymore. For the first year, I did was is considered mainstream self-care: face masks, gym and eating healthy. Read more>>

Aubrey Wellington

I developed a love for baking at a very young age. I even pretended I had a little café that I would serve people fake food. I have always wanted to own a business even little me knew that. I began working in the industry around 14 years old working in a small café in Manhattan, KS where I grew up. I kind of fell in love more at the point with baking. Having people try my creations and enjoy them so much. When I left Manhattan and came to Kansas City, I moved around to different pastry jobs learning from every place I went. In my skills, I am completely self-taught. My journey kind of expanded when in the pastry world though when I became vegan 14 years ago. I wanted to achieve making all the wonderful pastries and desserts I knew vegan. One pastry that was always my favorite was the classic croissant and now my goal is to bring vegan croissants to the Kansas City area among other classic French desserts. Currently today I am working as the Executive Pastry Chef at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, along with doing events for my business. Read more>>

Sara Rude-McCune

I started out as a physics major but realized I hated higher math and all I wanted to do was draw. Through fan projects, I discovered my love of coloring comics and gravitated toward fun character-driven stories. Now I strive to create quirky long-form comics ideal for escaping into after a long day. Read more>>

Madison Mae Parker

Originally from Texas, I studied English Creative Writing at Texas A&M University. While in school, I found a slam poetry community at a small dive bar called Mic Check Poetry. I immediately fell in love with the atmosphere, the poetry, and the people. I had never encountered such honesty from people, let alone on a public stage. Shortly after, I began reading my own work from the stage. I later took over this arts nonprofit and ran Mic Check Poetry and Texas Grand Slam (a national poetry festival) from 2013-2015 before moving to Kansas City in 2016. Yes, the art was amazing, but what really kept me present was the people involved. Art reminds us that we are not alone; my story is connected to your story, to my ancestor’s stories, to the earth’s stories. And this became even more true for me as I began touring with a poet from 2015-2017 across the US, Australia, and Europe with my poetry. There was a global experience I found through the writing process and the performance process. Read more>>

Annie Richardson

I was born and raised in Tainan, Taiwan, and I did not cook or make much at home because most people in the city go out to eat at the many night markets and cafes that permeate most cities there. I married my husband, Brad, in 2010 and we had our first child in 2011. I taught myself how to bake through watching online videos and perusing the Food Network. The very first thing I learned how to bake were cookies, and that wasn’t until 2011! After we had kids, they quickly fell in love with my sweet creations as they grew up with the heady aromas coming from the oven. Cookies are one of the easiest, and quick sweet treats I make for my kids. I attended a few Christmas cookie exchange parties that I enjoyed when we lived in Atlanta after my husband’s job moved us there, it was the first time I saw the decorated sugar cookies from the party and loved that they could be so pretty and tasty! So I started to learn how to decorate them since 2014. Read more>> 

Christopher Jones

In 2008 my son CJ was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The doctors gave him one year to live. form diagnoses and within that time frame, we missed a clinical trial because we could not get his medical records in time. After Cj passed in 2009. I became an IT director for a local healthcare company and was able to see the root causes of the problems with patient health data. After a layoff in 2018, I started MatchRite Care to promote patient record accessibility but most importantly to enable patient-provider communication across disjointed health systems. Read more>>

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