The end of the year is a time for many to reflect on the year’s highs and lows. Here at The Montclair Girl, we wanted to take some time to celebrate community members for their contributions. We know that it takes a village to make our community as special as it is, so let’s highlight some of these neighbors who make Montclair sparkle: The Montclair Girl’s Women to Watch 2024. Read on to learn about these women who inspire us and improve their communities every day.
Julia Choi-Rodriguez | Co-Founder of Vesta Chocolate
Julia started her career as an ad executive, but her dreams were sweeter than a typical 9-5. She made a career switch and eventually became a co-founder of the beloved Montclair chocolate shop, Vesta Chocolate. At Vesta, batches of chocolate and sweet creations are made in-house each day — and locals aren’t the only ones who favor (and savor) these desserts. Since opening in 2020, Vesta has received numerous accolades for the quality of its desserts, including landing a spot on Oprah’s 2023 list of Favorite Things. With this celeb mention under her belt, Julia says, “We want to keep providing quality service and products to keep putting Montclair on the national map.” Julia currently oversees many of the operations at Vesta while freelancing on the side. Throughout her work day, she told MG that “seeing happy clients pushes me to keep doing better and better and better.”
Business owner Julia looks up to: “The owner of Beyond the Bagel. She has a heart of gold, and she inspires me to be a bigger person.”
Juliana Stravato | Co-Founder + Master Colorist of Fab + Jules
Juliana Stravato is the co-founder and stylist at Fab and Jules alongside her best friend, Fabricio DeAlmeida. She has 11 years of experience working in the beauty industry and ventured to open her salon at the height of the pandemic. The driving force behind her work is simple: “If you can make someone feel good it makes you feel good.” Juliana hopes that Fab and Julescan maintain its “boutique salon feel,” even as it grows. Juliana learned a lot from Zoe Cortez and Christine Ku, the owners of Zoku Salon in Summit. “I never realized how much weight you carry as a business owner,” she shared, “and not only did they do it flawlessly but they managed to teach every one of us every day.”
Juliana’s favorite Montclair spot: “Faubourg hands down has the best service. Everyone knows your name, remembers your drink, and they are always so warm and welcoming.”
Jacqueline Apicella De Dios | Director of Experience Montclair
One of the many joys of Montclair living is the amazing local businesses in town, and Jacqueline Apicella has dedicated her career to uplifting these businesses. Before becoming Director of Experience Montclair, Jacqueline worked as a sales and marketing manager at BMW of Bloomfield. She was able to “immerse herself in the local community” by connecting with shop owners and restaurant managers. This eventually “ignited her passion for supporting small enterprises,” and she started consulting for local salons, shops, and restaurants. Since then, Jacqueline has worked at Bloomfield Center Alliance, Montclair Center BID, and now at Experience Montclair, a platform that promotes Montclair businesses and the city as a whole. She tells MG, “Sharing this awareness [for businesses] is crucial as it contributes to job creation, boosts the local economy, and sustains it. Their support means more than they may realize.”
Jacqueline’s favorite part of living in North Jersey: “I love being surrounded by all the beautiful parks and all the dog-friendly businesses throughout the area. I love taking my rescue pup Gidget around town.”
Monique + Monica Hudson | Founders of Coffee + Cornbread
While it has been an eventful year for Monique + Monica Hudson, the sister duo behind the food spot, Coffee + Cornbread, they both look forward to the new year. The once-Montclair-based spot (now located in Belleville) serves breakfast and lunch items that are organic and vegan. Despite Coffee + Cornbread’s relocation, the sisters maintain their culinary passions, which Monique says ,“fuels both [her] professional and personal life.” As they continue to grow in Belleville, the duo shared that they’re “aiming to rebound from last year’s setback as [they] plan to reopen in a brick-and-mortar location, and we look forward to rolling out our new concepts.”
Monique’s favorite food spots: “Kreme + Krumbs, Kurly Kurtosh (Nutley), Dino’s Pizza, and Belgiovine’s.”
Lauren Kavourakis + Samara Sulin | Founders of Ladyfingers Bakery + Bar
Ladyfingers Bakery + Bar is one of the newest hot spots to open in Essex County in 2023. Founded by business partners and now-best friends, Lauren Kavourakis + Samara Sulin, the duo work together to craft bakery items like cakes, cookies, and doughnuts — in a space that has a full bar. Before Ladyfingers, Lauren worked in the restaurant business and “had a love for sweets… making and eating them.” As for Samara, she got her start at an externship at City Cakes in New York, a place known for its edible artworks. Using their expertise, the duo came together and launched Ladyfingers in Bloomfield. Since opening, the duo shared with MG, “Our customers inspire us every day — seeing the joy in people’s faces and the excitement when they walk through our doors.” As for what 2024 can bring to the table, Lauren and Samara say, “Our goal is to create a space that everyone will love.”
Local business owners Lauren + Samara look up to: “We look up to Jodi Dawson and Kristine Petrik, the owners of Java Love. Our coffee is a special blend that we created with Java. When we first met with Jodi, we instantly connected with her and knew this was where we wanted to source our coffee blends. They are both so talented, such great businesswomen. What they created together is amazing, and we hope to one day get to the level that they are at.”
Kyra Huxel | Founder of MEGA Studios
Kyra is the founder of MEGA Studios, a reformer-based workout studio that opened its second location in Montclair this year. The classes at MEGA Studios are half mega reformer and half treadmill, designed to inspire everyone who walks through the door…walk out feeling better than 55 minutes ago.” At both of her locations, Kyra hopes to build strong connections with the Jersey City + Montclair communities.
Kyra’s favorite part of living in North Jersey: “We have some of the best shopping and small unique businesses — and personally, for me, the proximity to family and friends is ideal.”
Michele Shiber | Senior Animal Control Officer + Supervisor at Montclair Township Animal Control
Michele is a Montclair Township Animal Control Supervisor. Michele knows the value of her role in the community, by “educating the public, enforcing the rules, and being a resource to the local communities and my fellow Animal Control Officers.” She uses her expertise and continues to keep Montclair informed when it comes to animal information.
Michele’s favorite food spots: “With my (very) busy schedule as an ACO, I don’t get to frequent many of the local eateries, etc, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about any of the establishments mentioned during any conversations I’ve had with the residents.”
Stephanie Tran | Dentist + Founder of Steph’s Macarons
Stephanie Tran lives the best of both worlds: dentist by day, baker by night. She didn’t imagine pursuing these two careers simultaneously — she fell in love with macaron baking while attending dental school in San Antonio, Texas. Stephanie eventually moved to New Jersey to pursue a General Practice Residency at Hackensack University Medical Center. She brought her growing macaron business with her and settled in the Hackensack area. Her business, Steph’s Macarons, specializes in “cute character macarons that burst with flavor.” Her macaron creations can be enjoyed through custom orders or pop-up events throughout the North Jersey area.
Learn more about Stephanie and Steph’s Macarons here.
Samantha Hahn | Founder of Maison Rainbow
From New York to Hong Kong, Samantha Hahn has been making her mark. She is an illustrator, art director, author, and the founder of the online local art print shop, Maison Rainbow. Samantha has been recognized by It’s Nice That, The New York Times, American Illustration, and the Society of Illustrators + Communication Arts for her work, and she shared with MG that she loves “to bring light, color, and grace to people’s eyes.” As she continues her work as a commercial illustrator, Samantha finds “joy creating rainbows for people’s walls” with Maison Rainbow.
Samantha’s favorite Montclair food spots: “Le Salbuen Café, Local Coffee, and Tacoria.”
Nicci Silva + Amy Rivera | Founders of DollyMoo
Nestled in the heart of Montclair is the cozy, magical, bath and body shop DollyMoo. The shop is owned by sister duo Nicole Silva + Amy Rivera, who share a passion for making handmade products. Besides its Montclair storefront, DollyMoo’s products can be found online and at various boutiques across the country. When asked what the inspiration was behind DollyMoo, Nicci and Amy agreed on one thing: “Mother Earth.” The creation of DollyMoo’s seasonal collection is a reflection of that inspiration — all products come from “a place of healing and spirituality.” With DollyMoo, these spiritual sisters are on a mission to “always spread love, make magick, and inspire people to take time to develop simple self-love and mental care rituals.”
Nicci + Amy’s favorite part of living in North Jersey: “Culture, open-mindedness, art, great music venues, incredible food, family, and friends. We are born and bred proud Jersey girls.”
Veruska Samanez | Pastry Chef of Cake + Flourish + Owner of Libélula Bakery + Kitchen
Cedar Grove resident Veruska Samanez made her way to the Montclair food scene with Libélula Bakery and Kitchen, a breakfast + brunch spot that opened in September of this year. The eatery serves Dominican and Latino cuisines, with a variety of sweet and savory dishes. Though Veruska has a decade of experience behind her, much of her inspiration comes from Montclair residents who haven’t visited Libelula yet may have seen Veruska on Food Network’s Spring Baking Championship, or tried a custom cake from her other business, Cake and Flourish. Her goal for the bakery, she says, is simple: “to create pastries you can’t find anywhere else in town.”
Veruska’s favorite part of living in North Jersey: “The diversity of food! I love to eat out — and you can find any cuisine made authentically by the strong working people who hustle every day! I love supporting small businesses and I grew up showing love through food.”
Jill Cohen | Owner + Founder of TheCannaBossLady CBD Boutique
South Orange resident Jill Cohen started her career in the advertising industry as a sales and experiential events specialist. Even as she climbed the corporate ladder, her true passion was always been cannabis health and wellness. After managing her mental and physical health with cannabis, Jill became a certified CBD consultant. She then openedThe CannaBoss Lady, in Maplewood Village — the first women-owned cannabis storefront in the area. The shop sells high-quality CBD, edibles, wellness, skincare, intimacy, spirituality, and beauty products. Fast forward to 2023, Jill went on to open Elevated by TheCannaBossLady Dispensary, located at Highland Place, Suite 1 in Maplewood. She shared, “I am passionate about the transformative power of cannabis and set out to offer a refined, luxurious environment for a 5-star experience.”
Jill’s favorite local spots: “Luna Stella Restaurant, Perch Home, Kimaya Kama, St James Gate, Cactus Charly, Coda, Meus, Luxe45, Victory Salon, and Garubo Salon.”
Kristen Zachares | Founder of The Eclectic Chic Boutique
After setting up shop in 2018, The Eclectic Chic Boutique in Montclair has been home to a collective of local vendors from New Jersey. The owner, Kristen Zachares, created a boutique “where visitors could come and shop from a wide variety of local businesses year-round in one location.” The boutique has also become a space for craft classes and special events. Kristen loves the idea of “being surrounded by creativity every day when [she] comes to work in [her] shop.” As Kristen continues to welcome local artists, crafters, and business owners, she hopes the boutique will help “gain more visibility and create more opportunities for them.”
Local business owners Kristen looks up to: “When I originally moved to Montclair I got my first job at Tia Marie Beading Studio. Tia Harris holds a special place in my heart because I learned a lot about being a business owner from her.”
Rosanna Abreu Guzman + Kaylin Guzman | Founders of KAiPOP Bakery
Rosanna Abreu Guzman, a co-founder of KAiPOP Bakery, was born in the Dominican Republic and landed in Montclair 10 years ago. Fast forward to 2020, Rosanna launched KAiPOP Bakery, a virtual Montclair-based mother-and-daughter-owned bakeshop. During the pandemic, Rosanna and her daughter, Kaylin Guzman, found a sense of unity and positivity through baking. The duo shared that they wanted to “share all of [KAiPOP Bakery’s] magic with [their] community and friends.” Through KAiPOP Bakery, pre-ordered freshly made desserts and small bites are made in limited quantities online and on Instagram. With Rosanna and Kaylin’s love for baking, they hope to “keep building [their] brand and that it gains recognition nationwide.”
Rosanna + Kaylin’s favorite Montclair spots: “Our favorite local spots are Zeugma, Koreander, Scala del Nonna, Sushi Koshi, and Faubourg.”
Christina Kamilaris | Dietitian + Founder of Veggies n Spice
Christina Kamilaris has been a registered dietitian for eight years and is a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics. She works to provide sports nutrition counseling, and athletic team presentations and hosts workshops at New York University. Her expertise has led her to open up her dietitian and nutrition counseling practice, Veggies n Spice. She works to target weight concerns, medical conditions, hormone balance, and sports nutrition to her clients. Christina says that with Veggies n Spice, she wants to “continue making nutrition education accessible to many by providing virtual sessions and accepting insurance.”
Christina’s favorite local Montclair spots: “My family’s from Cyprus so Middle Eastern restaurants are my go-to. Marcel, Le Souk, and Uncle Momo, by far have the best chicken shawarma, babaganoush, and pita.”
Adenah Bayoh | Entrepreneur
Adenah Bayoh has been on an entrepreneurial journey over the past few years. The Essex County native always had that passion for business in her blood. In a past interview with MG in 2022, Adenah said, “My grandmother had a restaurant, a bread factory, and a farm. I remember being around her and soaking up all of the things she was a part of. She involved me from a very young age in her business dealings.” Once she grew older, Adenah took up her passion for business and graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Eventually, in 2008, she started her entrepreneurial journey by opening up an IHOP franchise in Irvington. Following this start-up, Adenah went on to own seven restaurants including four IHOP franchises, and new restaurants Cornbread Farm-to-Soul and Brick City Vegan in Montclair.
Follow Adenah’s entrepreneurial journey here.
Paula Lopez | Founder of UnLucky Rabbit
West Orange resident Paula Lopez has had a lifelong passion for art. In 1999, Paula started her career as a tattoo artist where she should “etch stories onto human canvases.” Beyond her tattoo artistry, she found a fascination and started collecting taxidermy, oddities, art, and toys. Eventually, she was able to take her two hobbies and combine them into a lifelong dream. The result is her shop, UnLucky Rabbit. The shop is located in Montclair at 123 Walnut Street and is a combined tattoo parlor and taxidermy/oddities spot. With UnLucky Rabbit, Paula hopes to make it become a place where “people can come and embrace their weird and unusual”.
Local business owners Paula looks up to: “Tobi Tango from Verona Carpet Shop, Amy White from Flux Yoga, Kris from Garden State Kitchen, Leslie from the Salt and Prepper, and Julie from Suitcase Bakery.”
Francesca Castagnoli | Founder of Tiny Gallery
Francesca Castagnoli has worn many career hats throughout her life. From working as a magazine staff writer and editor, a freelance writer, to the head of messaging at Amazon, and now gallery owner, she has always been guided by creativity. Francesca started a miniature art gallery at 8 Stanford Place in Montclair for residents to stop by and admire the local artwork. With Tiny Gallery, Francesca hopes it can “create small, meaningful connections with art and storytelling in an unexpected way.”
Francesca’s favorite Montclair spots: “I love dinners at Fauborg. I love driving past Montclair Atelier Bridal Salon to see their collection of spectacular dresses. I love walking up Yogi Berra Way and doing that Highland Road walk. I love skateboarding down Champlain Street and turning onto Essex Street. Champlain has a deceptive incline and smooth asphalt that’s as scary as it is thrilling. I love seeing the kids pour out of the high school.”
Tami LaMorn | Entrepreneur
Tami LaMorn is no stranger when it comes to the business world. She is a multifaceted entrepreneur who’s a restaurateur, real estate developer, and co-founder of a digital marketing company. Most recently, she unveiled her new culinary endeavors, Bar Vanquish and the Asian-inspired Tinjune Downtown in Newark. With these new spots, Tami hopes to bring a cuisine “with exquisite flavor to appeal to all palates.” Also, as she is a woman of many talents, Tami hopes that she can inspire and help people “use knowledge as a catalyst for innovation.”
Follow Tami and her entrepreneurial journey here.
Janice Gobert, Ph.D. | Professor + CEO of Apprendis, LLC
Janice Gobert spends her time between being both a professor and a CEO. She is the CEO of an AI EdTech company, Apprendis (Inq-ITS). The company works as an online educational environment for science, by developing products for learning and assessment. She founded the company alongside her two former graduate students whom she taught in her college professor career. Janice hopes that this platform will “help people reach their full potential for STEM.” She has big goals for the company, and for whom it can help. She says, “I want to scale my AI-based technology broadly to help STEM teachers and students worldwide, regardless of zip code.”
Janice’s favorite local spots: “Fitzgeralds, Faubourg, and The Highlawn Pavillion.”
More about Janice and her work with Apprendis, LLC can be found here.
Denise Ford Sawadogo | Co-Owner of Montclair Brewery
Denise Ford Sawadogo has more than 30 years of corporate marketing and business experience in packaged goods, including categories such as fashion, auto aftermarket parts, healthcare, and life science. Her global branding, marketing communications, campaign development, and product launch background have led to the opening of Montclair Brewery, located at 101 Walnut Street. The microbrewery and tasting room is co-owned by Denise and her husband and opened in 2018. Customers can taste a variety of beer flavors from fruity like That’s My Jam, an ale made with raspberry jam to crisp ones like Baobiere, a golden ale made with citrus flavors.
More about Denise and Montclair Brewery can be found here.
Yana Robbins | Ambassador for “I Want to Mow Your Lawn”
Yana Robbins is a multi-faceted, Montclair-based entrepreneur. She has applied her skills by connecting senior and disabled neighbors with free lawn services as a part of the nonprofit organization I Want to Mow Your Lawn. Yana has always been interested in plants, and has “amassed a lot of foraging knowledge over the years.” She even took an advanced gardening class at Rutgers University. Her recent work with the Montclair-based non-profit “I Want to Mow Your Lawn” doesn’t come at random: after the town’s ban on gas-powered leaf blowers, Yana wanted to combine her passions for gardening and volunteering.
Yana’s favorite Montclair spots: “Love the coffee at Local, the organic tofu scramble at Bluestone Coffee, the vegan Greek salad at Montclair House Grill, Saturday strolls through the farmers market (which wouldn’t be complete without focaccia bread at Jed’s), the Watchung Bookstore, and the Avis-Campbell Garden, near the Fullerton library, it’s so peaceful and looks different every week!”
Learn more about Yana and her work with “I Want to Mow Your Lawn” here.
Ximena Sofia Bravo | Owner of Papaya Organic Juice Bar
In 2024, Montclair is expanding its wellness scene with newcomer Sofia Bravo’s new business. Papaya Organic Juice Bar, located 131 Pine Street, will feature fresh juice flavors inspired by her Ecuadorian upbringing and travels to Korea. In an interview with MG last month, Sofia said, “I have been researching the benefits of different fruits and vegetables which I plan to incorporate into the menu.”
Francesca DeRogatis, Katie Covett, + Amanda Rositano | Founders of Nightjar Cannabis
View this post on Instagram
Nightjar, a cannabis dispensary, will open in 2024 and be located at 549 Bloomfield Avenue. It is women- and minority-owned by Francesca DeRogatis, Katie Covett, and Amanda Rositano. One of the founders, Francesca shared her views in an interview with MG about Nightjar, “I’ve personally consumed cannabis for almost 20 years, finding it to be a better treatment for anxiety than traditional pharmaceuticals.” As a whole, the team hopes Nightjar can normalize the cannabis shopping experience and eliminate stigma for people who choose who consume it.
Keep up with the women of Nightjar here.