The Local: We Are Winter Garden Edition—July/August 2024

Page 1

For BFF*


Fifer First


You get The Local for FREE thanks to the businesses that you see on our pages. Please thank them with your support. (Don’t see your fave business here? Consider a new fave business.)

Partner with us to showcase your business to the community next to our award-winning content. Made local. Owned local. Loved local.

Congrats to all the winners Y’all really are the best!
Photo: Taken by Jason Cannon of Cannonfire Photography at the issue launch party on July 2nd. Hosted by Pilar’s Loft featuring food from Market to Table









For Starters

I refuse to be shamed by

it: I love

The Voice. And The Masked Singer. And Top Chef. Despite countless seasons passing by, I still nd myself tuning in. And whether they win or lose, the contestants never fail to amaze me. I get choked up every single time.

I have a similar reaction when I listen to an incredible sermon, delve into a brilliant book, witness someone orchestrating a spectacular dinner party, or crafting something beautiful. I’m simply inspired by people doing what they do best.

But “best” is hard to de ne. Is it Olympic-level performances? (Cue me, cheering and sobbing for two solid weeks later this month.) Is it exemplary service or exceptional encounters? Is it de ned by straight As and 1600 SAT scores, or is it merely consistency and familiarity?

Personally, I believe “best” is subjective, and everyone is the best at something. Some of us turn our gifts into careers, while others bless the world with theirs. Right now, I can think of four incredible ladies who excel at friendship— they’re so good at it, it’s unfair. And then there are those I constantly admire for being such good moms. I’m not particularly fond of kids, but when I see that exceptional mothering in someone else, I’m all bravo!

This entire issue is a lovefest devoted to the concept of “best” in all its sundry forms—passion projects and paychecks, artistic talents and dogged determination. We invited you to share your opinions on the people, places, and things that you love, and holy heck, you guys showed up! Thousands of votes, crashing our site not once,but twice. If that doesn’t prove how much you love this little place we call home, I don’t know what does.

Inside this inaugural “Best” issue, you’ll discover a treasure trove of musttry restaurants, must-do adventures, must-visit shops, and must-meet people—some familiar, some yet to be met. But one thing’s for certain: I want to support every local business featured in these pages. Why? Because there’s something magical about discovery, celebrating and cheering on the underdogs. We’ve outdone Yelp with an insider’s guide to the hottest, most intriguing, most exceptional businesses in town, all waiting for you to explore rsthand.

So let’s dive in, shall we? Here’s to uncovering hidden gems, supporting local talent, cheering one another on, and reveling in the best that our community has to o er.

Ace Hardware (Hamlin)

AntiquiTeas @Plant St Market

Axiom Bank Hamlin

Cariera’s Fresh Italian

Driftwood Market

Everything Local (Clermont)

Foxtail Co ee Co.

Gochi Sushi

Gymnastics USA

Home State Brewing Co.

Je ’s Bagel Run

Lake-Sumter State College

Little Greek @WG Village

Just Love Co ee Cafe (Clermont)

Ocoee Taco Company

OC Public Library, Winter Garden

Pammie’s Sammies

Pilars Martini & Loft

Polka Dotz

Puppy Dreams

Rosallie Le French Cafe

Seacoast Bank

Schweini’s Deli

P.S. My Treat

Thai Blossom

The French Cafe

Three Birds Cafe

WG Heritage Museum

Writer’s Block Bookstore

YMCA (Roper and Doc Phillips) and more!

I’m home to live

Nicole Spooner Account Executive 407-595-4793


July/August 2024 Vol. 3 No. 07


Jamie Ezra Mark Publisher 352-425-6400


Heather Anne Lee Editor

Heather Diaz Writer Mark McWaters Writer Tarin Scarbrough Writer

Austin Arthur Co-CEO Stars and Stripes Marketing Services

Shelley Dawson Realtor RE/MAX Prime Properties

Andrew Ontko Art Director Josh Clark Designer

Wendy Mak Designer Rheya Tanner Designer

Tara Zele Director of Operations Bryan Fifer State Farm Insurance


Kirsten Harrington Freelance Writer

Sara Noboa Account Executive 602-284-1583

407-573-6061 /

Fred Lopez Chief Photographer

Evan Miklosey Web Kate McDonald Marketing

Becca Lanterman Bradford Owner, Winter Garden Senior Home Care

Mark Schmidt New Business Development, Boyer Building Corp.

Pam Thomas Owner & Founder, Pammie’s Sammies

In an age where technology often drives us apart, imagine an app that actually works toward the greater good, bringing people closer together.

That was the vision Marc Jablon had for the Winter Garden App in 2019. Five years later, it has transcended his greatest hopes, becoming a juggernaut of positivity, connection, and prosperity. Whether it’s rallying support for a local cause or fostering partnerships between businesses and nonpro ts, its in uence has de nitely been felt in the community.

Of course, that didn’t happen overnight. Relying on people to nd the app on their own or through social media was only a small part of the equation. Over the last ve years, the We Are Winter Garden team has attended thousands

of local events and given away endless amounts of swag. They’ve also partnered with groups like the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, Winter Garden Rotary, Matthew’s Hope Ministries, Healthy West Orange, Crooked Can, Garden Theatre, Gymnastics USA, Lift Disability Network, Advent Health, and many more.

So what’s their secret? How did they go from a mere concept to over 27,000 downloads and 124,000 members in ve years? A whole lot of help from their friends.

“‘We see you everywhere.’ That’s what we hear over and over from the people we meet in life and online,” Marc says. “You can’t represent the community and not be in the community. To do that, we had to build a team.”

The people who rst helped breathe life into Marc’s vision were Tracy Lewis and Bobbi Mottin, the dynamic duo behind the Winter Garden Community Group, as well as Windermere & Surrounding Communities Group. “Their contributions can’t be quanti ed,” Marc shares. In fact, Tracy helped introduce Marc to the people most often associated with We Are Winter Garden—Michelle Meachem and Jon Burket.

“Jon, Amanda, Tracy, and Michelle—these are the names that have shouldered the weight of the Winter Garden App, transforming it from a concept into a community lifeline,” Marc says. “In the last two years, they’ve been joined by a cadre of dedicated individuals: Kylie, Gwen, Jordan, Calvin,Sa-

mantha, and Mindy. They’ve poured countless hours into building We Are Winter Garden into a brand that embodies the spirit of the community.”

But none of this would be possible without the unwavering support of the community. The list of partners and supporters is endless. At its ve-year mark, We Are Winter Garden has nearly 150,000 people interact with it online via the app, Facebook, Instagram, and private local groups. It’s not just an app—it’s a lifeline, a force for good, and a symbol of the power of community.

Pup Lit

Sonia Cordero-Kueng is touching hearts with the help of four paws and one book.

To write a book is an act of giving back. At least, that’s what bestselling children’s author Sonia CorderoKueng would tell you. A radiant presence to children and animals alike, Sonia’s journey began in early childhood education, where she rst began spreading her warmth

through volunteering, donating, and advocating for animal rescues. Now, she illuminates the hearts of children through her books, fostering their understanding of the world.

“I worked in early childhood education for 20 years, so I have a passion

for children, and more importantly, giving the gift of reading to a child. But it wasn’t until 2017 that I bought my rst ‘How to Write a Book’ guide,” she shares with a giggle. “I retired in 2021, which was very di cult for me. However, I now had time to commit to my writing; incidentally, it was about the same time we rescued Luna from New York.”

When Luna, an inquisitive Dalmatian, needed a new home, Sonia and her husband welcomed her with open arms. Their belief in rescuing animals resonates strongly: “Save a life, don’t buy one.”

With her newfound family, Luna began to enjoy roaming and exploring in her backyard. “She never chases anything; she happily watches the animals and bugs meander by.”

Recently, as Luna sat beside a butter y bush, Sonia wandered over to snap a photo. Amazingly, a butter y perched perfectly on Luna’s nose. “As I got closer, the butter y ew away, and Luna serenely watched as the butter y circled above her. It was an extraordinary moment,” Sonia recalls.

“That evening, I was telling my husband about what I saw, and the idea hit me: ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to write a children’s book through Luna’s eyes?’”

With a journal in her hand and a xed eye on Luna, ideas began to ow.

“That’s how my children’s book, Today’s the Day! Luna Meets Lily, came to life. Luna, feeling lonely in her new home and seeking understanding, meets Lily, a growing caterpillar, and the two become friends,” Sonia explains gleefully. With hundreds of raving reviews on Amazon and a recent placement on The Best Seller List this past April, Luna has met countless new friends who eagerly await her next adventure.

Driven by her dedication to children and animals, Sonia eagerly gives her book to the students and teachers at the school she visits. She also volunteers and donates to local animal rescues.

“I am in a place in my life where I can give back and make an impact through my books.”

Luna, Sonia’s faithful companion, joyfully accompanies her to book readings, book fairs, and schools, spreading their heartwarming story of butter ies, patience, and friendship. Sonia re ects on her experience, “For me, it’s a full circle—blending children’s education with a loving and gentle rescue dog. There’s nothing better.”

always good news in the Garden

Raise a glass! ABC Fine Wine & Spirits (@ abcfinewinespirits) has uncorked its signature store at 4110 Winter Garden Vineland Road, complete with whiskey and wine tasting. Sweet news: Peach Cobbler Factory (@peachocoee) is cooking up a second location in Ocoee. Your taste buds will thank you! While you wait for that opening, we suggest swinging by Moody Desserts (@moodydessertsorlando) for delectably moody treats. Can we just say, “Eat Your Feelings” may be the best tagline ever. Craving savory instead? Babbi Babbi Korean Kitchen (@babbibabbikorean) is sizzling on Daniels Road., and taco aficionados will be thrilled to know, Antojitos Locos (@antojitos_locos_fl) is now open in downtown Ocoee. Fashionistas, rejoice! J.Crew is strutting into WG Village, and Jackie Siegel (@queenofversailles) is bringing designer fashion to Ocoee Thrift Mart. Proceeds go to the Victoria’s Voice Foundation (@victoriasvoicefoundation) so you can shop ‘til you drop guilt-free. Unleash your inner artist at Color Me Mine (@colormemine_wintergarden) pottery and painting, next to Beth’s Burger Bar in Stoneybrook. Need some TLC? Say hi to Mamba Physician Care (@, a concerige primary care o ice. Inspired by Kobe Bryant’s Mamba Mentality, Dr. Akram’s ‘Philosophy of Care’ is all about relentless improvement. And for our history bu s, the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s (@wgheritage) updated Winter Garden History Hunt is just the ticket. Grab a treasure map from the Heritage Museum or the Railroad Museum and embark on an adventure downtown.

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Garden Variety

The Morgan Center

The Morgan Center: Where preschool meets positivity.

Founded in 2003 by Nancy and Rod Zuch, The Morgan Center is a 501(c) (3) non-pro t organization providing a safe, stimulating preschool environment for children undergoing cancer treatment. Inspired by their daughter Morgan, diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia at two and a half, the Zuchs created this haven to o er children normal preschool experiences without infection risks.

Morgan, now a volunteer, emphasizes, “The majority of the brain develops by age 5; this program is crucial for social growth and academic

support.” Nancy adds, “We equip children with social, emotional, and academic skills, preparing them for kindergarten and giving them a sense of normalcy—it brings such positivity during a dark time.”

The Center’s rigorous safety protocols ensure each child has individualized supplies and a clean environment, enabling them to enjoy learning and play. It also fosters a supportive community for parents, o ering mutual support and understanding. “We get to give these kids the childhood I couldn’t have,” Morgan shares. “Seeing

Must Haves

Market vendors spotlight their favorite wares

Angel Afton

Trish’s Orchids

the children socialize, learn, and play safely is incredibly rewarding.”

Expanding with programs in Florida and 15 other states, The Morgan Center relies entirely on donations and fundraising. Morgan’s journey, now extending to helping others with chronic illnesses post-cancer, underscores the lasting impact of this unique program. The Morgan Center remains a beacon of hope, restoring childhood joys and developmental opportunities to children battling cancer.

To get involved:

“The Vanda Orchid is our favorite. It’s beautiful, easy to care for; plus, it bestows multiple blooms per year.

Julie Dimas

Handcrafted Just for You

“The Clary Calm roller bottle is my top-selling product for women. It’s convenient, a ordable, and perfect for promoting a sense of calm and relaxation.

Gilly and the Girl

Meet Gilly and the Girl, a musical duo born of serendipity and shared passion. Their story began in Japan, where Mike, an actor at Universal Studios in Osaka, met Charity, a talented vocalist. Sparks ew, and they quickly fell in love, married, and soon after, they were making beautiful music together.

Charity’s gentle nudge led them to serenade audiences on cruise ships around the globe. Mike’s

smooth James Tayloresque guitar playing, paired with Charity’s versatile voice, struck a chord with fans far beyond the silver seas. “Mike has slight performance anxiety,” Charity explains. “I talked him into doing it professionally because he was so good at playing guitar and singing well.”

Mike laughs, “Charity really crowbarred me with it. But I’m glad she did because, you know, I just

From a chance encounter to cruise ship stages, this duo blends smooth tunes and authentic chemistry.

love our lives.” Their loving chemistry radiates both on and o stage, enchanting audiences with their genuine connection and musical synergy.

See them perform live at the Embassy

From intimate gigs to grand cruise ship stages, Gilly and the Girl continue to charm audiences with their harmonious blend of love and music.



Featuring a vibrant blend of martinis, mixology, and live music served in a sophisticated yet welcoming atmosphere. Known for Thursday Open Mic Nights and Jazz Jam sessions on Sundays, where pros and amateurs showcase their talents

Wilder at Heart

East Winter Garden’s beloved matriarch, Charlie Mae Wilder, immortalized in the renaming of a landmark city park—a fitting tribute to her enduring legacy.

At 91 years young, Charlie Mae Wilder is a force to contend with. Fondly referred to as Mother Wilder, she has been a stalwart advocate for East Winter Garden since 1976. In June, her unwavering commitment was recognized with a remarkable tribute from the City of Winter Garden: the inauguration of Charlie Mae Wilder Park at the intersection of Plant Street and West Crown Point Road.

She’s done it all—chaired the Code of Enforcement Board, juggled responsibilities with the Community Redevelopment Agency and the city’s Recreation Board, and to top it o , slid into the District 3 City Commissioner seat in 2006 because she simply wanted to serve.

But that’s not all. Charlie Mae didn’t stop at governance.She went full throttle, planting the seeds for the Neighborhood Center for Families at the Mildred Dixon Activity Center and pioneering the community garden on Ninth Street in ‘08. And get this—she taught Sunday school for a staggering 54 years, nurturing bodies and souls like a true pro.

Charlie Mae Wilder: a force of nature in Winter Garden, proving that age is just a number when you’ve got passion and grit on your side.

Read more about Charlie Mae’s youthful vigor in the January 2023 issue of The Local.

Garden Variety

Suni Maharaj AntiquiTEAs

Summer or Winter Olympics: Summer.

Best thing about Winter Garden: I love the mom and pop vibe; Winter Garden always feels so homey.

Favorite thing to do in the summer: The beach, Playa Linda.

Sunrise or sunset: I can’t choose between the two—they both make


Sean O’Neill, the man behind the area’s rowdiest Facebook group, reshares some standouts. Experience Winter Garden’s Rants Raves

Fischer Johnsons

Harrell’s Hot Dogs

Summer or Winter Olympics: Summer.

Best thing about Winter Garden: The Chef’s Table restaurant: I always ask for their veal sweetbread.

Favorite thing to do in the summer: Swimming every day.

Sunrise or sunset: Sunset.

Anna Crawford

The Hive Boutique

Summer or Winter Olympics: Summer.

Best thing about Winter Garden: Shopping—I’m a shopaholic, and The Hive Boutique is my favorite. *wink*

Favorite thing to do in the summer: Shopping for sweaters, even in the summer!

Sunrise or sunset: Sunset.

“Huge Rave!! Just finished up dinner at X Sushi and ended it with some milkshakes at frozen cow. Great date night.”

—Rave posted by Kat Inocencia on 6/12

“RAVE: Color Me Mine pottery painting by Stoneybrook Publix. Grand Opening is today and they were ready to go. Relaxing environment, good music, and a nice selection to choose from. Check them out!”

—Rave posted by Tracy Briones on 6/1

“RAVE for Dr. Patel & GAYA Wellness. She is an expert in all things women’s health related but also o ers a weight loss program. It can be di cult to take the rst step for something like this—it makes a world of di erence to have her guiding you and helping reach your health goals.”

—Rave posted by Leah Gratton on 6/11

“RAVE for Sweet Peeks Imaging… My daughter is 6 months along now, and visiting Sweet Peeks has allowed us to able to watch the baby grow throughout her pregnancy. We’ll be going back a couple more times before the birth. We highly recommend Sweet Peeks!”

—Rave posted by Liz Struk on 5/22


West Orange Trail Paved

The West Orange Trail, a 22-mile paved path along the former Orange Belt Railway, is a cherished local gem. Originating from the Rails-to-Trails program, this trail transformed the abandoned railway into a vibrant recreational corridor.

Opened in 1994, the first phase converted a 4.5-mile section from the Lake County line through Winter Garden. Subsequent phases extended the trail to Oakland and Apopka, creating a continuous route through Plant

Street. This 14-foot-wide trail, ideal for biking, skating, jogging, and strolling, showcases scenic views and historical landmarks.

The trail’s development was challenging, requiring extensive land acquisition and community backing. It will soon be part of the 250-mile Coast to Coast (C2C) Connector Trail, linking Florida’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Celebrating its 30th anniversary, the West Orange Trail has invariably enriched the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

with history.




Saving early for college is like planting a money tree—and compound interest is the magic!

Crunch Those Numbers:

Calculate the total amount you’ll need beyond tuition, like room and board, books, fees, and other related expenses. Do your best, educational costs have increased faster than the rate of in ation.

Investment Options 101: 529 Plans Probably the most popular tax-advantaged savings plan for education-related savings. Recently expanded for use from K-12, payment of student loans, or a partial rollover to a Roth IRA. Contributions enjoy

tax-free growth over time. But be careful. Stick to quali ed expenses or face the IRA side-eye.

Coverdell ESAs These enjoy similar tax advantages to a 529 plan, with a few key di erences. Pros: You can invest in a wider range of investment vehicles, such as individual stocks, bonds, exchange-traded funds, and mutual funds. Cons: You’ll have annual contribution limits. High-income households may be excluded. And when the account beneciary turns 30, you’ll have to take some actions.

Roth IRAs Retirement? Sure! But Roth IRAs can also moonlight as education savers, too.

If your child doesn’t go to college, gets a schol-


Remember, education is an investment that lasts a lifetime! By following these steps or any combination thereof, you’ll be better prepared to support your child’s educational journey.

arship, or doesn’t need all the funds in the Roth IRA, the account can be kept open as a retirement vehicle. This gives families more exibility with their savings while maximizing tax bene ts.

Financial questions? Just ask Andy! IQ Portfolios is an independent stateregistered investment adviser firm. Always Fiduciary. Fee-Only. 800-558-7969

Summer Must Haves

Stay refreshed this summer with the must-have Stanley Quenchers, now available at Polka Dotz in Winter Garden! Pair them with our adorable straw toppers for the perfect blend of style and functionality. With a variety of colors and designs to choose from, you'll find the ideal quencher to keep you cool a season long Visit us to explore our collection and add a splash summer fun to your hydration routine!

12 W Plant St (407) 877 - 2222

Picture this: bright lights, a bustling crowd, and me, strutting my stu like a champ. With a coat shinier than trophies, I’m the best of the best. Others try, but they can’t match my quirky charm and loving spirit. I steal hearts faster than a treat disappears. Watch out for my runway strut—elegance becomes me. When it came time for the AKC Conformation judges to decide, I knew victory was mine. And sure enough, they awarded me the highest honor, crowning me champion. Who said diamonds can’t wag tails?

Locals have spoken!

From the tastiest scoops to the splashiest influencers, here are your winners of the 2024 readers’ choice awards!

best frozen treat

Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream

Handcrafted with meticulous care and premium ingredients, each velvety scoop of Kelly Seidl’s eponymous ice cream bursts with rich flavor and heartfelt dedication. Timeless favorites keep even the pickiest licker happy, but it’s the monthly specials that bring guests screaming for more. With locations inside of Foxtail Co ee shops around town and a stand-alone location in Hamlin, Kelly’s commitment to community has made them a beloved local favorite.

Runner-Up: Scoops Old Fashioned Ice Cream Store

best eats

best breakfast


Le French Cafe

What’s not to love about a charming bistro where you can channel your inner Emily in Paris? Fresh croissant, creme brûlée latte, Quiche Lorraine—oui, oui!

Runner-Up: Dixie Cream Cafe

best bakery Gingers Baking Co

What began as a hobby bloomed into WG’s favorite bake shop, with scratch-made, freshbaked whoopie pies that are already legendary.

Runner-Up: Beneficial Breads

best bartender Eric Spears, The Tasting Room

Eric is an anomaly. He’s not afraid of obscure spirits and blends them beautifully. If you want to drink outside the box, he’s your guy!

Runner-Up: Tracy Wiu, Pilars Martini & Loft

best brewery Crooked Can

A serious powerhouse in the craft beer scene. Go for the diverse beer selection, stay for the people watching.

Runner-Up: Home State Brewing

best burger

Beth’s Burger Bar

What makes the perfect burger? Is it the juicy meat, the soft bun, or the perfect combo of toppings? The answer, of course, is all of the above. And at Beth’s Burger Bar, you’re the master chef. Build your burger from bottom bun to top, exactly how you like it. With hundreds of possible combinations—your dream burger is just a bite away.

Runner-Up: Hangry Bison

best deli

The Deli Downtown

Piling meat and cheese on crusty bread isn’t a new concept, but The Deli Downtown just does it better. Yes, there’s roast beef, pastrami, and corned beef, but the chicken salad is worthy of its cult-like following.

Runner-Up: Pammie’s Sammies

best juice/ smoothie bar

Press’d Juice Bar, Plant Street Market

Great-tasting, cold-pressed juice along with smoothies, acai bowls, wraps, and more—consider this your body’s reset button.

Runner-Up: Tru Nature Juice Bar

best coffee spot Axum Co ee

The “Cheers” of co ee shops also happens to be the perfect place to savor seriously good, house-roasted co ee. Plus, proceeds benefit local causes, supporting their mission to “brew goodness together.”

Runner-Up: Foxtail Co ee

best instagramworthy eats Mangoni

Gorgeously crafted cocktails. Sublimely styled boards. Epic interiors and cozy nooks. #doitforthegram.

Runner-Up: Toastique

best italian

Bella Italia

This local gem delivers Italian excellence. Expect classics like bolognese, rollatini, and chicken parmesan, plus inventive delights like cheese wheel pasta.

Runner-Up: Cariera’s Fresh Italian

best mexican Servando’s

Three words: quantity, quality, and service. That’s what Servando’s has been dishing up for nearly a quarter century. Even Yelp agrees: “It never disappoints.”

Runner-Up: Ocoee Taco Company

best pizza Michael’s Ali, Plant Street Market

Best known for its coal-fired pizzas, cooked at 800 degrees, giving the crust just the right amount of crispy char. But locals in the know say, don’t skimp on the Stromboli or Meatball Sandwich.

Runner-Up: Joe’s Pizza

best chef David

Lampman, The Attic Door

best server Devin Rogers, Matthew’s Steakhouse

Sure, the steaks are great, but Devin is the secret ingredient keeping guests coming back for more!

Runner-Up: Kim Smith, The Attic Door

best tea spot The Spice & Tea Exchange

Enjoy a refreshing sip of iced tea, then dive into a world of spice and tea varieties. With so many options, you’re bound to find your creativi-tea.

Runner-Up: Sweet Land Cake & Tea

best thai Thai Blossom

A tantalizing combination of predictable and inventive dishes, Thai Blossom is a perennial fave. Plus Patcheree Cravens is simply the nicest, most humble woman you’ll meet.

Runner-Up: Charm Thai & Sushi

best wings

Wings of Winter Garden

When you’ve been frying up crispy, naked wings and fries for more than 30 years, you know you’re doing something right. Pro Tip: Hot garlic. It’s the best seller for a reason.

Runner-Up: Daniel’s Cheesesteak House

A man of few words, Chef David Lampman lets his food do all the talking. David’s commitment to his craft is unwavering; he finds true fulfillment not in serving himself, but in the joy his food imparts to others. This depth of passion is rare and evident in every bite. In a world filled with inflated egos, Chef David Lampman is the real deal.

Best Chef Runner-Up: Ryan Freelove, Market to Table

best restaurant

Chef’s Table

Local residents can’t stop raving about it, and foodies from far and wide flock to experience the exceptional cuisine and intimate service at The Chef’s Table. It’s no wonder this local treasure has been routinely named one of the Central Florida’s best dining experience for more than 15 years.

Best Restaurant Runner-Up: Matthew’s Steakhouse

best wine spot

Mayson’s Wine Shop

A wine lover’s paradise where carefully curated selections line the shelves, and Sommeliers Blaine and Jason will expertly expand your palate. With rare vintages, local favorites, and international gems, every visit is a delightful exploration—and a reason for celebration!

Runner-Up: The Attic Door

best vegetarian Cilantro Indian Cuisine

From aromatic curries to tantalizing biryanis, Cilantro delights omnivores and vegetarians alike. Locals rave about the lightly spiced samosa chaat and baingan bharta (eggplant).

Runner-Up: Fresh Kitchen

best vibe Pammie’s Sammies

This rockin’ little sandwich shop has stolen our hearts. With a curated classic rock playlist, quirky decor, and mouthwatering sandwiches, it’s love at first bite.

Runner-Up: The Attic Door

best pets

best sushi Gochi Japanese Kitchen

Impeccably fresh fish, expertly crafted rolls, and friendly, consistent service. Whether it’s a girls’ night out or a family affair, Gochi promises an unforgettable experience that everyone will adore.

Runner-Up: Norigami

best animal hospital Wintermere Pointe Animal Hospital

Step into the pet paradise where your furry friend is in paws-itively great hands!

With fair and honest pricing, they pamper pets without ru ling your wallet’s feathers.

Runner-Up: Winter Garden Animal Hospital

best doggie day care/ boarding Pawsh Pet Resort & Spa

With splash pads, spa treatments, playtime and treats, your dogs might not want to come home.

Runner-Up: Pet Paradise

best dog walker/ pet sitting Horizon West Pet Care

Michael treats pets like royalty, giving them the same love and respect as their owners. Plus, he’ll care for your home like it’s his own—no monkey business!

Runner-Up: The Savvy Sitter

best pet spa & grooming

PupLuxe Grooming

Let Charlene unleash her magic and leave your pet feeling fur-tastically fresh! She’s committed to giving dogs the pampering they’ve been begging for.

Runner-Up: The Paw Spa

best specialty pet store

Gracie’s of Winter Garden

Gracie’s is your fur-ever friend’s favorite one-stop shop, offering a tailwagging selection of treats, food, and supplements!

Runner-Up: Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming

best pet treats

Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming

Gourmet dog treats, all-natural ingredients, and tail-wagging flavors, what dog doesn’t love a full bakery just for them?

Runner-Up: Gracie’s of Winter Garden

best veterinarian

Dr. Reyes, Graceful Paws Pet Clinic

Dr. Reyes is the purr-fect navigator to steer your pets toward their healthiest, happiest years.

With her Fear Free Elite Certification, vet visits are a walk in the park.

Runner-Up: TJ Oakes, Oakes Animal Hospital

best community

best assisted living community

The Blake at Hamlin

The Blake isn’t just a premier senior living facility—it’s a vibrant social hub. Hosting events with local musicians, entertainers, and charities, The Blake cares for your loved ones and enriches the entire community.

Runner-Up: The Summit of Winter Garden

best company to work for LiveTrends Boutique

With a dynamic work environment that fosters creativity, values innovation, and supports personal growth, LiveTrends is the place for passionate professionals. Plus, their o ices in Apopka are pretty fun, too!

Runner-Up: Horizon West Happenings

best life coach

Jessica Villegas, Hi-Lite Coaching

With empathy and grit, Jessica illuminates paths for teens and young adults, helping them shine with confidence and clarity.

Runner-Up: Je Forrester, Hi-Lite Coaching

best local band Brian+Hannah

With a versatile repertoire spanning Pop, Soul, Motown, Jazz, and R&B, Brian+Hannah bring infectious energy that captivates local audiences.

Runner-Up: Layla Brisbois Band

best local club Home State Run Club (Home State


Open to sprinters or strollers, this very active run club meets Monday nights at 6:30 pm for a fun group run! Camaraderie, motivation, fitness, and beer turn every run into a social event.

Runner-Up: Horizon West Golf Cart Club

best networking group Solutions Networking

Well loved for its dynamic mix of locations and opportunities! Whether you choose Mondays at Stoneybrook or Wednesdays at Cheeser’s Palace, this group connects professionals in both Orange and Lake counties.

Runner-Up: West Orange Chamber Wednesday Group

best local podcast Straight Talk, No BS (Matthew’s Hope)

Ready to get real? Pastor Scott and Shelley pull back the curtain on homelessness, tackling some of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the homeless crisis every Monday at 7 pm.

Runner-Up: Winter Garden Vibes (Chris Chan)

best local charity Polka Dogz Pet Rescue

How can you not love a charity whose sole purpose is to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned dogs, offering them loving homes?

Senior, abandoned, paralyzed, or neglected, Polka Dogz gives them a chance when no others will.

Runner-Up: Matthew’s Hope

best local influencer & most likely to take a selfie

Michelle Meachem

Michelle isn’t just a person; she’s an experience. She radiates joy, embodying the spirit of community love like no other. With an uncanny knack for finding the best in everyone, she effortlessly spreads smiles and ease wherever she roams. As the unofficial mayor of Winter Garden, her presence is felt at every community event within a 20-mile radius, bridging gaps between friends and strangers. Michelle’s confidence and charm are infectious, making her the best kind of influencer.

Local Influencer Runner-Up: Sean O’Neill

Selfie Runner-Up: Melissa Ried

best power couple

Dave & Pamela Helton

Power-Pair Dave and Pamela radiate synergy, balancing law, community, and love with grace and gusto.

Runner-Up: Luis & Omari Santiago

best local spiritual leader

Wes Beacham, Hope Church

Mentor. Advocate. Servant. All this is true, but what people love most about Wes is that he doesn’t just preach it; he lives it.

Runner-Up: Renuet van der Riet, Mosaic Church

best place for a first date

Simply Capri

If the island of Capri isn’t an option, Simply Capri should be. They bring the best of Italy’s Amalfi Coast to the table; now you bring the charm and conversation.


Runner-Up: Meke Smith, West Orange High School

most likely to win on a game show Matt Leiva

No surprise here! The owner of Missing Link Entertainment is primed to steal the show, proving he’s got the winning charm.

Runner-Up: Michelle Meachem

Foam Factory

What’s not to love about a guy who brings bubbles, lights, music, and outrageous outfits to the party?

DJ Bubbles, a.k.a. Stephon Herron, creates a one-ofa-kind party experience sure to leave you the talk of the neighborhood.

Party Runner-Up: Michelle Meachem

Entertainment Runner-Up: Giant Yard Games

best local singer/songwriter

Francesca Tarantino

From belting out classics to crafting her own lyrical gems, Francesca’s rising star is fueled by passion, talent, and sheer determination.

Runner-Up: Layla Brisbois

best play

best local author

Hayley Whiteley

With a knack for whisking readers away on whimsical adventures, Hayley Whiteley’s fantasy series, The Kerafin Chronicles, is a spellbinding cocktail of intrigue, magic, and friendship. Prepare to lose sleep over this enchanting tale!

best place to read a book

The Swings by the Fountain

Go ahead, grab a seat under the shade and linger as long as you like.

Runner-Up: Writer’s Block Bookstore

best golf course

Bella Collina

This Nick Faldo-designed beauty boasts impressive views, dramatic elevation changes, and undulating greens, challenging golfers of every skill level.

Runner-Up: Stoneybrook West Golf Club

best artsy experience


Sip, splatter, or splash your way into creativity at this vibrant DIY studio! From crafts to workshops to private parties, this is the place to go for unleashing imagination.

Runner-Up: Board and Brush Creative Studio

best kids programs Gymnastics USA

Top-notch coaching. A supportive community. Skilled athletes. Diverse programming. And a fun, family atmosphere. Excellence shines through every routine.

Runner-Up: Winter Garden Fencing Academy

best live music venue

Pilars Martini & Loft

Known for its captivating live jazz lineup, community-focused events, unique cocktails, friendly sta , and unforgettable vibe, Pilars is the ultimate destination for music lovers.

Runner-Up: The Attic Door

best local festival/special event Spring Fever in the Garden

This homage to all things spring and gardening brings even the most reclusive to downtown Winter Garden for workshops, inspiration, shopping, eating, live music, and more.

Runner-Up: Horizon West Fest

best nonprofit event/charity

Southern Cross Service Dogs, Always Beside


Golf Tournament and Gala

What’s not to love about an event that supports veterans and service dogs while golfing and dancing?

Runner-Up: Matthew’s Hope, Garden Party

best place to watch a sunset

Newton Park

Expansive, unobstructed views of the horizon make Newton Park an ideal place to watch the sun dip below the skyline.

Runner-Up: Silverleaf Horizon West

best barber

Earl Brigham’s Barber Shop

Earl, an old-fashioned barber with a sparkling personality, may be deaf, but he provides a level of care and attention to your trim that you rarely find in modern clip chains. A true Garden delight.

Runner-Up: Turning Heads Barbershop

best chiropractor Source Family Chiropractic

Your health should be aligned, so go to the source! Focusing on your family’s wellness is their top priority.

Runner-Up: Connected Movement

best dentist Hamlin Modern Dentistry

Finding a real-life “Tooth Fairy” can seem impossible. Hamlin Modern Dentistry makes routine checkups a pleasurable and gentle experience.

Runner-Up: Dr. Thomas Holehouse

best dermatologist Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center

Dr. Jeanette Hudgens and her team sprinkle warmth, acceptance, and TLC exactly when— and where!—you need it.

Runner-Up: Florida Institute of Dermatology

best health & beauty

best doctor

Dr. Trishanna Sookdeo, Sookdeo Family Medicine

Individualized, high quality primary care isn’t an urban myth. It’s how Dr. Sookdeo built her thriving practice of raving fans. In just one visit, you’ll see why.

Runner-Up: Dr. Shweta Patel, Gaya Wellness

best eye clinic

Dr. Mike Imler, PremierMED Ophthalmology

Trust Dr. Mike to keep your vision 20/20. After all, he’s got an eye for detail!

Runner-Up: Dr. Ashley Zak Kimble, New Vision Care

best lash/ brow artist

Fabulash by Lexi

Nothing beats waking up feeling flawless with fabulous lashes!

Runner-Up: Dekalash

best gym Carve

This dynamic, resultsdriven pilates workout blends strength, flexibility, and balance. Get ready to sweat, shake, and smile!

Runner-Up: CrossFit Winter Garden

best tattoo shop Slaughterized Ink

If your body is your canvas, these are your artists! With professionalism, cleanliness, creativity, and a 10/10 atmosphere, they bring your tattoo and piercing visions to life.

Runner-Up: Fine Ink Studios

best hair salon Halo Salon & Salt Room

Top-notch haircuts, color, balayage, and extensions seamlessly blend with the rejuvenating powers of massage and salt therapies.

Runner-Up: Vintage Sky Salon

best hairdresser

Shayna DeckerVick, Bombshell Salon & Spa

Every client on Shayna’s list will be happy and sad to see her on this list. The Garden’s most sought-after stylist is already booked months in advance.

Runner-Up: Ashley Nicole, Vintage Sky

best orthodontist

Dr. Sakowitz, Sakowitz Smiles

Dr. Sakowitz’s mission is to help you emBRACE your best self through his orthodontic care.

Runner-Up: Dr. Caroline Pawlak, Artful Orthodontics

best nail salon Polished by Omairis

Pampering clients with a blend of personal touch, creative flair, and on-the-go mobile services.

Runner-Up: Indigo Spa & Wellness Center

best massage MassageLuXe

Skilled therapists, soothing ambiance, personalized treatments, and a focus on well-being make every visit an unforgettable escape.

Runner-Up: Gentle Touch MediSpa

best personal trainer

Anna Hunt, CSH Fitness

Patient, knowledgeable, and incredibly adaptive, Anna crafts each workout to perfectly align with your unique goals and address your specific limitations. Her workouts are insanely challenging yet totally functional, ensuring you see real results. And she’s there to spot you, every groan along the way.

Runner-Up: Vishant Dave, Alchemist

best shopping

best florist Farm Nine

With beautiful market arrangements to make your kitchen island more vibrant, or the creative team to bring flowers to life for your next special event, Farm Nine is the perfect florist for any occasion, big or small. Founder Niesa Putigna says it best: “Flowers give you their entire lives. From the moment they are picked, they are cherished and gracefully arranged, and chosen by you to be a part of your life—to love, nourish, and be loved in return.”

Runner-Up: Betty J’s Florist

best car dealer

Headquarter Honda

Genuine advice, expert staff, and a personalized buying experience. All wrapped up with a red bow.

Runner-Up: Past & Present Motorcars

best clothing store Doxology

Created by two best friends with a heart for service, this bespoke shopping experience blends fashion, accessories, jewelry, books, gifts, and home decor, all in a beautiful setting with a dedicated chapel, giving you a moment to pause.

Runner-Up: Apricot Lane

best farmer’s market vendor

The Fairy’s Elderberry

Paris Bacchus is (elder) berry excited to spread some natural healing goodness in the community.

Runner-Up: Gingers Baking Co

best gift shop Swalty Sisters

A funny, funky, and—dare we say—swalty boutique shop where you can spend the afternoon laughing with your friends.

Runner-Up: Polka Dotz

best specialty shop Ruby & Rust

More than just an “indoor jungle,” this tiny space has a huge personality. Houseplants, botanicals,

best golf cart dealer Ultimate Carts

With a service-focused team and various brands, you’ll find the “ultimate” ride that suits your needs and budget.

Runner-Up: Creative Cartz

best home goods

LiveTrends Boutique

Rooted in Winter Garden, this boutique has sprouted into an international phenomenon, o ering unique greenery galore.

Runner-Up: Adjectives Market

best services

best IT service C Solutions

From setting up servers to tackling WiFi glitches, Ron Cervantes is here to lend a hand. With years of experience crafting userfriendly tech solutions, C has your back!

Runner-Up: Mighty Manatee IT

best air conditioning Bizzy Air

This veteran-owned-and-operated HVAC company is built upon honor, duty and service, “buzzing” in and out with speed

best electrician Mr. Electric

Nothing but raves for Owner Josh Mikels and his team. This proud WG resident delivers a R.I.C.H. experience—Respect, Integrity, Customer Focus, and Having

best handyman

Frank Cartwright, Central FL Handyman

Let’s face it: we don’t know how to do it all around the house. When those moments come, Frank is the Handyman

best home builder Element

Superb craftsmanship at every level. With their unparalleled reputation, your dream home is always within your element.

Runner-Up: Boyer Building Corp.

best attorney

Pam Helton, Helton Law

More than a lawyer, Pamela Helton is a community advocate, empowering families with compassionate legal representation and giving a voice to the vulnerable.

Runner-Up: Greg Zele, Zele Huber Trial Attorneys

best financial advisor/ management

Financial planning doesn’t need to feel overwhelming. Andy Ortiz brings a downto-earth approach to his boutique-style o erings, and delivers them with personalized attention—and most likely a cocktail.

Runner-Up: Pence Financial Group

best interior designer

Marilou Stones, Stones Design

Finding the balance between beauty and functionality isn’t always easy, but Marilou brings both to the table. From new construction to remodeling, furniture selection to fabric decisions, Stones Interior Design is ready to wow with creativity and expertise.

Runner-Up: Soraya Tamaddon, Design and Staging Group

best landscaping Paradise

Landscaping & Irrigation

Jonathan Bahamonde channels his passion into yours, transforming outdoor spaces and basic backyards into a personal paradise.

Runner-Up: AdvanceScape

best mechanic

Michael Brankert, Mike the Mechanic

Top-notch automotive service with a friendly smile and fair prices? That’s exactly why Mike the Mechanic is Winter Garden’s #1 choice for auto repair.

Runner-Up: Rolando Rojas, Mechanic of West Orange

best pool builder Blue Dream Pools

Who doesn’t want to dive in a pool in our hot summer months? With 48 years of experience, they have the knowledge and the creativity to help make outdoor living a splash.

Runner-Up: Dixie Pools

best photographer Nick Cepeda, Studio 22

“Capturing life through my lens has been one of the greatest joys of my life,” Nick says, and it shows.

Inspired by their daughter’s lemonade stand, Nick and his wife, Kelsey, turned their hobby into a meaningful career just two years ago. Known for their creative storytelling, one flash at a time, they’re giving Winter Garden a whole new glow.

Runner-Up: Jason Cannon, Cannonfire

best plumber John Drew, Horizon West Plumbing & Gas

When disaster strikes, you don’t have time to wait, it’s time to call Drew. With 24-hour service calls and a wide range of options, you never have to worry about things going “drip” in the night

Runner-Up: Johnny Jones Plumbing

best travel agent Richard Johnson, Dream Vacations

Planning your next vacation shouldn’t be stressful. Richard has years of experience planning hundreds of trips from start to finish so you can get back to enjoying life, not planning it.

Runner-Up: Kristin Guillemette, Tink’s Magical Vacations

best property manager Jeremy Porter, PorterHouse Properties

In the world of rentals, there’s one simple truth: A top-notch property manager is the key to smooth sailing. In Winter Garden, that man is Jeremy Porter.

Runner-Up: Francisco Nieves-Taranto, RentCare Property Management

best remodel/renovator Viewpoint Design & Installation

From inspiration to installation, John Ried and his team turn dreams into reality. Whether you’re choosing custom designer cabinets, refreshing a single room, or diving into a whole house renovation, you can trust Viewpoint to deliver an extraordinary experience.

Runner-Up: Colorworx Painting


best efforts

Lift Disability Network

Your votes matter

Thank you for participating in our inaugural readers’ choice awards! Each of these honorees illustrate the truly diverse talent and excellence within our community. A few categories were decided by just one or two votes, so we mean it when we say that every vote counted! We are especially grateful to anyone who contributed extra votes to help us raise $4,000 for two local charities.

Disability has a far-reaching impact — not just on the individual, but also on the family that supports them. Due to their unique challenges and limitations, disability families are more likely to experience loneliness, poverty, and helplessness.

Lift Disability Network creates opportunities for these families to connect to one another, building new support systems and a welcoming community. Throughout the year, Lift provides camps, community events and family services that elevate life for families and individuals impacted by disability.

Funds Raised: $2,000

To Support: @LiftDisability

Polka Dogz Pet Rescue

Polka Dogz specializes in second chances. Its mission is to rescue senior, disabled, neglected, and abandoned dogs, which are less likely to be adopted in ordinary shelters, and provide them with shelter, medical care, and love that they may have never gotten before.

Polka Dogz is 100% donor-supported and needs both funds and donations of daily-use items such as dog food, treats, toys, and cleaning supplies. Above all else, their goal is to find forever homes for their animals, but volunteers and foster home applicants are just as vital to their success.

Funds Raised: $2,000

To Support: PolkaDogz @PolkaDogzPetRescue

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Putting Responders First

South Lake local Rick Fink has made it his life’s mission to combat the stigma of mental health for first responders with OSI: O icer Support Initiative.

The shooting of Christina Grimmie was the catalyst,” Rick Fink shares honestly. “I was called to the hospital where I sat with her body for two hours—it was raw for me; I had a hard time with her death. Then Pulse happened the next night.…

that’s hard to even put into words.” The horri c act of terror altered the course of his life. Feelings of guilt, anger, sadness, depression, and, of course, immeasurable heartache took hold of many people’s hearts, including those of the rst responders.

ing suicide himself. And no one was there to help. Rick’s story is not uncommon. When rst responders need help, where do they turn? Do they attend group sessions, talk to a therapist, or conde in their spouse? The answer: none of the above.

Approximately 85% of rst responders anonymously report symptoms of mental health conditions, carrying the burden alone and living in the darkness of depression.

Which is exactly why Rick created The O cer Support Initiative in 2023. “OSI focuses on supporting all rst responders, veterans, and the families of the men and women who need support,” he says. Among the resources that OSI works tirelessly to provide are: PTSD accountability, a network of trusted mental health professionals, nancial assistance, 24/7 access to help from any one of the four founding members, and more.

Over the next four years, Rick struggled personally and professionally. He lost fellow police o cers and close friends to fatal shootings, his father, who was also an o cer, and his best friend in the military to suicide—ultimately leaving Rick contemplat-

One year after its founding, OSI has received overwhelming support. The organization has partnered with the Orlando Magic, organized numerous successful fundraisers, participated in speaking engagements, taught crisis intervention classes, and provided mental health training at the police academy. Most

OSI members Paul Rivas, Rick Fink Brandon Stahl, and Mike Arena with Clermont Police Chief Charles Broadway.

importantly, it is proud of the 47 rst responder lives impacted and ultimately saved by its e orts throughout Lake County, Orange County, and beyond.

Rick recently took the stage at the Lights and Ladders event in Clermont, in part due to the unwavering support from the Clermont Police Department and Chief Broadway. “The bravery and courage of O cer Rick Fink and others to share their story is truly commendable,” Chief Broadway says. “Their testimonies and services will be the catalyst for rst responders struggling with mental health or su ering in silence to get the help they need so they can continue to do the job they all love. In front of several thousand supporters, his presence is a beacon of hope.”

Rick says, “I feel immensely proud of my journey and my story. I had to go through everything to get to this greater purpose, holding the torch of rst responder mental health and breaking the stigma, hopeful and working toward a brighter tomorrow.”

Want to know more? Scan here to read an expanded version of this story

To get involved:

The Officer Support Initiative

theo theo

Every Tuesday @ 7PM

This session mimics the popular spa experience with similar ingredients. Experience deep exfolation, gentle poredeclogging and extreme healthy nourishing hydration.

Alphabet Chef

Can healthy eating be taught to young children like language or an instrument? For the alphabet chef, the answer is ‘oui’.

Laura St. John and her merry troop of performers are spreading joy, music, and, most importantly, education to the children of Lake County and beyond.

“My husband and I always ate healthily and knew it was something that we wanted to pass along to our children, but it was always a challenge,” Laura says. Recognizing that good nutrition is a key ingredient to children’s well-being, Laura whipped up something extraordinary: The Alphabet Chef.

“I put on the chef wig, hat, and apron, stocked up the picnic basket, created the chef’s voice, and it took o !” Laura exclaims. From schools to libraries to birthday parties, The Alphabet Chef is always cooking up a storm of fun and education. Her hands-on, engaging approach to lifelong nutrition has proven to be a recipe for success.

A multi-talented dynamo, Laura has spent over 25 years concocting unique entertainment for kids. Whether she’s dazzling as the Alphabet Chef, penning enchanting children’s books, singing her heart out, or captivating audiences as a performance artist, one thing is for sure: every endeavor is guaranteed to be bon appétit and a whole lot of fun!

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Painting the Town

Rudy Drapiza’s art captures the soul of Clermont one brush stroke at a time.

It’s not like Rudy Drapiza had a choice. Art was imbued into his life as inherently as breathing. “Almost all my uncles were artists, and my grandfather, too,” Rudy says, standing before a canvas and easel set up in downtown Clermont. The master muralist and painter has been wielding a brush since 1973 when he relocated from the Philippines to the United States.

Rudy’s versatility with acrylics, oils, and watercolors has made him a sought-after artisan. His murals, known for their immersive quality, draw viewers into tranquil yet captivating landscapes. Clermont, known for its rolling hills and pristine lakes, plays a signi cant role in Rudy’s artistic vision. “The unique landscapes o er endless inspiration,” he notes. His murals often depict the serene

beauty of Clermont’s natural settings, bringing a touch of local charm to his large-scale artworks.

Residents can nd Rudy’s artwork showcased in various local venues and online through his Drapiza Gallery. He continues to work primarily on commissions, adapting to clients’ needs with remarkable exibility. His advice to aspiring artists is this: “Spend a lot of time in nature,” he advises. “Nature is the second book of God; it teaches us everything we need to know.”

Rudy can frequently be spotted at Waterfront Park, a living tableau of vibrance. Ultimately, Rudy’s goal is to create art that resonates with its viewers. As he beautifully puts it, “If I can make people smile and make people happy with my paintings, then I’ve done my job.”

A few examples of Rudy’s cathartic artworks, ranging from serene lake vistas to vibrant local scenes, showcasing his masterful technique and capturing the area’s natural beauty.

Good things are always happening in South Lake

It’s like tennis meets ping pong with less running and more unresolved issues. All jokes aside, pickleball’s rapid growth caught the eye of the Clermont City Council, who approved the construction of six more pickleball courts with lighting and covering at Clermont Arts And Recreation Center! Can’t wait that long? Take a swing or 30 at Double Play Batting Cages (@doubleplay_cages), the new, cutting-edge 13,000-sq-ft indoor facility at 431 Citrus Tower Blvd. When you’re done playing around, swing by downtown to grab drinks at BB’s Pourhouse (@bbspourhouse) within the Art Walk location, or Boba Baby (@bobababy_specialtea) inside the Downtown Exchange. Or even grab a healthy bite at The Wave Bowls (@ thewavebowls), the charming Airstream food truck located behind The Roasted Spirit. Last but not least, swing by the new Mary Kay Pamper and Glow Studio in the Clermont Executive O ice behind the Citrus Tower Publix and tell Jan and Kathy The Local sent you!

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Designed to Wow

When it comes to designing your dream home, your Viewpoint matters most.

Design is not for the faint of heart.

DIYers who work on their own homes can easily get overwhelmed with decision overload.

When that happens, it’s time to call Viewpoint Design and Installation. “We come to your home, we listen, we measure. We get to know your vision, and then we work the details until we arrive at the perfect solution—for you. People always ask us: Is there a perfect design? Of course there is. The one that works for you,” says Lynda Mongeluzzi,

Viewpoint’s Lead Designer. This reflects their design philosophy. Form Follows Function is how they approach every job. They ask questions and get to know their clients to find out how they will use the design space in question; no matter whether it’s a kitchen, bath, bar, o ice—the process is the same.

After measuring the space and accounting for immoveable variables, Lynda starts the creative design process. “There are trends in design, of course. Door styles are thinner. White is still king, but two-

tone cabinets are on trend. So are brushed nickel and brushed gold fixtures and hardware. But you have to be careful. Trendy can go too far and lose its appeal quickly.”

Clients often wonder whether to design for themselves—or play it safe and design for resale. “It depends how long you’ll be living there,” Lynda advises. “A short time, three to five years? Design for resale. Longer than that? Get what you want and enjoy it.”

Either way, from inspiration to installation, the safest, best advice is also the simplest— choose Viewpoint.

The Learning Curve

Meet five teachers who are helping set the standard for excellence in education.

Ashley Anderson

36, 3rd Grade, Sunset Park Elementary School, 10 years teaching

The best thing about your career choice?

The most rewarding aspect of my career is my impact on people’s lives and the relationships I’ve built. I stay in touch with many former students, and witnessing their growth brings me joy. I will always consider them as “my kids.”

The biggest challenge facing teachers today?

The biggest challenge for teachers today is the adults, not the kids. Teachers are not treated as the professionals they are. Teachers are constantly questioned and criticized. We’ve put in many hours of professional development on top of our college degrees.

The biggest challenge for public schools today?

The biggest challenge for public schools today would be teacher retention. Teachers can only handle so much before they realize they are worth more.

More to share?

This was my last year teaching. I have loved this career, but this chapter is ending. The parents and adults have made it hard to continue. I need a break to boost my mental health. My husband and I will be moving into a Camper Van and traveling around the United States. I will most likely return to the eld of teaching in a different capacity. For now, I’m focusing on me and learning more about this amazing country!

The Learning Curve

Jessica Stokes

35, 9th-12th Grade, Journalism & Digital Video Technology, West Orange High School, 10 years teaching

The biggest challenge for teachers today?

A combination of two things. First, the pay. This is my eighth year teaching in Florida and yet I currently rent a one-bedroom because I cannot a ord to purchase a home or even rent one. I constantly feel stressed about money. The second is the pressure to perform for my students. It is no longer the days of just teaching the curriculum, now it’s the expectations to play games, have fun, have no work days, and give easy grades. Teaching an elective subject, I am forced to keep my numbers up, otherwise I am out of a job. Students have hundreds of options for electives and are unwilling to choose ones that sound di cult.

Cary Hunter

51, 3rd Grade, Atwater Bay Elementary, 5 years teaching

If you could give one piece of advice to future teachers, what would it be?

Become a teacher for the right reasons. Teaching is tough work with long hours and no compensation for all of the extra time or money spent. If you enjoy making a difference in people’s lives (it feels like you are getting paid),then this is the right career choice for you. Helping families and elevating children makes me feel like what I do matters every day.

Who has the biggest impact on the quality of education in West Orange?

Elected o cials, school boards, administration, and/or parents. Parents and taxpayers can be very in uential in a ecting policy and prioritizing budgetary allocations. The less we pay for materials, new buildings, improvements, and teacher salaries, the poorer the quality will be of what we get in return.

Biggest challenge facing teachers today?

Supporting ourselves nancially while paying out of pocket for classroom supplies and trying to pay o the expensive loans that helped us get our teaching license.

Proudest teacher moment

I give out gifts to the seniors each year and one year, I had seed packets made that had a little saying on it about being thankful to watch them grow. Recently, one of my students reached with a photo showing how she had planted those seeds and gave me an update on her life.

The biggest challenge for public schools today?

Life after COVID. It is just vastly different. Students are behind, they struggle socially more now than ever, they were given grades they didn’t have to earn for almost two years, and now are unwilling to put in the e ort.

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The Learning Curve

Mark Smith

48, 9th–12th Grades, Mathematics, Horizon High School, 19 years teaching and 22 years in education

Why did you become a teacher?

I used to be an accountant but wanted a career that was aligned with more of my interests, so I started coaching college basketball as an assistant and met my wife through my work as a paraprofessional at a high school. After meeting my wife, I wanted a career that allowed me to be around her and the family we were planning on starting. Teaching offered me this opportunity and allowed me to be around amazing young students who want to better themselves.

If I ruled the school, I’d: Support the sta , get to know the students to show them the paths to success that are available to them based on the choices they make, and get the support of the community around us, because if I’ve learned anything from High School Musical, it is “we’re all in this together.” Luckily, our school does a good job of this, so I don’t need to “rule the school.”

How can elected officials, school boards, and/or administration best improve teaching conditions?

Focus on working with teachers to improve school culture and teacher morale. The best administrators and district personnel I’ve worked with take the time to listen

and problem-solve with teachers without talking down to them and setting ultimatums. They do this during the normal school day by going out of their way to interact with the sta and have an honest understanding of the pulse of the school/classroom.

Heather Smith

45, 9th-12th Grades, Exceptional Student Education, Horizon High School, 19th year teaching and 22 years as an educator

What’s the biggest challenge facing teachers today?

There are a lot of politics in teaching, and I nd that to be the most challenging aspect of the job. I entered education to help others but didn’t realize how political education was at the time. Teaching has many challenging things, but it can be a rewarding career choice. Nothing compares to the feeling you get from watching a student work toward and achieve a goal.

Who has the biggest impact on the quality of education in West Orange: elected officials, school boards, administration and/or parents?

Parents are their children’s rst teachers, so they have the biggest impact on their child’s education right away. I think sometimes parents underestimate the impact they have on their children’s education. Parents can support elected o cials who have their child’s best interest in mind and can communicate with teachers, administrators, and school board members about concerns.

Why did you become a teacher?

I enjoy learning and helping others. Learning was not always easy for me. I worked hard in school but struggled with assessments. It wasn’t until college that I was able to figure out the best ways for myself to study. I hope to be able to help students understand how they learn best and help them to think about and plan for their future.

Discover seven of of the people and schools committed to outstanding education in West Orange.

Lighting The Way

Pioneering values-based early childhood education, Children’s Lighthouse is reshaping the future, one young mind at a time.

Can you ever be too young to learn? It’s an honest question for an Early Learning School like Children’s Lighthouse. And for the record, the answer is no, it’s never too early. Students at Children’s Lighthouse range from sixweek-old infants to four years and they begin learning before they learn to talk. Letters, numbers, colors; they’re all on the Lighthouse BRIGHT™ curriculum here— including baby sign language. Exactly as it sounds, baby sign language is a method of using hand and body gestures to communicate with infants before they can speak. Most commonly those “words” are more, milk, water, mom, and dad.

During the infant years, baby brains develop at

lightspeed. The Lighthouse BRIGHT™ program has been designed to maximize those early development opportunities. Higher thinking skills are supported through a curriculum rich in language and tailored to your child’s individual needs to support a lifelong love of learning. This integrated development will help your baby form critical thinking skills and build upon those skills as they grow.

There are always two teachers in every Children’s Lighthouse classroom. At least one, if not both, will possess CDA (child development accreditation). Connections between child and teacher are key to a successful program where the learning is goal-focused and heart-focused at the same time.

Security is a big question for parents who are new to the school, and as you might expect, Children’s Lighthouse excels there as well. There is real-time monitoring with cameras in all classrooms so parents can “sit in” on their kids’ school day at any time. Plus, all parents are given an entrance code to use for secure keypad entry. New for this year, an additional security door has been added in the lobby.

There is so much to see and experience at Children’s Lighthouse, a personalized tour is really the best way to fit it all in. See the classrooms in action, visit the ageappropriate playgrounds, meet the teachers, and ask questions.

Children’s Lighthouse is open Monday through Friday from 6:30 AM to 6:30 PM, with before and afterschool programs. Now going into their nineteenth year, they o er a wonderful way to give your kids a head start, and a great foundation heading into kindergarten.

For more information

Building Better Futures

Jake Petroski has the tools and skills to build a better village.

Jake Petroski’s campaign for OCPS School Board is rooted in the belief that the purpose of public education is to prepare students for success long after graduation day. That belief has been cultivated by years of classroom experience in addition to parenting two current OCPS students. “I love this community and I feel we have a responsibility to o er the best education possible to our children.” Jake is the only candidate with years of classroom experience behind him, and two children currently enrolled in OCPS schools

Adding to his resume, Jake was selected to be a 2024 member of Leadership Orange. The eight-monthlong leadership program covers every facet of the Orange County Public Schools system with behind-the-scenes tours, hands-on demonstrations, student interaction, and quality time with the experts in their fields. Also, in addition to his years of school volunteering, Jake is finishing up his second year on Gotha Middle School’s School Advisory Council. Furthermore, Jake is the

District Four candidate, endorsed by the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. District Four is facing unique challenges that Jake is ready to face on Day 1. He views these challenges not as roadblocks, but as opportunities for OCPS. His top priorities are focused on student safety, increasing literacy proficiency, supporting OCPS teachers, and expanding career and technical education programs. Education is changing. Students and parents have more choices and flexibility now more than ever. Jake believes that OCPS should be positioned as the premier educational choice

for families by o ering innovative programs taught by the best educators in the country. This is where Jake’s past experience as a Career and Technical (CTE) teacher truly shines. He understands that this type of education can be the catalyst that drives community engagement with our schools. CTE helps the community and local industry by getting students industry-certified in a variety of trades and technical career pathways. Local industry leaders will play a critical role in developing these programs.

In return, students will be able to embark on a pathway that leads them to certification and employment opportunities.

Jake is excited for the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead: “My years in the classroom have shown me that there are teachable moments around every corner. There are no tests, benchmarks, or data plotting that can compare to the teachable moments that organically happen within a school.

True educational leaders need to cultivate inclusive learning environments that encourage our teachers to string together these teachable moments for our students. This is how we build a better village—together.”

Lake-Sumter State College
Elementary Education program is training the next generation of teachers.

At its core, LakeSumter State College is an answer for the growing demand for skilled and educated workers in Lake and Sumter Counties.

Lake-Sumter State College

o ers 2-year and 4-year degree programs specifically designed to answer that demand. In addition, the college has a direct connection to UCF—students who com-

plete a two-year program are guaranteed acceptance there.

The college is increasingly known for its elementary education and nursing programs, o ering a BS in both disciplines. But perhaps

its greatest strength, according to Stephanie Luke, Elementary School Program Director, is Lake-Sumter’s adaptability and flexibility.

“For example, when our construction industry let it be

known they needed help, we responded immediately with a Construction Management program. Our Teaching Program came from answering just such a need. And today we o er one of the most innovative Teaching Programs in the country.

From Day One, our students are in practicums in real classrooms and getting paid! Our last

semester students are student teachers, in classrooms, and getting paid.”

Unlike a much larger university, Lake-Sumter State College is the perfect size to o er more local involvement with the community. They partner with local high schools, for example, to give students dual credit for specific classes. That way, high school students can get a jump on their college careers.

All students are assigned an advisor upon entering the school to help them get the most out of their time there. Many students have a good idea what they want to pursue. But for those who have no idea, their advisor can help them try out di erent classes and programs to see which ones spark an interest.

Lake-Sumter State College has four campus locations in the heart of Florida and consistently ranks in the top 150 community colleges nationwide and among the best in

Florida. For the people and the businesses throughout Central Florida, that is a very good thing.

For more information

(352) 787-3747 9501 US-441, Leesburg

Ur Ready!

Unlock your potential with Ur Learning Solution: tutoring for all ages!

Every parent can relate: it’s your child’s first day of school. You watch them walk out the door and you can’t help but feel a little anxious.

Will they make friends? Will they be safe? Will they be able to keep up with their studies?

When it comes to learning, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. While some kids manage to be more self-directed, others may be strug-

gling and need a little extra help to succeed.

That’s where Ur Learning Solution comes in.

“We try to make our tutoring fun by meshing a child’s individual interests in with their lessons to keep them interested,” says Owner Lisa Marie. “Just as important, we stay involved with them through the school year. We attend parent/teacher conferences, IEP meetings, and participate in school activities such

as carnivals and open houses. By now the schools know me. We partner with them and they often refer students who may need us to help.”

Ur Learning Solution o ers tutoring for all ages, pre-K through high school and beyond. Math, Test Prep, Homework Assistance, Reading/Comprehension, Phonics/Sight Words, even ESL Classes are common. But for adults, Ur Learning Solution can help prepare

them for the GRE, ASVAB (military test), nursing, and other specific tests.

“No matter the age, the most fulfilling part of tutoring is that ‘aha’ moment when students finally get it and believe in themselves. It makes everything worthwhile.”

For more information

Ur Learning Solution (407) 658-7575

Open Sesame

At O2B Kids, playful beginnings lead to brighter futures.

Schools and teachers all want kids eager and ready and happy to learn. O2B Kids gives them exactly that Numerous studies show that education, quite literally, begins at birth. Experiences wire the brain and start creating pathways to learning. O2B Kids is a Preschool with Daycare mixed in designed to create experiences that take advantage of those critical, early learning opportunities. How critical? Research

shows us that education gaps can occur as early as eighteen months!

The key to the success of O2B Kids—there are 63 locations in six states now and growing—is that they make learning fun. Their newest location, opening in Ocoee this fall, will feature an indoor playvillage, large playgrounds, and more.

Students range in age from infants to five years old and they have no idea they’re learning while they’re play-

ing. Teachers make a game of washing an infant’s hands, for example. They sing to them, play with them, surround them with a language-rich environment. Even something as simple as building blocks can have profound e ects. Put blocks in the middle of a circle of kids for group play and watch what happens. Kids begin to learn social skills, math skills, shape recognition, colors, and more. They develop friendships, learn how to share and how to work together. All the while, those pathways in the brain are growing stronger.

All O2B Kids teachers are background checked and receive 45 hours of DCF training, and all lead teachers have a Child Development Associates or higher in education. The school goes to great lengths to provide a safe, clean, loving, and caring environment—and it’s working. VPK testing at beginning, middle, and end of year show the improvements an environment like O2B Kids provides. The goal here is to be a partner with families as they raise children who are academically ready to succeed in school, socially ready to build friendships, and emotionally ready to face whatever challenges life may present.

Best in Class Futures Found

At Foundation Academy, innovation meets growth, preparing students for brighter futures.

Demand is high, but so are expectations.

According to Foundation Academy President Dave Buckles, “We consistently sit at 95% retention, which means there is very little student turnover. This year, for example, we received 527 applications for the 2025 year—for about 150 openings.

“And that is with our Phase Two expansion for the year—a 40,000 square foot classroom building— nearing completion.”

So, what is driving the demand?

“Certainly,” says Buckles, “School Choice scholarship vouchers by the state of Florida are now accepted for private schools, and that is one factor. All private schools are feeling that demand to some extent. But there is a lot more than that going on at Foundation.”


At FA, when we undertake any initiative, whether it is expansion or curriculum, we really examine, analyze, plan, and execute. “Our curriculum is the very definition of innovation, and we add to it every year, from technologically advanced facilities to programs designed to meet tomorrow’s demands. We’re investing in robotics on our upper and lower campuses. TV produc-

tion, digital arts, computer graphics, and more are all here or nearing completion. We have a Leadership Training program headed up by a retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air Force. We’re dedicating one of our older kitchen facilities to a Culinary Arts program.

“The point is, that ours is not just a ‘college prep’ program at Foundation Academy. It is much more. About seven years ago a parent came up to me and said, ‘I appreciate all your college prep and student services, but my child does not want to attend college. What do you have for him?’ It was a good question and on the strength of that, we formed a partnership with Orange Technical College. Now, we have students graduating and hitting the workforce straight out of culinary school, or out of training for a trade as welders, electricians—with no college debt to weigh them down.”


Jacquelyn Conover, who will be transitioning over the course of this coming school year to VP of Education, will be taking over for a retiring Carol Grosshans, who helped usher in a more comprehensive, challenging curriculum in her time at Foundation Academy. Jacquelyn echoes Buckles’

sentiments about innovation. “We are constantly looking into the future,” she shares. “What will the kids of tomorrow need to be successful? To that end, we teach personal finance courses and entrepreneurship. We’re looking into TV production, medical careers, and robotics. We are always planning, expanding our resources, and creating new opportunities for learning within our educational space.”

Buckles adds, ”The atmosphere we foster here is a collaborative one. We make it known that we are a family for your child and we will partner with you to take him or her to whatever level they want to achieve.”

Educational Space

Foundation Academy is also a Christ-centered school. We teach Christian values here—your child will be taught from a position of love and understanding. We don’t train our students; we educate them in the Bible. We share God’s love with them, and we make parents aware of this from the outset. This is what we do and who we are. We have families from all religions and backgrounds, and we love them all.

“Our students are happy and excited about being here. Someone once told me, ‘Happy students make

happy mommas.’ In 2022, the Orlando Business Journal voted us Orlando’s Top Workplace. We think that shows in our students and our faculty, and we are pretty proud of that.”

Foundation Academy from an aerial view. (Below) President Dave Buckles (foreground) with Jacquelyn Conover, Audrey Lee, and VP of Education Carol Grosshans (standing), pursuing plans for innovation.

For more information

15304 Tilden Rd. Winter Garden, FL 34787 407-656-3677


First Class

The First Academy is shaping tomorrow’s leaders today

The First Academy ( TFA) stands out as the premier Preschool through 12th grade, Christ-centered college-preparatory school in Central Florida.

Their unique mission is to equip children to become Christian leaders who prioritize character over career, wisdom beyond scholarship, service before self, and participation as a way of life.

Letizia (Leti) Branz serves as Academic Dean and Math Teacher at The First Academy with an extensive engineering background. She also spent many years as a teacher in Orange

County Public Schools. As you might expect from her engineering background, Leti has a particular fondness for science and math and has spent the last six years teaching those subjects, pouring into the students both academically and spiritually.

Leti said, “At TFA, we can speak and focus on objective truth. When I was teaching in public schools, I felt restricted and not able to teach from my worldview or have ownership over the curriculum that I taught. We want our students to be deep thinkers. We teach them to ask questions, engage in healthy debate, and put their conclusions into practice.”

A great example of how The First Academy fosters academics to excel and faith to inspire is through the Dr. Stephen D. Whitaker Senior Thesis. Every graduate of TFA must complete the Senior Thesis, which is a culmination of the work done throughout their high school career. Students can pick any topic they’re passionate about such as physics, biology, psychology, modern culture, social science, and use that selected topic to defend their faith through a robust research paper and live presentation in front of a panel of their peers and TFA faculty and sta . This capstone project prepares students for

the challenge of collegiatelevel rigor while strengthening their personal spiritual journey. Since its opening in 1987, The First Academy has continued to grow its academic, fine arts, and athletic programs, elevating its students to the highest levels of achievement.

For more information

2667 Bruton Blvd, Orlando (407) 206-8600

Soakin’ in the Summer

Dangerously high temperatures are on the horizon. Here’s how our heat lovin’ locals stay hydrated.

Let’s talk about water. No, not the kind you swim in or sail on, but the kind you drink. In Central Florida, where the heat can make you feel like you’re living inside a convection oven, staying hydrated is about as important as remembering to put on pants before leaving the house.

Now, serious dehydration is not just “oh, I’m a bit thirsty.” It’s more like your body is staging a protest because you forgot to invite water to the party. When you’re dehydrated, your blood volume drops. This makes your heart say, “Hey, I didn’t sign up for this extra work!” It’s like trying to drive a car with a gas tank that’s almost empty—not a good idea.

Your body also loses its ability to regulate temperature, so you start heating up. You might feel weak, dizzy, your heart rate goes up, your focus goes down, and you start making decisions that make as much

sense as a screen door on a submarine.

And then there’s the granddaddy of dehydration disasters: heat stroke. That’s when your body throws in the towel and says, “I’m out.” Your cooling system shuts down, and you’re in serious trouble—like, “call 911 and hope they get there faster than a pizza delivery” kind of trouble.

Even those passionate about those 105-degree, 100% humidity days will be brought to their knees without taking the proper precautions. Whether they are theme park workers, dog walkers, gardeners, or roofers—life goes on, regardless of how unbearable the heat may be.

Kevin Mitchell, the owner of Horizon West Roo ng, leads a fearless team that con dently faces the blistering summer heat every day. His advice: “Start the day by hydrating and then continuously drink water

“Start the day by hydrating and then continuously drink water while rotating with an electrolyte drink.”
—Kevin Mitchell

while rotating with an electrolyte drink. We have a big ice chest full of water at all times, and I encourage my team to come o the roofs every 30 minutes to rehydrate.”

Kevin jokes, “The best way to stay cool in the summer is to stay o the roof! But in all seriousness, take breaks, seek shade, and take the time to adjust to the increase in temperature.” These are practical tips for staying hydrated and safe in extreme heat.

Mark Wagner agrees. He has spent his adult life performing at Walt Disney World. “I hate to admit it, but I am not the best at staying as hydrated as I should,” he shares. As a stilt walker and entertainer, his job’s physical demands can sometimes creep up on him.

“What’s good is that I have learned to prioritize hydration, which makes performing more manageable during the summer,” he says. Now, during a typical eight-hour day at Festival of The Lion King, Mark says, “I carry around an 80 oz. bottle of water and force myself to drink between shows and re ll it at least once every shift. No one is perfect, but it’s all something we work at to perform at our best.”

Wellness Counts


Deaths from heat stroke nationwide since 2022.


ER visits for heatrelated illness.

69% of heat-related deaths were males.

81% of heat-related deaths occur in urban areas.

43% of all heat-related deaths occur in Arizona, Texas, and California.


Fast Fact

For people who work outdoors during heat waves, or for people who participate in outdoor activities, the Centers for Disease Control recommends the following during their period of activity:

• Drink 1 cup (8 ounces) of water every 15–20 minutes. This translates to 0.75-1 quart (24–32 ounces) per hour.

• Drinking at shorter intervals is more e ective than drinking large amounts infrequently.

• Do not drink more than 48 ounces (1.5 quarts) per hour! Drinking too much water or other fluids (sports drinks, energy drinks, etc.) can cause a medical emergency because the concentration of salt in the blood becomes too low.

AdventHealth Well 65+ is primary care for seniors that is customized to fit your needs and goals at age 65 and beyond.

Our team of board-certified physicians and advanced practitioners specialize in providing primary care to older adults. Together, we’ll develop the optimal care plan for your individual health and wellness.

Services include: and advanced practitioners specialize in providing primary care to older adults. Together, we’ll develop the optimal care plan for your individual health and wellness.

Do I qualify?

If you have, or intend to enroll in, one of the Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans below, we have a doctor ready to care for you.

If you have, or intend to enroll in, one of the Medicare or Medicare Advantage plans below, we have a doctor ready to care for you.

• Original Medicare

• Original Medicare

• Same- and next-day appointments

• Same- and next-day appointments

• In-person and video visits

• In-person and video visits

• Health First Health Plans

• Health First Health Plans

• Cigna

• Cigna

• Devoted

• More time with your physician (30 to 60 minute appointments, as needed)

• More time with your physician (30 to 60 minute appointments, as needed)

• Devoted

• Florida Blue

• Florida Blue

• Freedom

• 24/7 access to your care team

• 24/7 access to your care team

• On-site lab

• On-site lab Services include:

• Freedom

• Humana Medicare Advantage PPO/ PFFS

• Humana Medicare Advantage PPO/ PFFS

Visit or call 407-809-5457 to schedule your appointment today.

Visit or call 407-809-5457 to schedule your appointment today.

• Optimum

• Optimum

• United Healthcare

• United Healthcare

• WellCare

• WellCare

AdventHealth Well 65+ Winter Garden

AdventHealth Well 65+ Winter Garden

12323 West Colonial Drive, Suite 140 Winter Garden, FL 34787

12323 West Colonial Drive, Suite 140 Winter Garden, FL 34787

Living FIT

FIT 407 blends classic Pilates with strength training for a revolutionary workout.

Sometimes, you can achieve your fastest fitness results by taking it slow. That’s just one benefit of many that clients of FIT 407 Modern Pilates can expect from Michele Nelson and the sta of highly trained fitness instructors.

The “slow” is a reference to Slow Resistance Training— that is the basis of the FIT Method of Modern Pilates. The FIT Method works on the slow twitch fibers in your muscles, bringing them to “failure” quicker and more e iciently. Spring-loaded machines, specially designed for the FIT 407 studios, pro-

vide the resistance and a FIT 407 instructor, schooled in the FIT Method with over 100 hours of extensive training, provides the guidance. The novelty of the FIT 407 approach is that there is a combination of Pilates movements with strength training to create something fresh in the world of fitness.

Classes typically last 45 minutes, during which time members will put their whole body through an intense workout that delivers the benefits of resistance exercise with a pronounced cardiovascular component. There are so many calories being

burned during the class that attendees’ heart rates will rise into the aerobic zone 2 where optimal fat burning takes place—and stay there. All of this in a boutique Pilates studio with curated music and a vibe like no other.

Bonus benefit, and it’s an important one—this is all low impact training. It’s easier on the body, with much less chance for injury. And that is good news for everyone, no matter what your fitness level may be. Michele says, “We have a diverse range of members in both age and fitness levels. Some are young moms looking to build energy

and confidence. Some are grandmothers looking to stay fit and healthy to enjoy family. Others are professional athletes looking to take their performance to the next level. One of our longest attending members is a grandmother with nine grandchildren who comes 4-5 days a week. Her energy and fitness are truly next level.”

Is FIT 407 for you? “Give us a try. We guarantee you won’t find a more supportive, motivational, or inspiring environment for developing physical and mental fitness anywhere. And you’ll love the results.”

Dining Guide

Cariera’s Fresh Italian

1041 S. Dillard St., Winter Garden 407-554-3622 /

Whether celebrating a special occasion or simply feeding the family, Cariera’s strives to make every guest feel comfortable enough to laugh out loud, reminisce, and indulge. Heavy with Italian tradition, Cariera’s features timeless favorites, from spaghetti to chicken Saltembocca, white Cacciatore to Eggplant Parmigiana. There’s even a lite menu featuring Keto versions of your Italian favorites!

Cilantro Indian Cuisine

360 West Plant St, Ste 103, Winter Garden 407-395-3400 /

“Oh, I don’t like Indian,” you might be saying. “I can’t do spicy food.” But true Indian cuisine is about so much more than spice, and Cilantro is here to prove it. Every entree on Cilantro’s diverse menu can be served mild (as well as medium, hot, and Indian hot), with your choice of meat and a wide selection of vegetarian options. Savor the warmth and richness of Indian cuisine, as mild or as spicy as you like it.

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Private Chef

avaliable for parties up to 24 guests

Daniel’s Cheesesteak Express

793 W Montrose St., Ste A6-A7, Clermont 352-933-3136 /

As the home of award-winning wings and the #1 cheesesteak in town, nine years and counting, Daniel’s Cheesesteak House does exactly what it says. Established in Winter Garden more than 30 years ago, there’s no better place to go for a perfectly melty cheesesteak—except the new Clermont location.


352-782-6378 /

Voted Best Caterer, Best Tapas, Best Chef: Chef Britt, Best Sushi: Chef Colon, in Best of Lake County Readers Choice 2024. Our meticulous craftsmanship and fresh, exquisite ingredients ensure an unforgettable experience for you and your guests. Specializing in grand grazing tables, luxurious hors d’oeuvres, and decadent desserts, we elevate your events with style and avor. Our Passion, Your Experience.

Gochi Japanese Kitchen

14195 W. Colonial Dr., Winter Garden 407-877-0050 /

3-6p Lunch

Happy Hour

Since 2007, Gochi Japanese Kitchen has been providing the highest-quality Japanese favorites. Raw a la carte options like nigiri, sashimi, and rolls, plus uniquely crafted noodles, yakiniku and yakiyasai bbq grill options. Need space for a special event? Ask about our private dining room and catering options!

Ispirazione Italian Sandwiches

1711 Amazing Way Ste 107, Ocoee 407-988-9499 /

Taste the di erence! Ispirazione sandwich shop specializes in tigelles, baking the bread and slicing the meats right when you order. Fresh, quality ingredients make each sandwich a masterpiece of avor. Let Ispirazione be your guide to an authentic Italian culinary journey.

Pammie’s Sammies

121 S. Boyd St, Winter Garden 407-730-3212 /

Feed the Soul. Craft with Love. Serve from the Heart. That’s the record-setting recipe behind Pammie’s Sammies, a fun sandwich space with funk woven into its atmosphere and baked into every dish. With food that is thoughtfully sourced, earth-friendly, and tastefully adventurous, our menu pairs old family recipes with tasty trends, all to the soundtrack of classic tunes and conversation among friends.

Peach Cobbler Factory

13848 Tilden Rd Suite 172, Winter Garden

It’s a classic dessert dilemma: no one can agree. Your son wants brownies. Your daughter wants pudding. And you, you’re craving a fresh cobbler with ice cream. Good thing you can get it all under one roof! Satisfy every sweet tooth with cinnamon rolls, puddings, cookies, churro sticks, wa es and so much more — while you get our 12 varieties of warm, delicious cobbler all to yourself. Dessert is solved!






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Poke by Gochi

13770 W. Colonial Dr., Winter Garden 407-347-5091 /

Poke is the bowl of the moment, and no one does it better than Gochi. This fast casual concept by the owners of Gochi Japanese Kitchen uses all the same, high quality ingredients as its sister location, only in a one-bowl concept. Choose from chef crafted options or customize your own with a variety of colorful sauces, piles of crunchy toppings, and a white rice, brown rice, or lettuce base.

Roasted Spirit

756 West Montrose St., Clermont 321-376-5004 /

With a long day behind you and spirits still high, you must be in the mood for a drink. The fresh, innovative craft cocktails prepared by master bartenders at Roasted Spirit feature in-house specialty bitters, syrups and juices. Come in to enjoy live music, from-scratch small plates, and Clermont’s largest selection of sipping spirits.

Schweini’s Delicatessen

108 S Main St, Winter Garden 407-395-3235 /

The mission of Schweini’s Deli is to make your belly happy by lling it with authentic German beers and hot sandwiches piled high with the best meats. With only the freshest locally sourced ingredients, including house-made cheesecakes, Schweini’s invites you to come in, stay awhile, maybe watch the latest soccer match — and get your fröhlicher bauch on.

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Thai Blossom

99 W. Plant St., Winter Garden 407-905-9917 /

Your love of Thai will blossom among fragrant curries, silky noodles, stir fries, and grilled meats. Authentic, avorful and always cooked to order Thai Blossom o ers some of the tastiest cuisine in central Florida, right on Plant Street. And plenty of options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals make it the perfect choice for workday lunch, dinner dates, and special celebrations.

$5 Mimosas

until the end of Summer!


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1580 Buena Vista Drive, Orlando


STK is “not your daddy’s steakhouse”—it’s a highenergy ne dining experience, where delectable cuisine and upscale cocktails meet chic décor and an in-house DJ. The menu features reimagined classic American cuisine for lunch, brunch and dinner, with traceable, ethically sourced beef that produces quality craveable steaks.


Rheya Tanner muses on life as a local

The Best of the Rest


incredibly o icial1 list of oft-forgotten local besties.

This year’s awards turned out great and all. But I can’t help feeling they’re missing … something. Pizzazz. Intrigue. Spontaneity. I had some kickass ideas that would have given it that edge, 2 but I was told they were things that “no one wants to win.”

C’mon, man, everyone wants to win! Including me, which is why I’ve insisted on including my best unused ideas here. The editor is cool with it, as long as I clarify a few tiny details in the ne print. Don’t worry too much with that part. Just read and enjoy!

best local creaking sound3 The Swings by the Fountain Downtown

best local logo containing an orange4 Winter Garden Pizza Company5

best local old people chairs6 The Wooden Rockers on the Dock, Oakland Nature Preserve

best local brick Twelfth from the Left, 78th7 from the Bottom, East Side, Axiom Bank Building

best local bathroom8

Clermont Performing Arts Center

best local shop to poke around and go “ooo” and then leave without buying anything Trick Question; All Our Local Shops Are Great9

best local shop to look at other people’s feet10 Tri & Run

best local place to get chick-fil-a11 Chick-fil-A

best local assortment of bones12

1 Not remotely o icial. Barely wanted

2 Not an o icial opinion of The Local

3 Creaking sounds judged based on volume, grittiness, and whether they gave me ASMR tinglies.

4 This is a bigger category than you think.

Darwin and Wallace, Adjectives

best local assortment of bones that are still in use

Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive13

best local14 spot to look at trains From the Side, Or Maybe a Three Quarter Angle

best local decoration of an adult beverage Blue Martini With Rubber Ducky Garnish15, New York Beer Project

best local thrill Getting Your Water Bill When Your Toilet Has Been Leaking for a Month and You Haven’t Figured That Out Yet16

best at creating awards that are both cool and fair and also at writing for a local magazine

Heather Anne Lee17

5 Awarded posthumously

6 Judged on shape, rocking capacity, scenery, and how much your back hurts when you try to get up.

7 Plus or minus three rows. Buildings are so tall and I am so small.

8 Due to societal constraints, only women’s bathrooms (and one men’s room (sorry)) could be judged.

9 It’s Adjectives though.

10 Uh, reader submitted entry.

11 The phrasing on this one still needs a little workshopping, but I think the spirit of the award is there.

12 Hunted collections not counted.

13 Before you ask: Yes, birds have bones. I checked.

14 From what I understand, you can also apply this local practice anywhere trains can be looked at.

15 I don’t remember what it’s called. I don’t even know if they make it anymore. It still wins. Sue me.

16 Close Runner-up was “Crossing the Street.”

17 Dang, I thought I had that one.

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