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Inspiring Stories from the North-West Side

The heart of our mission at VoyageChicago is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In the recent weeks we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of the Chicago’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool. Check out rising stars from the North West side below.

Damian Koziel

Auto Metro Driving School was a small family business owned by couple of entrepreneurs who retiring sold the business to us in 2002. We were starting with classes as small as few students and slowly growing over the years. Today we sign up hundreds of students per year, teenagers and adults, and are proud of the recommendations they pass on each other. Our business is lucky to have hundreds good reviews which brings us more students every year. The beginnings are always hard when you are rebuilding a business that was stagnating for many years under previous ownership, but hard work and positive relationship with my partner, Robert Czupta, was a key to our success. Read more>>

Dennis DaValle

DaValle Jewelers is a third generation family business celebrating over 100 years in business. My grandfather, Pietr DaValle, a certified watchmaker, immigrated to Chicago from Italy in 1905. He opened the first DaValle Jewelers location on Grand Ave. in Chicago in 1914. In 1947, his son and my father, Marino DaValle, opened a second location on Belmont and Central Avenues in Chicago. My brother Gary and I started working at that store from a very young age and ultimately took over the business upon my father’s retirement. When shopping malls became very popular, we opened a store in both Harlem Irving Plaza in Norridge and Golf Mill Mall in Niles and closed the store on Belmont Ave. Read more>>

Michele DiVincenzo

I began my career with the Foundation Fighting Blindness 10 years ago. In my current position as Senior Director, National Events I provide program management for 60 fundraising events a year throughout the country. Artistry of Wine in Highland Park is one of the most unique events we host. In its 16th year, it’s a fun- filled evening featuring wine, beer and spirit tastings along with food and dessert pairings from top restaurants in the North Shore area. We also have a cork pull, silent auction and sweepstake drawing. It’s definitely an event you don’t want to miss! Read more>>

Jeff Maksud

I started August 8th, 1988 with 500 shirts for the first cubs night game and sold about 5 due to the rain out and the number of vendors trying to capitalize on the first ever cubs night game. However, everyone that saw the shirts loved the creativity behind it and the quality of the screen printing. I took this and ran with it and started MSM that day. Fast forward 29 years later, I have 3 sales people with Sales over a million dollars and part of a 500 million dollar a year network. No It hasn’t, 2008 killed us. Read more>>

Christopher Plummer

I took apart watches as a kid and really enjoyed fixing things. I was interested in how things worked mechanically. I later became interested in bicycles, go karts, and cars. I worked at a service station near my home in Palatine, Illinois pumping gas, then began to service cars. I started out doing oil changes and tire repair, and soon after I learned to do general car repair. After high school, I attended Wyoming Technical Institute in Laramie, Wyoming. After that I returned to Palatine and got hired at Motor Werks of Barrington in 1986. I became a master Porsche technician at Motor Werks, and I remained there for 14 years. Read more>>

Antonio Passaro

After many years of working for a printing company, I decided to follow my true dream and open a restaurant selling hot dogs, gyros, hamburgers and Italian beef. With the guidance of my best friend who was in the industry, I learned what I needed to succeed. That place was called Devil Dog, but once the location on Route 59 became available, I decided to get creative and opened The Dogfather. I derived the concept of The Dogfather from one of my all-time favorite movies, The Godfather. It became an instant hit in the town of Bartlett, IL, not just because it was a very clever, original idea but also because the food is delicious, the staff is especially welcoming and the atmosphere is superbly pleasant, with colorful surroundings & tastefully selected black & white Italian photographs lining the walls. Read more>>

Alenka Vasilj

My mother and grandmother inspired me. As a child, I would help them bake our specialty Croatian Christmas cookies every year. We would start right after Thanksgiving and make over two dozen varieties. After attending Kendall College and The French Pastry School of Chicago I knew I wanted to share my ethnicity through food so that people can enjoy and love what I did as a child. After having the courage and support from my husband and family I was able to open Dolcetti in July 2014. Read more>>

Brian Homann

I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and studied Physics. I loved the challenge of the physics curriculum; however, I couldn’t see myself sitting behind a desk or at a lab bench for the rest of my life. Dentistry was the perfect combination of everything I was looking for in a career. I could help people, I could own my own business, and I could be in a field that would make me a lifelong learner. During my first year of dental school I was part of the inaugural group for the country’s first ever completely student run dental clinic. Read more>>

Sonia Figueroa

I have been in real estate for 12 years and going. I love my job and have a truly passion for it. I dabbled in real estate at the age of 19 where I bought my first duplex. I learned the hard way about having your own investment property so much so that I had a drug dealer in one apartment and the other was falling apart. At the time, I bought it I didn’t know these things plus I was young and naive. I got the tenant evicted and starting working on rehabbing the place little did I know I was going to get the worst contractor ever. Read more>>

Dan Pilguy

Palatine, IL native Dan Pilguy is the owner and operator of Arlington Crest Farms. In 2012 he embarked on his farming career by co-founding a start-up of business in rural Iowa with a college classmate. With their combined passion and dedication to growing fresh organic produce, the business quickly grew to what is now a 10 acre operation. Now in their 5th season, Garden Oasis Farm LLC is fully operational CSA farm that also provides pasture raised chickens and eggs to restaurants and grocery stores! Read more>>

Luca Pontarelli

I’m an Italian man from a little region, often referred as the invisible region, called Molise. My parents have always told me that starting at a very young age, I was writing and drawing everywhere. Now I’m trying to make this, my infinite passion, into my profession. Hip Hop (HH) entered my life since kindergarten. I was fascinated by the disciplines of this culture, in particular by the writing a.k.a. graffiti. In my town, Rocchetta a Volturno, HH was not at all widespread. Read more>>

Lisa Sorrentino

The store has been in my family since 1938. I’m a third generation owner. I’ve spent the last 7 years learning, updating and changing the business operations. I’m now focusing more on industry needs as a whole because the shoe repair industry is very unknown to Americans and therefore close to extinction as immigrant generations aren’t interested or aren’t there to continue the operations. There has been a shortage of workers for over a decade and that gets harder ever year. Read more>>

Bill Dugan

I started my business in 1977 in SF, and moved it to the Napa Valley the following year. I sold my companies in 1988 and accepted a consulting position with Nordstrom, which brought me to Chicago to review their property in Oakbrook. I fell in love with the people in Chicago, unlike SF which is quite transient, everyone I met was from here. That went a long way with me. I signed on to head up marketing for the first mariculture operation of its type in the U.S. raising Pacific White Sturgeon. Read more>>

Jennifer O’Brien

In 1989 over a cup of coffee at my kitchen table in Chicago an electrician named Ron was busy installing a lighting fixture. We talked about many things in life, hobbies, family, work, passions and dreams. I had just left a job in corporate America and wanted to apply my skills in accounting and information technology in the small business market somehow. Two days later my front door bell rang. I answered and was greeted by a smiling lady with a box of Sage Accounting Software in her hand. Read more>>

Bret Snider

Corro-Shield was established in 1993. We manufacture superior quality epoxy systems that outperform and outlast competitive products and are specified and favored by many fortune 500 companies – where return on investment is key. We also have products that are unique in the industry such as our “green concrete” primers that can be applied after the concrete reaches initial set, within 24 hours. Flooring can then be applied in 8-10 hours. This takes 26 days off the normal cure time and was the reason Corro-Shield was chosen for the Pentagon re-build after 9/11. Read more>>

Douglas Coggeshall and Katia Ilieva

After the sudden and unexpected death of Doug’s Dad from Melanoma in 2008, Doug began questioning commercial skin care products available to the public. After exhaustive research, the first soaps were developed in Doug’s kitchen and in the fall of 2013 Waterfall Glen Soap Company was born. Katia Ilieva joined in 2014, enriching the company direction and philosophy with her medical background and Bulgarian home & hearth wisdom. Katia brought deep connection to the earth and strong beliefs in alternative methods of healing mind and body. Read more>>

Kelly Brasch

I actually had a midlife career change. Out of college, I worked for a large corporation in various marketing roles. During that time, I went to graduate school in the evenings to obtain my Master’s degree in Business Administration. When I had children, I took a break from the workforce to stay home with my boys while they were little. When my youngest one was in kindergarten, I started to think about whether I would go back to work. The corporate world was never my cup of tea. I did, however, have a natural gift when it came to seeing a home’s potential and making it functional as well as beautiful. Read more>>

Oana Tatu

In a whirlwind of events, about 3 years ago my husband and I decided to open a Montessori school, and started the treacherous process of getting permits after permits, passing inspections after inspections, and then some more permits. It was a difficult but beautiful journey, and we both learned a lot. Myself, more than anyone, having an abrupt switch of career: from a lifelong freelancing musician, to a Montessori teacher and school leader. Once I decided to walk this new path, my eyes opened as I was getting my training and internship done, and I felt like I was finally starting to understand the wondrous mysteries unfolding in a child, in his most important, formative years. Read more>>

Kelly Yanan

I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother and a loving & compassionate care-giver. I am married 26 years to my high-school sweetheart and we have 4 amazing young adult children. From as far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a wife and a mom. Once I had to opportunity to be both I was not going to miss out on anything. I wanted to be there for each step, each lost tooth, and each scraped knee … all of it. We were unable to survive as a single income family so I had to work. Read more>>

Alex Shchekin

Intergam was started in 1999. Our original focus was to serve our market research clients to the best of our ability. We soon grew into and became the highest quality and most relied upon partner for our core clients. We service market research firms, management consulting firms, publicists and consumer companies. Intergam is still servicing those clients, but we are increasing our capabilities helping our clients turn big data into usable data. We help them with our platform and technology that was created with a long term vision of moving from the information era to the data era. Read more>>

Laura Santowski

After two decades in public libraries, I decided it was time to create a plan to fulfill my dream in starting my own company, that began the inception of Defining Creations. My background and expertise established a great foundation in running a business by being adaptable to the ever-changing needs of the public and location in which we were serving, keeping current on technology and devices, creating budgets on the principal that you must be creative with funding, working with Board of Trustees to ensure the mission was being fulfilled, developing programming and hosting events that would appeal for diverse audiences. Read more>>

Karl Lenss

Ever since I was young, I always wanted to start my own business. I’ve always wanted to have control of my own destiny, and even while I was classroom teaching, I knew that someday I’d figure out a way to become my own boss and become financially independent. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started K. Lenss Education Consulting because I could still teach, albeit in a different way. I am helping facilitate one of the biggest decisions of their lives. Every student that I work with is special, and it is very rewarding to see students’ progress from confused, naive high schoolers to adults in college. My preparatory program does much more than help them pick the right school and write the best essay. Read more>>

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