Meet Ryne Gallien of The Chelsea Tampa in Florida

If there’s one lesson from the career of Ryne Gallien, co-owner of Hair salon The Chelsea Tampa and Tampa Magazine’s 2022 Top 10 Under 40 recipient, it’s to advocate for yourself. Starting off his career as an assistant in hair salons, he says, “I always worked harder and asked for new opportunities.” Those opportunities taught him the physical skills of cutting and styling hair as well as the people skills of keeping clients happy. Now he’s a successful Tampa business owner

With the mindset of “there’s always something new to learn,” Gallien studied at The Aveda Institute in Saint Petersburg, Florida. “Aveda has always had a great reputation for the quality of their educational programs,” he says. It’s where he started to learn the craft of cutting and styling hair. “I also had a lot of training to be able to physically execute the haircuts that my clients want. Doing that consistently is a key skill in hairdressing,” he says. 

After the year-long program, Gallien moved to Tampa to work for an Aveda salon called Level in Hyde Park Village. In his six years there, he asked for new opportunities and took advantage of the salon’s education program.

Becoming a Business Owner

Once Level was sold to different owners, Gallien decided it was time to move on. His temporary home was another salon called The Station. After a year there, it was time to take all his hard work and lessons learned and create his own hair salon. Along with his business partner Maggie, Gallien opened The Chelsea Tampa. “I wanted to curate my own space, something of my own,”he says. Maintaining a large clientele base, his salon is entering its sixth year. 

Owning his own business was never a dream of his as a child growing up in Sarasota, Florida. “I didn’t see this trajectory as a kid. I feel independent because the business is mine,” reflects Gallien. He worked hard to own his business.

Even though being a business owner requires different sets of skills, his secret weapon is still his social skills, the ability to connect with diverse clients. He says, “My most valuable asset would be my social skills. Being a hairstylist is 70% playing therapist. You learn to be a chameleon, appealing to as many people as you can.” With a wide range of interests from traveling to fashion to fitness to food, Gallien always has a topic to relate to his clients and a local recommendation. Passionate about fitness, he often recommends Barry’s to clients. The fitness center is located in Hyde Park, Tampa’s most historic neighborhood with 19th century architecture, restaurants, and murals. 

From One Florida City to Another

His clients are his motivation in his work. “I truly enjoy the connections I get to make with all of my guests. The diversity that exists within my clientele is exciting to me. I learn about new things, places, and people every day,” says Gallien. 

The excitement of learning new things began in Sarasota, where Ryne Gallien grew up. A friendly town, it’s near some of Florida’s most beautiful beaches. (In particular, Siesta Key is a favorite beach of Gallien’s.) With a thriving arts community and deep history, there’s something for everyone in Sarasota. 

Only an hour drive from Sarasota, Gallien was already visiting Tampa most weekends, and officially moved there when he was 20 years old. He says, “I moved [to Tampa] because the demographic is younger. Tampa has more activities that appeal to me. People are always out and about dining, shopping, or doing fitness activities. There are a lot of fairs and festivals in parks.” 

Tampa provides non-stop action for Gallien. For example, he recently attended the annual Gasparilla Pirate Festival, an all-day parade and weekend of festivities in honor of the pirates legends that used to frequent Tampa Bay before the early 20th century. “Gasparilla makes for long days, but it’s a lot of fun,” he says. 

Top Tampa Recommendations

A foodie at heart, Ryne Gallien and his husband often dine out with friends at the many restaurants in Tampa. “When I’m not working, you can find me at a restaurant with friends,” he says. Too many options makes it hard for Gallien to recommend just one, but for visitors of Tampa, he points them to Restaurant BT, a top-rated Vietnamese-French restaurant. Bern’s Steak House is also a must-visit for their James Beard award-winning wine program and wine cellar tours. 

Gallien’s Tampa recommendations don’t stop at restaurants. If you’ve never been to this Florida coastal city, don’t miss Bayshore and the Tampa Riverwalk with wide sidewalks and paths for joggers, runners, and cyclists. Gallien runs along it every weekend with friends. With water taxis along the Riverwalk, he says, “it’s a perfect way to see the city highlights.” 

Tampa is more and more walkable. Gallien recommends starting at The Tampa Edition, a chic hotel and residence with a plant-filled lobby and rooftop pool. Then walk down Water Street, popping into its many restaurants and shops. Don’t forget to see the views of the water from Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park. 

When Gallien isn’t dining out or running along the Riverwalk, he’s often at the Tampa Museum of Art, an art museum in downtown Tampa with a large collection. Gallien’s husband is on the museum’s board and Gallien is active on several museum committees. One is “Next Gen,” a new initiative to make art more accessible to Tampa’s younger audience. “Art can be hard to approach for many people. There’s fear that they won’t understand the art. The goal is to make it less intimidating,” Gallien says. The Next Gen committee does that through happy hours at the museum, a chance for guests to visit and go on short tours of new exhibits. 

Adventures Beyond Tampa

As much as Ryne Gallien loves living in Tampa, he’s a frequent traveler of the world’s cities: New York City, Paris, London. With the goal of traveling somewhere new once a year, Gallien gravitates toward cities. He says, “Cities are more stimulating when it comes to architecture, museums, fine dining, and activities. I love to learn and cities provide constant learning.” His next trip is to Italy’s Rome and Florence with a few days in a Tuscan villa. Traveling to places like Italy gives him more topics to talk to his clients about. 

Sometimes his travels take him away from major cities. One memorable trip was on a small cruise to Tahiti. Since the ship was intimate, there were only a few public spaces. It forced guests to really get to know each other. He and his husband became fast friends with an Australian couple and sisters from Texas. Since the trip, he’s traveled to Las Vegas with the two sisters. They even came to his birthday party in Tampa. 

Looking back, Gallien feels fortunate enough to travel because of the business he’s created. Passionate about empowering the next generation of business owners, his advice is to believe that you can achieve your dreams. Additionally, he says, “Be dynamic. Learn everything you can. Perfect your craft, learn how to communicate with different types of people, take trips to better understand cultures and places, and lastly, take care of your body.” 

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.

Meet Jesse Albertini of Sfoglina Pasta in Denver, Colorado

Jesse Albertini always wanted to run her own company. “I was getting my hair done for prom, and the owners made an impression on me. [It was a] team of girls who had just started their company, [and] I was their last appointment of the day. They poured champagne to celebrate. It was a moment that I wanted to see for myself.” 

Once she realized she wanted to start a food business, Albertini assumed running her own restaurant would be her calling. That’s not exactly what happened, but she still was able to work in the food world, on her own terms.

Albertini’s Culinary Beginnings

Albertini grew up in Kingston, New York—the original capital of the state—just 91 miles north of New York City. After graduating with a business degree from the University at Albany in 2004, she headed west to Colorado and landed in Winter Park, a prime skiing area south of Rocky Mountain National Park. “The plan was to be there for one winter, ski, and come back,” Albertini says. Twenty years later, she still lives in Colorado.

“My first job was at a gourmet grocery store near my house, sorting the apples that came in,” says Albertini. She then cooked at a small café—her mom taught the chef English when the family came from Italy—making turkey sandwiches. 

While living in Winter Park, she worked in various hospitality jobs. “I loved living in the mountains, but it felt like it was hard to have a career up there,” she says. So Albertini moved to Denver and got a culinary degree from Johnson & Wales University.

“I cooked all over Denver,” she continues. “Especially when I first started out, it was hard to make a living wage cooking. I had three jobs at a time.” She worked each position, from executive chef to line cook, prep cook, and dishwasher. A development job for a catering company let her ideate new menu items and work out all the logistics of properly making and executing dishes.

After earning her culinary degree, she spent 13 years cooking professionally before starting her small-batch pasta company, Sfoglina. “I cooked for so long because you need so much experience,” she explains. “I looked for [restaurants] that could help me become better culinarily, or [teach me] the logistical and financial side of things.” 

Adapt to the Unexpected

Albertini had just completed her business plan and was working on financing for a brick-and-mortar pasta concept when she and her husband found out they were having a baby. “Then three months after she was born,” she says, “Covid hit.” 

The vulnerability of restaurants quickly became apparent. “I sat down, looked at the core of the whole idea behind the business,” explains Albertini. She asked herself, “How could I start small, make small steps towards what would still become reality?” When her daughter, Adeline, was six months old, Albertini launched Sfoglina as a cottage industry (Colorado law allows certain foods to be made in private homes and sold directly to consumers without licensing). “I’m adding more from the original business plan as she gets older, as she goes to school,” says Albertini. 

What won’t change as her business expands is Albertini’s commitment to using local, stone-milled flours in her pastas. “Fresh, heritage flour is so much better for the environment,” she says. “Using local, the way the world is going, it’s more important. It cuts down on my carbon footprint and benefits the local economy.” 

Though she doesn’t get there as much as she used to, Albertini still loves the mountains and all the outdoor activities that living in Colorado affords. In her occasional free time, she reads via audio books (her favorite genre is horror), but lately most of her reading is children’s books.  “Right now my time is in between focusing on the company and trying to make sure Adeline is getting everything to develop into a good human,” she says. 

Embrace Culinary Diversity

The local culinary scene in Denver has changed a lot since Albertini arrived. “Colorado has all changed so much!” adds Jesse Albertini. When she first moved to Winter Park, she could park at the base of the mountain, right at the ski lift. “Now there’s a whole town there.” 

Denver grew over the years too. “There were three to four chefs that had always been in Denver,” she explains. “They had all the restaurants.” You could go to seemingly any spot across the city and see the same beet and goat cheese salad, because someone who worked there had been with one of those chefs. Having chefs from different backgrounds come to the city has helped improve and diversify the culinary scene. 

As for Albertini’s favorite spots to eat noodles that she didn’t make herself? “I love Spuntino in the Highlands, and Dio Mio,” two Italian classics. In Boulder, a city about 40 minutes from Denver, she enjoys Mangia Panino, Rosetta Hall, Oak, and Rooted Craft Kitchen (which also has a location in Denver). For non-Italian carbs, Albertini goes to Uncle, a standby for ramen since 2012, and Sắp Sửa, a new self-described “non-traditional Vietnamese” restaurant. 

Advice for Aspiring Chefs and Restaurateurs

Albertini shares two major pieces of advice for people starting out in a cooking career: get experience, and rethink that culinary degree. “Try to learn as much as you can and be as open to experience as possible,” she says. “Have as many culinary experiences as you can. You don’t really have a point of view unless you work [at] a ton of places.” 

As for schooling, Albertini is happy with her business degree, but would do things differently when it comes to culinary school. “I thought it was the right path, but it was so expensive. You end up with debt. I wish I went abroad and worked and spent money that way,” she explains. 

“When I was younger, people would say, ‘Money doesn’t matter, the experience matters.’ That’s bullshit. You have to be able to live.” Gaining experience and cooking in as many places as you can are important, but the old way of staging—cooking for free, like an unpaid internship in a restaurant—is not sustainable. “Finding the balance between passion and money,” says Albertini, “is key.” 

To learn more about Jesse Albertini and her craft pasta company Sfoglina, head to her website, where you can also order her pasta. The next time you’re in the Denver area, find her pasta at Spinelli’s Market, Ruby’s Market, Tom’s Seafood & Gourmet Market, Littleton Meats, and Moxie Bread locations. 

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world. 

 

Meet the Locals: Marc Samuels, New York City

“Every place is about relationships,” says Marc Samuels, the owner of PhotoTrek Tours, a company that shows guests New York City through combined private tours and photoshoots. Visitors to New York City can hire a photographer and also book a separate walking tour, but Samuels offers both together. Samuels treats every visitor as an honored guest with individualized and custom experiences, but one tour sticks out. 

A couple booked a tour. Over the course of their visit, the woman mentioned she was living with a serious medical condition. It was her dream to visit New York City. Ending the tour at Brooklyn Bridge, the woman cried tears of joy. “When saying goodbye she gave me the tightest hug and was so grateful to me for taking them around and capturing these memories for her,” recalls Samuels. 

A native New Yorker, Samuels grew up with relationships at the center of his life. Living in every borough except for Queens and Staten Island, his parents moved to Co-Op City, the world’s largest co-op, in the Bronx when he was little. “Although growing up in the Bronx may have been perceived to be dangerous, I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood, [and being] outside all day playing with friends, many of whom I am still close with to this day,” says Samuels. 

His parents encouraged Samuels and his three siblings to take advantage of New York City. Growing up outside of Manhattan, frequent trips to “the City” were part of the family tradition. Often, top tourist destinations like Central Park and The Metropolitan Museum of Art were Samuels’ playground. “There’s never a dull moment in New York City,” reflects Samuels. His family took full advantage.  

A Passion for Photography Emerges

With his heart in the Bronx, Samuels left New York for Washington, D.C. in a Ford Galaxie 500, which his friends nicknamed the “Bronx Bomber.” It was at American University majoring in Communications where Samuels’ passion for photography and visual arts was solidified. After a brief stint working as a production assistant on a feature film, Samuels landed in the import and export industry. 

On several occasions, Samuels’ boss asked him to show foreign clients New York City. Taking the assignment seriously, he customized every tour, snapping photos along the way using a Minolta X-700 film camera. Before the clients flew home, Samuels presented them with the developed photographs as souvenirs. Fast forward many years, he started PhotoTrek Tours to offer the same experience to others from around the world. 

Venezuela, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and Germany are just a few of the locations guests have traveled from to book one of Samuels’ tours while on vacation in New York City. “I really want to make it special for them,” says Samuels. Days before each tour, he emails the guests to get information from them to help customize a tour that fits their needs and wants. “No tour is the same,” he says. 

As Samuels points out New York City’s landmarks and lesser-known spots, he snaps photos of the guests. Within 48 hours, the guests receive an email from Samuels with a zip file of all the photos. “I don’t hold back on the photos,” he says. His photos end up as cherished mementos for many of his guests. 

Being a native New Yorker, Samuels shows them a more unique side of New York City. For example, when in Little Italy, Samuels shows his guests an easy-to-miss shoe store, the former site of the Ravenite Social Club where John Gotti and his former Gambino mobsters once congregated. And in Central Park, Samuels calls out the park as the site of his very first concert in 1981—Simon and Garfunkel. (Samuels’ parents encouraged him to take advantage of every cultural opportunity in New York City.) 

A City Close to His Heart

As a native New Yorker, he’s proud of his city. He says, “I am a native of New York City so I never really wanted to live anywhere else. I have been fortunate, traveling quite a bit internationally and always felt, although many cities have their own unique culture and vibe, in my view, no place can match what New York City has to offer.” During college, he studied in Copenhagen, Denmark. Although it was a cherished time in a beautiful city for Samuels, New York City had his heart. 

“I hope my passion for NYC shines through on my tours,” Samuels says. With repeat customers, referrals, and positive online reviews, his passion for New York City is contagious. With every tour, Samuels hopes to change the perception that New Yorkers are rude. “If you fall, eight New Yorkers will help you up,” he notes. 

After visiting other major cities, Samuels always comes back to New York City. His two favorite neighborhoods are the West Village and Brooklyn Heights. He says, “With the Village, you have the best of many worlds.  You can walk down a quiet, tree-lined street with brownstones and townhouses, and then turn the corner, and you have world class restaurants, live music, and comedy clubs.” It’s similar in Brooklyn Heights—but with a view of the New York City skyline. 

Twenty Years of Tours and Counting

Referrals from happy customers is how Samuels built his 20-year-old business. “Word-of-mouth is very powerful. You always have to bring your A game. You should always want to bring your A game. People talk. Referrals and great reviews are how I receive a good amount of my tours,” Samuels says. Always giving guests New York City tips, like how to navigate the subway, is another perk of his tours that often leads to recommendations. 

“Embrace New York City! Don’t be scared to get around. Put yourself out there and visit the off-the-beaten-path areas,” Samuels says as advice for all who visit New York City. Exploring may lead you to meet new people. After all, every place is about relationships.

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.

Meet the Locals: Eric Mathern, New York City 

“A quiet oasis in the middle of New York City” is how Eric Mathern, a tour guide with ExperienceFirst, describes Bryant Park, an 1847 public park in Midtown. It’s one of two “can’t miss” stops in New York City, according to Mathern. The other is nearby New York Public Library, the flagship building in the New York Public Library system. Its Beaux-Arts architecture is a sight to see. 

New York City’s architecture keeps Mathern in the city. “It has always been a hobby of mine. Walk down any street and it’s like being in a gallery,” he says about New York City’s architecture. “A walk down any street in New York City is fascinating.” 

Architecture, roots, and social connections are three reasons why Mathern has stayed in New York City for decades. Born in nearby New Jersey, Mathern moved to the city to attend New York University for his undergraduate degree. Roughly ten years elapsed before Mathern took the next step in his academic studies. After leaving for two years to attend graduate school at University of Florida, he returned to New York City. Even as a child, he sensed the city was for him. His instincts are still true. “I sensed that New York City was a good fit for me, and I was correct in my instinct,” he says. 

Social connections also keep him grounded in New York City. An avid bird watcher, Central Park is one of his favorite places. “It’s a place in the city to connect with nature,” Mathern tells tourists on his tours. But for Mathern, Central Park is much more. It’s the place where he joined a community of bird watchers. They are among his closest friends. Another friend of Mathern’s is “Mimi,” his foster parakeet. 

Becoming a Tour Guide

Join one of Mathern’s tours and you’ll get dad jokes mixed in with facts about New York City. He sees himself as much an entertainer as a guide, but he wasn’t always a tour guide. He was a teacher. As an adjunct English professor at Seton Hall University, he taught students about writing and literature. He even tutored online during the pandemic. 

Mathern doesn’t see being a tour guide as a departure from teaching. Both fields are similar. “Just like holding students’ attention, you have to hold your guests’ attention with the information you’re conveying. Sometimes you do that with facts, sometimes with humor,” says Mathern. He continues, “As a teacher, you have to read the faces of your students to check understanding. In a similar way, you read the faces of your guests.”

As a former teacher, Mathern is in the minority. Many of the guides at ExperienceFirst are actors too. As the guide, they entertain. To keep up, Mathern has an arsenal of jokes he sprinkles into his tours of New York City. Unexpected moments turn into comedy. On a recent tour of the Statue of Liberty, a ship blocked the view of the famous landmark upon approach. “We really have to work on our timing,” joked Mathern. 

His jokes spill over into his hobby. In his spare time, he’s writing and illustrating a book of bird jokes. Inspired by the oven bird, which builds nests in the shape of a Dutch oven, Mathern asks, “When is the best day of the year to spot an oven bird?” Answering his own question, he grins, “On Thanksgiving.” 

Eric Mathern’s Top Tips for Visiting New York

Showing tourists his city isn’t all about the jokes. “I am passionate about New York, and as a guide, I feel that it is my role to inspire that passion in a visitor as much as I can,” Mathern says. As a long-time resident, he possesses a local’s awareness to answer both common and more nuanced questions from tourists. 

His advice to tourists visiting New York City? “Consider how much time you have in a city that offers so much and prioritize your interests,” suggests Mathern. If you love walking, wander the streets. If you don’t want to wear down your shoes, spend time riding the subway. Love art? Visit the museums. Need nature? Go to Central Park. 

Of course, there are a few “first-timer” sites, according to Mathern. The list includes Central Park, Grand Central Station, and iconic sites like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. 

First arriving in the city in the 1970s, Mathern is witness to a changing New York City. “It’s safer and cleaner,” he says about New York City today. 

Decades in the city, Mathern cherishes many memories. He’s completed the New York Marathon three times and each time enjoyed the views of the city from the course as locals and visitors cheered him on. 

Another memory is a regular occurrence. A favorite hangout spot for Mathern is Mimi’s Restaurant and Piano Bar in the East Fifties. First opened in 1956, Mathern comments, “The piano players are entertaining, and occasionally customers will step up to the mic and sing—– a really fun place.” 

Inviting tourists to see New York City from a local’s perspective is part of being a tour guide. It’s a job Mathern loves, but some days are challenging. Hot and wet days prevent visitors from getting the full experience at Liberty Island, home to the Statue of Liberty. When the weather cooperates, he says, “Each time I go out to Liberty Island with a group of visitors I feel fortunate.”

Tour Guide and Poet

Giving tours allows Mathern the time and resources to write. While in university and editing New York University’s literary magazine, Mathern became a poet. While a student, he was given the advice from other writers to find a parallel career—- work to help fund writing. It’s advice that led him to become a teacher and now a tour guide. And he still writes.

“Read a great deal and be diverse in your choice of reading material,” advises Mathern to aspiring writers. He continues, “By reading poets and writers who differ from yourself you will, ultimately, find your own ‘voice.’ Be interested in as many fields as you can (history, botany, architecture, etc.).  By knowing about the world outside of your own sphere, you’ll increase your chances of finding inspiration, not just in terms of subject matter, but also in the ways you relate [to] the nuances of that subject.” An example of this is William Shakespeare, notes Mathern. 

“I love the New York City buzz,” says Mathern. From writing to teaching to showing tourists his city, Mathern is still proud to call New York City his home. 

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.

Meet the Locals: Morfar Empanadas in Split, Croatia

Santiago Nieto, David Folis, and Valeria Garcés own Morfar, an empanada shop in Split, Croatia. “We met in Split by coincidence, we had friends in common,” says Santiago. “The Argentinian community isn’t massive so it’s quite normal to know people.” David and Valeria sold empanadas through social media, and Santiago was a customer. Later, the couple decided to make a full-time business out of their empanadas and invited Santiago to join. “Now we are almost a family,” Santiago adds.

From Argentina…

Santiago is from Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. Located in the desert region of Patagonia, it’s a place where “you must be creative to make the most out of the limited resources you have,” he explains. The city was established when oil was found while looking for fresh water. And at 1,800 km (1,120 miles) from the capital city, Buenos Aires, Santiago says it’s “a bit lost” inside the country, “so you understand from quite young how huge the world is.” 

Valeria and David come from Rosario, on the west bank of the Paraná River, 300 km (186 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires. The city is known for the creation of the Argentinian national flag, rich architectural heritage, riverside scenery, and a vibrant culture and nightlife. “Economically it is the second most important port of the country and an important industrial hub,” Santiago explains. Today, Rosario is also known as the hometown of famous Argentinian fútbol world champions Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria. 

…to Croatia

Family roots in Croatia brought Valeria and Santiago back to the country. Valeria’s family is from the island of Olib, close to Zadar, and Santiago’s family comes from Srijane, north of Omiš. David’s ancestors also come from the region, but across the Adriatic Sea in Ancona, Italy. 

Santiago arrived in Split in 2018, while Valeria and David came in 2021, each citing the calm city’s special rhythm and relaxed way of life as reasons to stay. “We live in a paradise framed by the Adriatic and beautiful nature,” says Santiago. “But then we had to figure out what to do for a living.” Each possessing that entrepreneurial spark, they partnered up and started Morfar. “We are really grateful that this idea is now our financial support,” says Santiago.

Opening Morfar

Meaning “to eat” in Lunfardo, an Argentinian dialect, David, Valeria, and Santiago opened Morfar in June 2022. Before starting their business, each had different careers—David is a jeweler, Valeria a calligrapher, and Santiago a marketing manager. But they knew an empanada shop would do well. It’s a new thing in Split, and something that the city’s Argentinian and broader South American community would enjoy. “We love to be independent and establish our own rules even if that means working more, because it’s working for something we believe in and is bringing joy to others,” says Santiago. “At the end of the day, we are really happy for everything Morfar made us experience, the people we met, and all the lessons we learnt.” 

Each brings a different skill set to Morfar. David is the handyman and built the shop almost entirely on his own. Valeria is the detail-oriented one who reads the small print in laws and contracts; she sets the bar sky-high for the entire team. And Santiago is the frontman: good with languages, marketing, spreadsheets, and digital tools. “The three of us are really responsible, hard-working, and efficient,” adds Santiago. “We don’t play around and when stuff needs to be done, it’s done.” 

They’ve found that operating a business in such a seasonal city, with busy summers and winters receiving less foot traffic, can present challenges. “Our first winter was a bit sad,” says Santiago. “Some days, waiting for people to come, you can start wondering if you are doing something bad, what else you could be doing to make it better, but it’s just how the city works.” Still, they are grateful to both the Latin and Argentinian community for supporting them unconditionally. “Same with the expats and the locals who dare to try empanadas and keep coming back, even when it’s not part of their tradition,” says Santiago. 

The Flavors of Morfar

David cooks the various empanada fillings, adding that rustic touch inspired by the Argentinian celebrity chef Francis Mallmann. Most are traditional Argentinian fillings such as the criolla, with minced beef, onions, green onions, peppers, olives, and eggs. “It’s a mix of the recipes from our families,” says Santiago. “It’s the classic for a reason.” (They make a vegan version too, omitting the eggs and adding lentils instead of beef.) 

“The chicken one is a bit more creative,” says Santiago. “We’re trying to recreate a countryside way of cooking called pollo al disco.” It’s made with white wine and a mix of seasonal vegetables cooked over the fire to add a distinct smoky flavor. The sir kapula empanada features onions, mozzarella, and a pinch of chimichurri. 

And then, of course, there are Croatian-influenced fillings. “You can’t find them anywhere else in the world but at Morfar,” says Santiago. In their adjvar empanada, the filling deconstructs the famous Balkan sauce of grilled red peppers and eggplant, with the vegetables left in chunks while also being filled with adjvar. “In this way, you can taste the vegetables but also the original flavors,” says Santiago. Another one popular with both locals and tourists is the soparnik, a traditional Dalmatian pie with chard, olive oil, garlic, and onions. “We’ve learnt the recipe from ladies who have done it their entire life and we are really close to the original flavor,” says Santiago. 

Advice for Other Entrepreneurs

When opening your own business, Santiago says, it’s all about fresh ideas, hard work, and consistency. “Find your niche,” he adds. The smaller, the better. Build the first 100 customers as your base and do everything for them. “Every person supporting your business is the most important one on the planet,” he says. “Those 100 will become 1,000 and then millions. Also know your numbers, save up money for the hard times, and make projections as real as possible.” Your business will need plenty of time to match your dreams. “It’s all about patience and believing in yourself, your idea, and your team,” says Santiago. “We need more entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas in this world so finish these lines and start right now.” 

Visit Morfar at Porinova 4 in Split, Croatia, where you can buy other Argentinian products including alfajores, yerba mate, and Fernet (though technically Italian, the bitter liquor is extremely popular in Argentina).

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Get to know the work and lives of more global professionals who turned a passion for travel into their livelihood.

Meet The Locals: Mate Vukorepa in Split, Croatia

Mate Vukorepa is a shipbuilder in Split, Croatia. (If the name sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve already met Mate’s wife, Tea, in our first installment of Meet the Locals.) Mate loves Split’s beautiful scenery, fresh air, and the people. “We’re like Italians,” he explains. “We’re very cheerful, we talk with our hands, our mentality [is similar].”

Mate specializes in welding the aluminum parts of ships at a small shipyard in Split. He’s worked in that role for five years, primarily making small, private boats for tourists and boats sold to people in other countries. Demand is high; they’re already booked a year in advance. 

Before that he worked with iron, building tankers and ferries in what was then the biggest shipyard in Croatia. It was owned by the Croatian government, explains Tea, who helped with translation for this interview. When Croatia sought to join the European Union—they applied for membership in 2003, eventually joining in 2013—EU officials said the shipyard needed to be privately owned. “They don’t build big ships anymore,” says Tea, “So it’s probably a matter of time when it will be closed.”

The work is difficult, especially during the heat of summer. It’s very physically demanding. But Mate enjoys his work. “I love my job, because when I finish, I see my boat on the sea,” he says. “My heart is so big when I see that.”

“He always says he loves it, he doesn’t want to do anything else,” adds Tea. 

Also helpful is the general attitude about work-life balance in Croatia as compared to other countries. “Usually we hear from friends, they work 9 to 5, then they go home. It takes an hour to go home, an hour to go to work,” says Tea. “But here everything is near.” Mate works from 7 AM to 3 PM, so he has the whole afternoon to spend as he pleases. Every weekend is free, too.

Hobbies and Passions 

One of Mate’s many passions includes collecting comic books. “We have a whole library at home,” says Tea. Mate’s 7,000-book collection comprises mostly adventures and westerns. “In Croatia, so many [people] like Marvel and DC,” he says. “But to me, these superheroes are untouchable, strong. Italian, Belgian, and French superheroes are normal people.” When you read them, you can see yourself in them.

Mate also loves to support the local football (soccer) club, Hajduk Split. He buys a year’s worth of tickets at once—about 30 games—and attends with friends from elementary school, high school, and beyond, cheering and singing together at each match. “This is Split,” he says, by way of explaining the passion for football. “And I love my people, the local people.”

Speaking of singing, Mate is also in a band. “I’m a rocker,” he says. “A rocker and writer.” The five members of his hard rock group, Ultimatum, have been together for 22 years, writing original songs in Croatian and putting out two albums through Croatia Records, the country’s largest major record label. 

Tea and Mate met in church, where Mate also sings in the choir. “Can you imagine, in the evening, rock concerts and everything in black,” says Tea with a laugh. “And in the morning: choir.” 

And although in 2014 he lost his first shipbuilding job of 17 years, it ultimately led to Mate and Tea reconnecting. As he was leaving a meeting with a career counselor, he ran into Tea on the street. “This was the only day in the week that I worked this shift…so it was really like destiny that we met that day,” she says. They got together for coffee and the rest is history. 

Sharing His Hometown

Like Tea, Mate recommends that visitors to Split see Diocletian’s Palace, along with the Cathedral of Saint Domnius, right next door. The cathedral was built in the fourth century as Roman emperor Diocletian’s mausoleum, with the tower added later, in the thirteenth century. The structure is the oldest Catholic cathedral in the world and still has its original stones. 

And the next time you’re taking in the sunny Adriatic sea around Split, maybe you’ll see one of the boats that Mate built. 

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Get to know the work and lives of more global professionals who turned a passion for travel into their livelihood.

Dreams Abroad’s Inaugural Meet the Locals Event

On an unusually warm Saturday evening in November, people from all walks of life gathered at REWILD in Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood for Dreams Abroad’s inaugural “Meet the Locals” event.

There was a lot to celebrate at this inaugural event: over 500 published articles since Dreams Abroad’s launch, the success of the new “Meet the Locals” series, and the event itself— bringing together an online community of local experts and travel professionals.  

REWILDing

REWILD, a plant store on a mission to connect people to nature, was the host. You might recognize co-owner, Joe Ressler, from his appearance in Dreams Abroad’s “Meet the Locals”. REWILD offered the perfect backdrop for the event, providing a celebratory atmosphere with its lush greenery and quaint charm. Staff were incredibly hospitable, going above and beyond to provide a great experience to attendees.   

Surrounded by orchids, hoyas, and fiddle-leaf figs, strangers quickly became companions, connected by Dream Abroad’s vision to create authentic spaces and cultivate community.

The evening began with light bites of apple cake and cider prepared by SugaChef—another D.C. local Dreams Abroad’s “Meet the Locals” star. Sampling the treats, guests swapped stories of traveling internationally and exploring Washington, D.C. 

The group then head to REWILD’s back room for an official welcome by Dreams Abroad founder and the event organizer, Leesa Truesdell, followed by a few words from SugaChef. He thanked Truesdell for bringing the group together and called her vision for Dreams Abroad “inspiring.” 

Next, the guests got their hands dirty by learning how to build their own terrariums. The activity was led by Elyse and Paris, two incredible REWILD staff members and plant experts. They guided attendees on how to layer a glass bowl with rocks and soil, select succulents and cacti to plant, and finish off their designs with decorative moss in many colors, shiny rocks, and other art. 

After they were finished, guests enjoyed walking around the table and hearing the ideas behind each terrarium. One guest created a terrarium with a dirt path down the middle, a nod to his love for hiking. Another used black stone in honor of a recent trip to Iceland where he saw lots of black terrain. Guests went home with their terrariums and instructions on how to take care of their creations. 

Party Time with Dreams Abroad and Adam Rogers

Afterward, guests took photos with a Dreams Abroad balloon display and continued to get to know each other. “What brought you to tonight’s event?” was the most common question among guests. 

The party also celebrated Adam Rogers’ 60th birthday. Adam is not only a prolific writer, but also a longtime friend of Dreams Abroad and a noteworthy contributor.  As a true global citizen, he’s celebrating his milestone birthday with six parties on six continents. This event was Adam’s party in North America, and the second in his series. Partnering with Adam in this celebration reflects Dreams Abroad’s mission of bringing people together, cheering each other on, and stopping to acknowledge the accomplishments of the community.   

A sweet moment at the event included Dreams Abroad writer Austin Graff’s six-year-old daughter. After hearing SugaChef’s inspiring story of teaching D.C.’s youth about baking, she asked for a photo. “Your cake is very yummy,” she said before leaving for bedtime. 

Other guests in attendance included Dreams Abroad founder Leesa Truesdell’s mother Ivette, and D.C. photographer Jarrett Hendrix, who perfectly captured the festivities. 

With the success of this inaugural in-person event, Dreams Abroad is looking toward the future. Be on the lookout for upcoming meet-ups and additional opportunities to connect with locals, travel experts, and Dreams Abroad writers. The only thing missing is you!

Meet Joseph Ressler: Co-owner of Rewild Plant Store in D.C.

Locations in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia is an impressive feat for any small business owner in the Washington, D.C. area. When Joseph Ressler opened REWILD, a plant store on a mission to connect people to nature, in 2018 with business partners Lily Cox and Kyle Cannon, he didn’t expect to expand quickly. Within five years, REWILD went from a floral shop to a plant store with locations in two Washington, D.C. neighborhoods, Maryland, and Virginia.

Opening stores throughout the Washington, D.C. area is a sort of homecoming for Ressler. Growing up in North Potomac, Maryland, he now lives inside Washington, D.C. in a neighborhood called Brightwood Park. “It’s a true neighborhood—walkable, quiet, and with unique row houses,” says Ressler.

One of his favorite things to do in his neighborhood is walk to Lost Sock Roasters’ pop-up at ANXO, a local hard cider company. With coffee, food, spacious seating, and pictures of dogs hanging on the walls, the pop-up feels like home.

Ressler’s Local D.C. Recommendations

Ressler is local to the core. When in the Washington, D.C. area, he’ll send you to D.C.’s Habesha Market and Maryland’s Wang Dynasty for food, D.C.’s All Souls Bar and Maryland’s Quarry House Tavern for drinks, and D.C.’s Flash and Virginia’s Wolf Trap for sounds.

His ideal day includes grabbing coffee locally with his wife before walking their dog in Rock Creek Park, the country’s third national park. His next stop would be the National Mall with a visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden to see the plants. (He is a plant store shop owner, after all.) He’d end his day with Chinese takeout at home while watching Seinfeld. If his friends get lucky, they may be able to convince him to leave home for a nightcap.

His ideal day keeps him in the area. Rather than travel the world, Ressler prefers to be at home. “I actually love being home and being in the same place for a long time. You get to watch that place change and grow and I think the depth of that is very appealing to me,” he says.

Despite being a homebody, he and his wife snuck away to Italy in the summer of 2023 to explore Bologna, Florence, Rome, and Taorimina. “We really loved scootering around from one site to another. It was a blast zooming around these beautiful cities,” says Ressler.

Running Rewild

Not only does a love for home keep him grounded in Washington, D.C., but his business does too. After working as a professional poker player for eight years, the idea for REWILD was born when he earned his MBA at Georgetown University.

Even though poker is only a hobby now, Ressler applies poker strategy to running a business. “Poker is about logic, probability, and psychology. You run a business through all three tests. Does my idea make sense? Logic. Will my idea most likely work out? Probability. Do I have any bias around my ideas? Psychology,” notes Ressler.

He goes on to explain that in poker you must focus on what you can control. Same in running REWILD. He can’t control when customers come in and for what, but he can focus on training his staff to prioritize customer service, selling quality houseplants, and more.

After a few dead ends trying to work in corporate America, Ressler loves what he does. As REWILD’s CEO, he thrives on seeing end results. He says, “Whether that is a beautiful store that our team spent a bunch of time putting together, or an office building that we decorated, or even just walking down the street and noticing our plants in someone’s window. The end result of adding greenery into spaces is the best.”

Ressler considers himself an entrepreneur. His advice to other entrepreneurs is to “just start.” He says, “I can’t tell you how many people I talk to who are looking for speed bumps to delay starting. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second best time is today.”

Plants, Patience, and Perseverance

As he continues to grow and expand REWILD, the words of Ressler’s mother ring true: “always persevere.” Perseverance takes patience, something not unfamiliar to Ressler. His house is full of cacti, plants that require patience. He nursed a Peruvian apple cactus and saw it blossom for the first time after four years!

As a plant owner himself, Ressler’s passion is to help customers find the right plant for the right space in their homes and apartments. It’s what makes REWILD stand out. Selling unique plants from smaller or family-owned nurseries, REWILD’s staff listens to each customer and connects them to the right-for-them plant.

The Philosophy Behind Rewild Plant Store

REWILD’s personal care for each customer is how the brand started. Ressler started to notice that plants sold in big chain stores and other environments produced an impersonal experience. Believing that plants are personal, he and his co-owners created a more intimate store experience for customers.

And it worked. REWILD is “rooted in the belief that caring for plants is a deep form of self-care.” Self-care leads to growth. A houseplant and its caregiver mature together, a lesson that expands beyond a home and into the world.

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.

Meet the Locals: Chanchala Gunewardena in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Chanchala Gunewardena was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka. After spending eight years away for college and work, she returned in 2015. “I’ve lived in both the U.S. and Bangladesh and they were very different, yet great, temporary homes,” she says. “But there’s something calming that makes you steady on your feet when navigating your home turf.” 

As an agri-food entrepreneur, Gunewardena runs Kimbula Kitchen, specializing in pure kithul (also called pani), a smoky sweet palm tree syrup. 

The Art of Giving Back

Gunewardena also recently piloted Freedom Hub, a program teaching 17 to 35-year-olds creative entrepreneurship. The program worked for three and half months in Matara, on Sri Lanka’s southern coast, to expose participants to creative thinking in art, film, and storytelling.

“Creatives visited to teach workshops, while our participants came to Colombo and visited creative-centered businesses, like the Barefoot shop and gallery, to see that art and culture can be an engine for a new vision for economic growth,” explains Gunewardena. “It’s not something many of our participants have got while in school or been allowed to dream as a practical way forward.”

a gathering of the freedom hub posing for a photo outside the sapumal foundation in colombo sri lanka

A Business Built on Community 

Creativity plus a willingness to learn new tools and new areas are vital to her current work. “I had no background in agri or food, so that process has taken time,” she shares. “But by problem solving, being willing to never be above any task, and learning to manage anxiety—while also trying things not tried before—all of these in some order have helped me pull it off.”

Though she describes her business as small and unorthodox in its approach, she’s won long-standing support. Chefs, mixologists, and customers who love Kimbula’s pure kithul syrup genuinely appreciate it. “I am also so proud we championed a community of farmers that were totally overlooked, and showed a different way of brand-building that constantly tries to be purpose[ful] and people first,” says Gunewardena. “And now I love through my other youth-focused creative entrepreneurship project that we are able to try to pass on those skills of championing local potential amongst others.”

Running your own business comes with drawbacks, of course. “I’ve gone backwards perhaps more than I’ve gone forwards. I’ve trusted and got burned,” she says. But, she tries to treat those experiences as learning opportunities, reminding herself to keep going. “Try it. See if it works for you—launching your own thing and being your own boss,” Gunewardena says. Ideally you find collaborators from the start. And if it’s not working? “It’s okay to breathe, pause, reevaluate, or try a different tack,” she adds. “Mental health and integrity over ego if you can manage it.”

Kimbula sauce on waffles with fruit and butter

Chanchala Gunewardena on Diversity and Perseverance

Since returning to Colombo, Sri Lanka’s largest city and commercial capital, Gunewardena has enjoyed discovering new-to-her aspects of the city. She likes to explore different neighborhoods and find new food spots. “People [are] doing ever evolving and interesting things as the country has gone through various stages since I’ve been here,” she says. “I try to hop around to events from which I feel I can learn more, whether it’s on art, or politics and economy, or music.”

For visitors, she recommends going to one of Colombo’s many galleries to see local, contemporary art, such as the Sapumal Foundation, Barefoot Gallery, Saskia Fernando Gallery, and the JDA Perera Gallery. These spaces are often connected to garden enclaves and cafés, plus provide a nice air-conditioned break from the Lankan heat.

When you get hungry, you have many options. “If string hoppers, pol (coconut) sambol, and kiri hodi (a turmeric curry) are being served, I MUST eat,” says Gunewardena. “Brinjal moju (a sweet-spicy eggplant sambol) also is ace.” Also try a Jaffna crab curry, with the claws slightly cracked before cooking, so the curry seeps in. “That’s a dream and a treat,” she says.

Though recent headlines featuring Sri Lanka depict it as a place in crisis, there’s more to it. “The big discovery worth coming and seeing is the reality of a country that is coming through from that, as it has many times before, with its heart and sense of welcome intact, and its care to make sure our visitors are safe and looked after in their travel,” says Gunewardena.

Chanchala Gunewardena and others visiting the sapumal foundation in columbo sri lanka

The Magic of Travel

“I have these quiet nerves about stepping into new places—especially the more I know that I’ll be kind of an outlier in some way. At the same time it’s an immense privilege to have been able to see the beauty and diversity of our planet via travel,” she adds. “A place I’ve been lucky to visit on several occasions is Nepal, and I think second to Lanka it has my heart because in each visit something special has unfurled. Also when you’re flying in you see the Himalayas. It just sets the stage for magic.”

Learn more about Chanchala Gunewardena and her Kimbula Kitchen from their Instagram, and follow Freedom Hub’s Facebook for announcements on an upcoming art and music festival in Matara. 

the himalayan mountains in langtang national park in nepal

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world

Meet the Locals: SugaChef, Washington, D.C.

“I always bring the D.C. swag with me wherever I go,” says executive pastry chef Padua Player aka SugaChef, who started his own pastry company- SugaChef Desserts– just a few miles from his hometown of Washington, D.C. 

With four stints on Food Network TV shows, he started baking by growing up the youngest of seven children in Northeast D.C. “I’ve always had a passion for food, for desserts specifically,” says chef Padua. He was his mother’s sous chef, which inspired him to check out step-by-step cookbooks from the local library. 

In high school, SugaChef worked as a dishwasher at pioneering D.C. chef Bob Kinkead’s first venture in the city. It didn’t take long for him to start doing prep work and then plating cold appetizers and desserts. 

Soon enough, chef Padua brought his desserts to the restaurant’s pastry chef for her to critique. Impressed, she invited him to assist her in making French and pumpernickel breads. “I knew it was my happy place,” he says. 

SugaChef’s Favorite Parts of His Hometown

From there, he went on to work in a hotel bakery before attending culinary school. Afterward, he returned to his native Washington, D.C., a city he loves. “What I love about Washington, D.C. is its diversity, culture, history, and food.” 

“People from other places mainly think of D.C. as a historical city. The most surprising thing is we have really good food here. D.C. is building a reputation for delicious food,” says SugaChef. Being a lover of food with bold flavor, he loves attending the city’s annual D.C. Caribbean Carnival, an event going back to 1993 with music and authentic food from the Caribbean. 

The D.C. Caribbean Carnival is just one of many events in the D.C. area that chef Padua enjoys. (In 2012, the festival moved to Baltimore, merging with Baltimore’s annual Caribbean Festival.) As a child, he got to be in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade down Pennsylvania Avenue near the White House. 

When people visit Washington, D.C., from around the world, he recommends visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture, where he says you can spend days exploring. 

When he’s not in D.C., SugaChef loves traveling. If he’s visiting new cities, he always stops at bakeries. His dream is to take a baking class in Paris. For now, he’ll continue teaching baking classes for youth in D.C.’s historic Anacostia neighborhood. 

Even though he loves big cities like New York City, it’s Pennsylvania that SugaChef enjoys the most. He says, “I just love simple American desserts, and I’ve found that many places in Pennsylvania have classic American desserts done well and with fresh ingredients. I’ve always had great desserts in Pennsylvania.” 

Professional Inspiration and Aspirations

It’s hard to find time to travel while working as an executive pastry chef for a top catering company, running his own business, and appearing on Food Network TV shows like the Holiday Baking Championship, Cake Hunter, and Chopped Sweets, which chef Padua was most nervous to do. 

“It built my confidence, and that’s the most valuable thing,” he says about baking on his feet while competing on Chopped Sweets. The show invited SugaChef to believe in himself, and now he wants to pass that on.

“I want to give people the same confidence that I learned, especially people at home. When they see me in the kitchen, they know they can build the confidence to make that soufflé or do that dessert they’ve always been afraid of trying,” he says. 

Currently, he’s writing a cookbook, working to appear on more TV shows, and hopes to have a product line one day to help inspire more people. 

Until then, he’s motivated by creating made-to-order desserts for clients. He says, “When people eat my desserts, I want them to be transported [to the country where they first ate it]. It’s heartwarming for me and brings up so many memories for the client.”

Future Dreams

Despite working long hours, baking is his passion, and learning is what fuels him. “The most important thing is creativity and imagination. I pride myself in continuing to read cookbooks, see what’s on social media, and watch videos because I think it sparks creativity. You’re aware of food trends. It helps you stay abreast of what’s happening on the food scene,” says SugaChef. 

Chef Padua’s ideal day is to work nine to five, but that’s not his reality. In talking to aspiring chefs, he wants them to know that hard work is required. He says, “My biggest piece of advice is to be prepared to work hard. Sometimes TV or the Food Network is great in some sense and bad in another sense simply because the younger chefs think you’re going to get into this business, work nine to five, and rise to the top to become big-time chefs. That’s few and far between. Be prepared to work hard.”

Alongside the hard work, SugaChef loves the food industry because it involves working with talented people and delicious food, and it challenges him to think creatively. It also takes imagination.

And he can already imagine his future trip to Paris, eating pastries from every bakery and taking a macaron baking class.

Be on the lookout for Dreams Abroad’s ongoing Meet the Locals series. Follow our series to meet other global professionals sharing their stories from around the world.