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Meet the 7 Local Stars Trailblazing in Houston

Jane Humphrey | April 6, 2021 | Home & Real Estate People Style & Beauty Feature Shop Celebrity Home & Real Estate Watches & Jewelry fashion Art

The next wave of innovators has arrived, bringing a flood of fresh energy to Houston.

Founder, Illa Gaunt Art PHOTO BY JENNY ANTILL
Founder, Illa Gaunt Art PHOTO BY JENNY ANTILL

Illa Gaunt

When asked about her greatest passion, Illa Gaunt says, “Collaborating with clients to build meaningful art collections. I especially enjoy studio visits where I have the opportunity to learn about artists, their visions and techniques firsthand.” As founder of her eponymous company, Gaunt seems to always be one step ahead. Combining her education in art history (which she studied at Vanderbilt) with true moxie within the business, Gaunt has earned her chops as one of the most sought-after art advisers in the city—and beyond. She is constantly breaking new ground and looking for ways to further expand a thoughtful conversation on art within the community—and with carefully curated talent she enlists as well as utilizing her sharp eye, she has been able to do so in spades. “There’s always a new artist to discover, new exhibitions and new work to see,” she shares. “It’s a cliche, but it rings true: Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life!”

What’s the best thing that’s happened since launching Illa Gaunt Art? Realizing I could fashion a career from a passion.

Where did your love for art first begin? In high school, I interned for my aunt Alice Foultz, who’s also an art adviser. I went on to major in art history at Vanderbilt.

I never expected that... My Instagram art history lessons would resonate in such a big way with both connoisseurs and newbies.

What are some organizations near and dear to your heart? The Lawndale Art Center and FotoFest. Both are Houston-based organizations that support artists while providing abundant learning opportunities for their members.

My big news is... We’re welcoming a baby boy this spring.

What’s next for you? I am excited to travel again. While working online makes my job convenient, I’ve really missed museums, art fairs and exhilarating contemporary art exhibitions like the Venice Biennale.

Founder & Owner, Lucille’s Hospitality Group PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN
Founder & Owner, Lucille’s Hospitality Group PHOTO BY JENN DUNCAN

Chris Williams

Over the course of this past year, several restaurants in the Houston area took quite a hit. Instead of sitting idly, however, many of our top chefs leaned in to help community members and continued to further the fight against hunger. One driving force in particular who went above and beyond is chef Chris Williams. The executive chef of scrumptious eatery Lucille’s launched a nonprofit in light of COVID-19, Lucille’s 1913, which has served over 200,000 thoughtfully scratchmade meals to those most in need in two counties—Harris and Forth Bend. No stranger to giving back, Williams is constantly lending a helping hand, one of his many traits that make him so beloved by all. “We are creating paid opportunities to access the culinary world from seed to harvest to production,” says Williams of his philanthropic endeavors. “Combating food insecurity wherever we see it and creating meals that speak directly to the palates of those in need. We are also leading the charge in changing the conversation of who can do what and what it looks like.” With the launch of his new hospitality group, Lucille’s Hospitality Group; a restaurant, Emile’s Black Point Bistro in Nova Scotia, Canada, scheduled to open in June; and the opening of LHG restaurant Late August, scheduled for the fall, chef Williams is whipping up a full plate for a bright future ahead.

What’s the best part of your job? Creating random shapes for the puzzle, mixing them up in a bag, then trying to figure out how to make them fit.

When did you first develop your love for food and cooking? At my father’s mother’s table. I used to spend summers with her in Brenham, and a lot of that time was spent in the kitchen. Those experiences really romanticized cooking for me. The music, the time that went into preparing a meal for the family, the smells of raw ingredients being transformed… that’s where I got the bug.

In 2021, creation is all about... Folding the community into the intended purpose—meaning it’s no longer about me creating a dish or restaurant concept; it’s about getting everyone involved in every part of the process to get there collectively.

What is your hope for the future? LHG’s nonprofit Lucille’s 1913 will continue to grow and create more opportunities for those who so seldom have proper food access, while also providing consistent nourishment to those in need.

Shaftel Diamonds PHOTO BY AL TORRES
Shaftel Diamonds PHOTO BY AL TORRES

Iris and Danny Shaftel

What’s next for you? D. All of the above

Shining bright in the city is one of our favorite couples—Iris and Danny Shaftel. The two entrepreneurs seem to do everything together. Not only do they work together from a business standpoint—Danny is the general manager and a partner in Shaft el Diamonds, while Iris is the social coordinator for Shaftel Diamonds as well as an independent fashion stylist—they are incredibly involved in the community, especially Sky High for Kids and the organization’s mission to end childhood cancer. “I am honored to have been elected to the board of directors and have made the commitment because I believe in their mission and the way they run their organization,” shares Danny. “Sky High is run very much like a family—with strong core values, a focus on health and wellbeing, and taking care of those who are the most in need.”

With family of key importance to the couple, they treasure the opportunity to be able to work together to achieve a common goal—something instilled in Danny from early on. “I spent my childhood watching my father deal with diamonds and gemstones from all over the world. He would travel the world, finding gems from all over and would bring them home to show me and my two sisters. It was fascinating” he says. “As a young boy, the thought of how these gems formed over millions of years in the Earth and the process by which they were mined and then processed and turned into adornments worn by humans for thousands of years is something that fascinates me to this day.” Having recently opened their new storefront this past fall, they are busier than ever. What does the future hold for this dynamic duo? “To stay the course and not lose sight of what we have learned over the years that has brought us to this point.”

What’s the best part of the job? We get to see people during some of the happiest moments of their lives. Whether they are about to get engaged, celebrating a milestone anniversary or planning an important charitable event, we get to be a participant in the big, memorable and often life-changing events with people from all walks of life. And the best part is that we get to do it as a family.

What was the biggest surprise this past year brought? When we opened our new location in November 2020, we fully expected to experience a long period of growing pains as we opened up during a pandemic with an uncertain economic outlook. Not only did we hit the ground running, but we were immediately met with excitement from our new neighbors in Tanglewood and Memorial and have met some of the most wonderful and influential people in our city.

What keeps you constantly motivated? Knowing that we have something so rare and special—the combination of a successful family business and a family with three amazing, well-rounded daughters who force us to consistently lead by example. Success in our business is not necessarily defined by the numbers that we do—it is very much defined by our ability to work side by side, as fathers and children, husband and wife, siblings and a full team of employees who are all very much part of our extended family. It is always hard work to be an entrepreneur and oft en harder working with family, but we managed to create something wonderful together.

Forward, Houston Rockets PHOTO BY CODY MADSEN
Forward, Houston Rockets PHOTO BY CODY MADSEN

Jae’Sean Tate

“Built for this” is the mantra that Jae’Sean Tate constantly strives to live by. A self-proclaimed underdog, Tate hopes to inspire people to follow their dreams. And inspire he certainly does. Th e rookie player for the Houston Rockets is constantly striving to push himself further and has an unparalleled drive that we should all take note of. The Ohio State alumnus got his love for the game from his father. “From a young age, you always aspire to be like your dad, so I knew pretty early on,” shares Tate. “Honestly, I’ve known that I wanted to play basketball since I was 4 years old.” Tate’s father also played college ball at Ohio State (as well as Cincinnati). Equally important as his drive on the court are his philanthropic endeavors off the court. He recently joined the Apollo Media Houston’s fundraising efforts for those affected by the winter storm.

How have you embraced your new hometown of Houston? The fans here have been so great. Seriously, even with the COVID restrictions and protocols, I feel like I see supporters all the time. Houston has definitely embraced me. I don’t know what it is about me they’re connecting with, but I’m really thankful for it.

What’s the best part about your job? I love competition. It’s still surreal to reach the NBA aft er this journey I’ve had. I wake up every morning and feel like I’m living out a dream. And I still think I’m really just scratching the surface, in terms of my potential.

What keeps you motivated? I’m living out my dream. But even if I’ve worked my whole life to get here, I have a ways to go. And even if you get a foot in the door in the NBA, it’s really easy to get kicked right through that door. I don’t just want to be here; I want to stay here.

What do we need to know about you? People need to know that I am built for this. I have a foundation, and I’ve been an underdog since I was an undersized third grader. I’m just trying to inspire people. I’m a walking testament to the power of following your dream. That idea that even when folks don’t see your vision or your light, you can still manifest it and see it happen.

Founder, The Avenue PHOTO BY CODY BESS
Founder, The Avenue PHOTO BY CODY BESS

Lyndsey Zorich

Eager to engage fellow style savants by creating a platform to celebrate this common bond, Lyndsey Zorich launched shopping destination The Avenue. Like most women, Zorich fell in love with fashion at an early age. “It began when I was a toddler, sucking my thumb, browsing the JCPenney catalog at my grandmother’s house,” she shares. “My grandmother had more shoes than anybody I’ve ever met, and we would spend hours poring through the pages of taffeta bow dresses, costume jewelry and shoulder pads in the daily fashion ads.” Constantly striving to further her reach and expand her brand (Zorich recently launched an app), she invites her loyal patrons to join her in the ultimate trifecta of actions—to live, to wear and to gift . She is certainly a woman on the move. “I’m pretty high energy and self-motivated by nature, but like everyone, I have my days. I’ve recently started a new morning ritual of waking up an hour before my kids (and I’m not a morning person) to do Pilates, meditate and pour a cup of coffee before the chaos of the day begins,” says Zorich. “It’s been a game changer in punctuating the start to my day and allowing for a more positive headspace.”

What would you say is the best part of your job? While I love all the pretty things, it’s the people I get to work with that make me look forward to going into the office most. It’s a small but mighty team (going 15 strong now!), and as all women, it feels like I inherited an extended family of 15 sisters I can lean on for just about anything.

In 2021, fashion is all about... Bridgerton. The show stole our quarantine hearts, and now we’re all jonesing to be Daphne. I’ve ordered too much of this Regency-era vibe for The Avenue for spring and am seeing even more romantic collars, pearl embellishments and brocade silhouettes from the fall market too.

Any big news to share? We launched an app! I try to put myself in our shoppers’ shoes, and I find apps to be the most user-friendly, convenient way to shop as a busy mom, so I wanted to offer our customers the same seamless experience. I still can’t believe my eyes when I see The Avenue’s icon on my iPhone next to the retailers I’ve shopped for years.

What’s next for you? Great question! I’d venture to say an in-house apparel and home collection is in the cards sooner rather than later.


Tiffany LaRose

With her finger on the pulse of the real estate industry, Tiffany LaRose is constantly on the move yet never seems to tire, and, how could she? With the Houston market on fire, LaRose has seen a surge in her industry in 2021. “Nothing is more gratifying to me than seeing the look on my clients’ faces on closing day when they are handed the keys to their new home or even when they sell their current home for the desired value,” shares LaRose. “It is truly rewarding and warms my heart knowing that my clients will make lifelong memories in their new home that I assisted in helping them purchase or close out a chapter in selling their current home.” A true force, LaRose shines both in the office as well as in the community. She is involved in several causes that are near and dear to her heart. “My philanthropic mission includes serving on the board of directors for Great Age Movement—a nonprofit organization that focuses on enriching the lives of senior citizens through volunteer wellness programs that promote health, learning and socialization. I also serve on an annual committee for Sky High for Kids, which brings communities together to provide comfort, fund research and save lives of those fighting pediatric cancer and other life-threatening conditions,” she says. “In 2020, I also co-chaired the annual Homemade Hope gala, a nonprofit that provides at-risk children and families with cooking and nutrition education and thousands of meals prior to and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

What is your key motivator? My desire to help my clients truly motivates me each day. Buying or selling a home is one of, if not the most, important decisions that someone has to make. It is a huge commitment that comes along with a lot of responsibility. It is my job to ensure that my clients are making a smart financial investment, as well as a decision that properly fits their needs and what they’re looking for both short and long term. If you love what you do, it never feels like work!

This past year brought... Even more clarity about what’s truly important in life. It taught me to stop and smell the roses (when possible) and to appreciate a beautiful day of Houston weather (with or without humidity!), take more time to be outside or doing things that I love, focus more on my health and wellness, and to prioritize spending more time with my loved ones. Every day we’re given is such a blessing.

Success means... Living life with a sense of purpose. I strive to go above and beyond for my clients professionally while also volunteering and serving the beautiful Houston community I live in. My goal is to make a difference in the lives of those around me, whether through my professional experiences or through my philanthropic outreach.


Photography by: Jenny Antill, Jenn Duncan, Al Torres, Cody Madsen, Cody Bess, Tiffany LaRose