Just over a month into 2024, Hoboken + Jersey City have already seen substantial changes — new businesses opening, old businesses closing, A-List celebs gushing over local eats. One thing that remains consistent no matter the calendar date is the passion and creativity of Hudson County residents, who are constantly raising the bar and doing it flawlessly (to quote Michelle Obama, who also shared a Hoboken story in 2024). Every month, The Hoboken Girl highlights 10 locals that readers should have their eye on. From innovators and inspirational mamas to singers and artists, keep reading to meet your Hoboken + Jersey City residents to watch in February 2024.
Phillip Hawes | Professional UFC Fighter
Phillip Hawes is a professional UFC fighter based in Jersey City and currently trains at Remix MMA in Hoboken. With a background in martial arts, he competed at Division 1 during his time at Iowa State University, where he completed a degree in sociology. Though he’s come a long way from his college days, his teammates and coaches remain a big inspiration to him. He shared with The Hoboken Girl, “I work very hard to fine-tune my craft, which I hope makes the martial arts community proud.” Phillip recently participated in a UFC fight on January 13th, and his ultimate goal is to become the next UFC Champion. Like any proud Jersey native, Phillip hopes to represent New Jersey “at the top.”
Phillip’s favorite Hoboken spots: “Of course, Remix MMA, where I spend a lot of time training! Imposto’s has a great slice. Karma Kafe has great Indian food. And House of ‘Que is always showing the best fights.”
Follow Phillip’s journey on his Instagram here.
Thiana Vázquez | Founder of NJTESTPREP LLC
Currently serving as the District Supervisor for Multilingual Learners (formerly known as ESL) in the Cliffside Park School District, Thiana Vazquez supports the district in grades Prek-12, amongst 6 different schools. She advises curriculum development, budgeting, legal compliance, teacher observations, and other departments who need further training in how to support multilingual learners.
Thiana is a proud Cuban-American born and raised in North Bergen. Her experience in a “bilingual and culturally rich home” informs not only in her work with the school district, but also in her off-hours entrepreneurial venture, NJTESTPREP. In 2017, her daughter was diagnosed with Autism and ADHD — so Thiana began tutoring local kids as an extra means of income. Seven years later, NJTESTPREP is providing Private Tutoring, Small Group Tutoring, and its “most recent partnership with Hudson County Schools of Technology. ” The organization offers services for SAT, AP, ACT, HSPT, College Admissions Counseling, and Subject tutoring.
In her free time, Thiana and her daughter (along with their grumpy Brussels griffin) love to spend time outdoors.
Thiana’s favorite Jersey City spot: dullboy and AniRamen
Learn more about Thiana and NJTESTPREP here.
The Fleetaways | Music Duo
The term “elevator music” often signifies boring background music to fill an awkward silence, but for this musical Jersey City duo, elevator music is a story of origins. The Fleetaways is a JC-based indie folk duo and it all started when co-founders Jenna Laurenzo and Michael Browne discovered their shared passions during an elevator ride in the Elevator JC building. Among other interests, the two both expressed a desire for musical collaboration and quickly got to work.
Jenna is an award-winning director, writer, and actress, venturing into music during the pandemic. She wrote the song “The River” for a short film following her viral hit Girl Night Stand. Michael is a trained guitarist and multi-instrumental producer at Synesthetic Studio in Jersey City, where he strengthened his skills under the guidance of Roland Dynes.
The Fleetaway’s debut single, GOODBYE, was inspired by the near-death experiences both Jenna and Michael shared. Rooted in the flashes of life on the precipice of “Nevermore”, the duo’s upcoming album explores the transience of life, capturing fleeting moments and emotions. The name “The Fleetaways reflects” life’s moments and feelings.
Jenna and Michael hope to inspire people to “express their fullest selves.” You can expect to see The Fleetaways at Hoboken + Jersey City live music spots — they shared with HG that they’d ” love to continue performing locally.”
Jenna + Michael’s favorite Jersey City spot: Battello
Learn more about Jenna + Michael’s band, The Fleetaways on Instagram here.
Allison Strong | Singer, Songwriter, + Actor
Allison Strong is a multimedia artist who is something of a triple threat: singer, songwriter, and actor. Previously, Allison has performed alongside notable musicians like Jesse + Joy and LeAnn Rimes — but she’s also shared the screen with Hollywood heroes like Adam Sandler and Chris Rock in the Netflix comedy The Week Of.
In June 2023, she released her six-song EP, Brontë. She’s slated to star in the upcoming Netflix animated feature Leo, once again standing opposite Adam Sandler. Other acting credits include the series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Broadway shows like Bye Bye Birdie and Mamma Mia.
Allison’s inspiration largely comes from others. “I’m inspired by creators: the doers with wild imaginations and the bravery to act on that inspiration.”
Stephanie Silva | Programming Director for Team Wilderness
Stephanie Silva works as the Programming Director for Team Wilderness, a nonprofit organization that uses education to teach teenagers teamwork, leadership, and character. The organization also devotes its work to addressing the needs of marginalized youth in our area. Just last year, they added academic coaching and mental health counseling with Compass Project and North Star Project.
With roots in Jersey City and Hoboken, she studied at Rutgers University-New Brunswick and graduated in 2016, before making her way back to Hudson County. Stephanie kicked off her career journey in the non-profit niche after graduating from Rutgers New Brunswick in 2016. She dedicated years to non-profits across New Jersey and other states, always focusing on teaching environmental science education to youth outdoors.
She always dreamt of bringing a program to Jersey City that would expose more youth to the outdoors — a dream that became a reality when Stephanie discovered Team Wilderness. Under Stephanie’s direction, Team Wilderness helps to promote confidence in youth, consideration for their peers, and passion for the world they live in. She also told HG, “Our team works so hard year-round to help address needs of the community, especially when it comes to providing access to the outdoors, mental health counseling, and academic coaching to youth who would otherwise not have it.”
Business owners Stephanie looks up to: “John — Owner of City Bistro + Johnny Peps, Joe — Sushi Lounge Owner, The Silvermans.”
Sarah Wasilak | Podcast Host of Dinner for Shoes
Jersey City resident Sarah Wasilak is a published writer, the Associate Director of Commerce at POPSUGAR, and now a host of her original podcast, Dinner for Shoes. Sarah uses her expertise from POPSUGAR to deliver a humorous and authentic take on fashion and style. The podcast is an honest discussion about fashion — its fleeting trends and prolific industry — that “break[s] some bread in each episode.” That’s not just a metaphor, either: in each episode, she tests dishes from local Hoboken and Jersey City spots, sharing her reviews along the way.
With her podcast, she hopes to “to try new food in the Hoboken and Jersey City area, supporting local businesses and also inspiring my viewers to try what I’m eating too! I also want to enlighten the people around me about fashion and style.”
Sarah’s local business owners she looks up to: “Jennifer Tripucka of Hoboken Girl, of course! And Talia Filippelli of Starr Therapy.”
Tracy Everitt | Professional Dancer
Photo Credit: Steven Berrebi
Tracy Everitt is a dancer whose passion began at the age of four. He has performed on both Broadway and Hollywood stages. Some of Tracy’s appearances include featured roles in Hollywood films such as The Irishman and The Post, along with collaborations on sets like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Billions. He also worked on several series of The Judy Garland Show and even performed a duet with her daughter (though a star in her own right), Liza Minelli.
Eventually, his talents led him to start The Tracy Everitt School of Dance in Hoboken, which he owned and operated for 30 years. His passion for dance has also led him to travel worldwide, teaching and performing in Europe, Japan, Germany, Greece, and France. After a hiatus, Tracy recently resumed his teaching career at the LOFT, launching “The Ballroom Dance Center of Hoboken.” It’s a six-week course in ballroom dance that welcomes beginners and seasoned vets alike. His ultimate goal is “to make people happy” through the art of dance.
Local business owners Tracy looks up to: “Joe Castelo, owner of The Loft, because he is an artist as well as a businessman, and Mouna Degachem, owner of Cafe Sophia because she is a mensch.”
Learn more about Tracy and his new classes here.
Matha Figaro | CEO + Founder of ButACake + CannPowerment
Matha Figaro was once an executive pastry chef for a New Jersey steakhouse in her hometown of Morristown, New Jersey. During her residency, her butter cake recipes garnered fanfare from local customers — both regulars and first-timers. Eventually, Matha launched her own brand, ButACake, just a few years later.
As of 2024, ButACake has transformed into an infused, edible cannabis brand that sells buccal cannabis products. edible cannabis brand that creates buccal cannabis products. Its mission is to “provide customers with a discreet and delicious way to consume cannabis,” while also ensuring that products are safe to use.ButACake has a range of offerings, including baked goods, oral dissolvable strips, syrups, and more. Matha says, “As ButACake, we find inspiration in creating innovative and enjoyable cannabis-infused products that cater to diverse preferences. The satisfaction and positive feedback from our customers and partners fuel our passion for crafting unique offerings.”
Matha’s favorite local spots: “Noire Dispensary Maplewood, The Cannabis Place Jersey City, and Urb’n Dispensary Newark.”
Learn more about Matha and ButACake here.
Olivia Halpin | Celebrity Hair Stylist
View this post on Instagram
Olivia’s passion for hairstyling began in 2009 when she lived in New York City. She worked in several hair salons before she launched her own in-home salon. Now a Hoboken resident, Olivia has climbed the ranks and is an established celebrity hairstylist. Her celebrity clientele includes influencers, reality stars, and of course, much of the RHONJ cast.
Olivia loves to see “the confidence that shines through when a client sees their finished look.” She added, “It’s such an amazing gift to be able to make someone feel good in their skin and excited about the image they are putting out of themselves.” Despite her star-studded list of customers, Olivia hopes to “do more pop-up partnerships with other local businesses in the community.”
Local business owner Olivia looks up to: “Irina Kapetanakis of Rumble Hoboken has done such an amazing job of creating a strong-knit community. You can tell she really values her members and staff and is also always bringing other local businesses into the mix with partnerships. All while balancing a family and other businesses. Powerhouse!”
Learn more about Olivia and her journey as a hairstylist on Instagram here.
Steve Cunningham | Executive Director of Team Wilderness
Working as a history high school teacher in Jersey City, Steve longed for local students to have an opportunity to discover the wilderness. He launched an after-school outdoor club at the school, but still found that there was a demand for a further-reaching outdoor organization. His hope was (and still is!) that every Jersey City neighborhood can “experience empowering outdoor adventures and character growth together.”
In 2016, Steve founded Team Wilderness, a non-profit organization that provides various services to youth from marginalized communities. Team Wilderness has mentoring, academic coaching, therapy, and photography instruction with an outdoor perspective. With Team Wilderness, Steve hopes to, “help address the needs of the community.”
Steve’s favorite Jersey City spot: “That’s a tough question because my taste is always evolving. Right now it’s Mezcal in Journal Square.”
To be considered for a potential feature, please fill out this Google Form. There are no requirements for being featured, but we cannot guarantee that every submission will be included. Feel free to submit yourself or send it to a loved one, friend, or colleague!