Ten people making Orlando a better place to be

People we love 2018

Ten people making Orlando a better place to be

Happy Valentine's Day, Orlando. We have something for you better than a heart-shaped box of chocolates or a bunch of red roses: our annual selection of the people making your city a better, safer, more interesting place to live.

Orlando is always growing and changing, constantly refreshed by newcomers and new concepts. But those who stay and dig in are the ones we love best – the true dreamers visualizing a better city and working to make their dreams real.

Our 2018 honorees create art, set policy, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted – and know how to host a great night out. All of them deserve your attention and appreciation, and we count ourselves lucky to share the city with these people we love.

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Vanessa Barros Andrade

Artist, DJ, business owner

In 2016 Vanessa Barros Andrade staged a faux fashion show online called Puffy Pain. As a conceptual art goof on consumerist obsession with designer labels, she took secondhand cast-offs and festooned them with designer labels – Gucci, Miu Miu, even Thrasher – but in cheapo puffy paint applied with a child's toy. She recruited friends to walk a fake runway and streamed the whole thing live on Facebook. But then a funny thing happened: People actually started messaging her to buy pieces.

Barros Andrade sees a direct through-line between Puffy Pain and her newest project, A-Shop. A-Shop on Colonial and Mills occupies the former A Place Gallery space and exists in the strange realm between retail, the virtual world and performance art. To Barros Andrade, A-Shop is the logical next step from A Place: "a more tangible and digestible form of conceptual art." A-Shop is the only local brick-and-mortar spot to buy internet-famous designers' clothes; live DJ sets are streamed from the space, and A Shop regularly hosts drag performances and electronic music events. Barros Adrade presides fabulously over the whole scene, a world where conceptual art and outrageous fashion seamlessly blend; the Shop is a reflection of her manifold aesthetic obsessions.

“I think all representations of blackness by black people should be seen as creative and artistic.”

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Barros Andrade, a no-nonsense 27-year-old of Cape Verdean descent, has been a mainstay in the fringe art scene in Orlando for years now, working with Time Waste Management, Agencies and Art in Odd Places in the mediums of video art, zines and staged installations like 2015's "One Day We're Gonna Live." 2017 was a banner year for her. She began DJing – partly due to early encouragement from local DJ Nigel John – and quickly found herself fielding offers to play DIY techno and house nights here and in Miami. A-Shop gathered notice and attention, including a Best of Orlando nod from OW. She collaborated with artist Elizabeth Mputu to stage "Night/Shift: An Evening of New Media," a pop-up event at Orlando Museum of Art, last summer. Barros Andrade describes it as "a reflection of night life," complete with drag performances and DJ sets, that "bridged the gap between Orlando's DIY art scene and the museum." In her most recent project, she devised and staged an art show on the virtual reality "Animal Crossing" game. "In the game you can collect materials to make random objects," she explains. "I'm using the game as my studio practice and then I'm also displaying my finished 'work' in the game."

"Vanessa serves up relevant innovation to the Orlando community as she's a radical artist of color keenly ahead of the culture curve," says Ed Woodham, founder-director of the Art In Odd Places festival. "She's brilliantly irreverent at a time when blasphemy is crucial."

Barros Andrade cannily ties marketing strategies and internet hype to conceptual art concepts, and her reasoning is savvy as fuck. "Branding and hype are 100 percent creative outlets, especially for black people," she says. "I think all representations of blackness by black people should be seen as creative and artistic, even if it's 'just a selfie on the internet.'"

Barros Andrade is committed to staying in Orlando for the duration, resisting the lure of bigger cities. "I see potential in Orlando," she says. "I like working and building where I started."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Patricia Brigham

Gun-law reform activist

There's no underlying reason for why Patricia Brigham got involved with the push for gun-law reform in Florida; she just did, because it was the issue that spoke to her the most. Sure, she could point to her own life experience involving grief and firearms, such as how a teenage friend committed suicide using a rifle years ago. Or she could attribute it to the way – with the sport and necessity of hunting dwindling in popularity – Americans have begun to fetishize guns in recent years, which strikes her as unhealthy. Or she could decry the tragedy that was the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in December 2012, and the way Congress shocked the masses by failing to pass gun-law reform – any sort of reform – after the disaster, even as the nation mourned.

Truth be told, Brigham could point to a slew of reasons as to why she got involved with the cause, but she can't point to one reason in particular. As she tells Orlando Weekly, "Everybody always says you can't change it, and I thought: So long as you say that nothing's going to change. You've got to start somewhere." That "somewhere" was what brought her to the League of Women Voters of Florida in early 2013, where she would later form the organization's Gun Safety Committee, which she now chairs.

“Everybody always says you can't change it, and I thought: So long as you say that, nothing's going to change.”

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Brigham and the LWVFL's work have played a pivotal role in shaping the Sunshine State's relationship with firearms in recent years – and for years to come. She, as well as other advocates, was at the forefront of the opposition when state lawmakers began the push to legislate open-carry into law on college campuses; so far, it's not going to happen. The same could be said for efforts by lawmakers to legalize open-carry across the state; to date, proposals for that bill have been tossed to the side too.

Before she was one of the city's notable activists, Brigham was a military brat who'd been dragged to Orlando as a child. But something about Central Florida kept her here over the years: her time as a teenager in the 1970s, when she played the Disney character Grumpy for work; her years as a student at the University of Central Florida, where she'd earn a bachelor's and master's degree; and then, of course, the network of loved ones she'd come to develop.

These loved ones rose to the occasion after Brigham was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. (She's now in remission.) Between her loved ones and her favorite music – particularly Led Zeppelin – she managed to come out the other end of the painful process of chemotherapy and undergoing a mastectomy. She says she couldn't have done it without either.

Brigham says: "[Music] reconnected me to that kind of spirit that's inside me. I was so tired from the chemo. I learned that despite how old you are or the illnesses that you get, that young spirit, always keep that alive in yourself." It's that steady flame of spirit that fuels her determination to keep Floridians safe and sane.

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Matthew Curtis

Programming director, Enzian Theater/Florida Film Festival

As the programming director at Enzian Theater, Matthew Curtis gets to let a lifelong love of film play out on the screen for a (usually) appreciative audience. Born in New York, Curtis fell in love with movies at a young age.

"I remember going to the drive-in and seeing Pinocchio with my folks in my onesie and just falling in love with cinema on the spot," he says.

After attending New College in Sarasota, Curtis moved back to New York to work for Corinth Films, a film distribution company that sprang out of the renowned Janus Films. "When I got there in '80, I kind of took the company for a turn a little more culty. We started picking up films specifically for the non-theatrical market." That included music films like the Who's Quadrophenia or the early L.A. punk documentary The Decline of Western Civilization.

That penchant for the obscure and noteworthy helped Curtis out when he moved to Central Florida and started programming and marketing for the Enzian on a part-time basis in 1987. He was part of the first Florida Film Festival selection committee in 1992 and moved over to the Enzian full-time as the programming director in 1996.

“So many of these programs I feel like are my babies, and each one accomplishes something different.”

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Part of Curtis' job takes him to the acclaimed Toronto and Sundance film festivals every year to scope out new movies that would be a good fit for Enzian or the Florida Film Festival. Curtis explains, "There are many film festival directors, that's all they do is travel around the world and go to festivals. But we have a theater to run, a great art cinema to run with tons of special programming."

As far as that programming goes, Curtis finds it difficult to pick a favorite aspect of the Enzian's schedule. "So many of these programs I feel like are my babies. And each one accomplishes something different. I absolutely love doing Cult Classics, but Cult Classics is increasingly more challenging because of the lack of 35mm prints." The Enzian uses a 35mm platter system in their projection room rather than a reel-to-reel system, and according to Curtis, "Some companies won't even let anyone platter their movies. They'll only work with reel-to-reel. That's extremely challenging, but we still manage to show great stuff."

Curtis is looking forward to the planned expansion of the Enzian Theater to a three-screen independent multiplex, despite current permitting tangles.

"What will be really wonderful is when the expansion happens and we're able to get the platter system out of the booth and put in reel-to-reel. And then basically we're going to have double or triple the amount of movies available to us," he promises. And that means that Curtis will be able to continue showing us his favorite movies for years to come.

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Ricky Ly

Blogger, engineer, political activist

Almost 10 years ago, Ricky Ly took the first steps toward documenting what we all know now to be true: Orlando isn't just the City Beautiful, it's the City Delicious.

Since he launched his passion project, the Tasty Chomps food blog, Central Florida's food scene has exploded in creativity and volume, becoming almost unrecognizable to that city of a decade ago. But Tasty Chomps is still what it always was – a homegrown, down-to-earth, good-natured record of restaurants and dining events around town. And Ly has changed plenty too, going from an unknown among local bloggers to one of the biggest voices on the scene, but he, also, is what he always was – a believer in the American Dream.

Ly's parents were Vietnamese boat refugees, "riding out storms in fishing boats not knowing if they would survive, yet giving up their entire life and family and friends to be here in America, to hope against all odds." So in all he does, Ly has one firm belief: "To whom much is given, much is required." And while Tasty Chomps could be considered a form of public service, Ly's idea of giving back goes well beyond restaurant recommendations.

"It's when no one pays attention that bad decisions are made," Ly says, and his résumé of activities (beyond his day-to-day job as a civil engineer) shows that he's paying attention. During his time on the city's Families, Parks and Recreation Board, Ly was devastated by the murder of Gino Nicolas, a Parramore native and FSU grad who worked with the city in a mentoring organization. Ly and the rest of the board drafted a letter to City Council proposing extra funding so community centers could stay open later on weekends, providing a safe space for kids to be. "I think it was one of my proudest achievements on the board, coming up with the idea and seeing it happen, and hopefully making an impact," Ly says.

“To whom much is given, much is required.”

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Ly also serves on the board of the Asian American Federation of Florida. "Asian-Americans are the least likely to vote of any ethnic group in America, but mostly because they are not registered to vote. Once they are registered, the parity gap closes," Ly says. "I believe as Bernie [Sanders] does that when people get involved with our local politics, we can make our community and nation a much better place. It's a sad state of affairs when about 50 percent of the registered electorate this past election cycle just sat out and did not vote at all." Ly attended the 2016 Democratic National Convention as one of the Florida delegates for Bernie Sanders and served as one of the Florida whips. "To paraphrase someone, 'Nothing will change unless we do,'" he says.

Since the birth of his daughter almost a year ago, Ly says, he's had to cut down on some of his activities, though he's committed to finishing up his master's in environmental engineering. But one recent addition to his plate is one that combines his twin passions for food and participatory democracy: Ly was just elected to the board of directors at Second Harvest Food Bank, which works to end hunger in Central Florida.

"I believe in the American dream, but it is a dream we have to continue to build," Ly says. "[We have to] build new dreams of what America can be."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Albert Manero

President, Limbitless Solutions

When Albert Manero and his team began 3-D printing robotic arms for children in 2014 as a side project, the University of Central Florida alumnus says they were focused on increasing a prosthetic's dexterity and making it financially accessible for parents. He didn't realize he would be creating a space where kids with disabilities could finally be themselves.

"When we met some of the kids for the first time, they were afraid to go to the grocery store because of how people would treat them," Manero says. "To watch these kids grow up to be some of the most expressive and articulate young adults, has been an incredible process for the last four years.

"We always wanted them to know that they were already complete."

The 28-year-old president of Limbitless Solutions came to UCF from East Lake about 10 years ago to specialize in aerospace engineering. Four years ago, Manero gathered a group of friends specializing in everything from engineering to nursing to sewing to build a 3-D-printed bionic arm for Alex Pring, who was born missing most of his right arm. While a traditional prosthetic limb – which Alex would outgrow – might have cost the Pring family about $40,000 in out-of-pocket expenses, the UCF team's process lowered the price point to less than $350 and they gave the arm to Alex for free.

Alex's journey inspired many, including Robert Downey Jr., who plays the genius billionaire-turned-superhero Tony Stark in the Marvel movies. As part of Microsoft's "Collective Project," the actor helped Limbitless Solutions deliver to Alex a new bionic arm styled like Iron Man in a video that went viral on YouTube with more than 10.5 million views.

“We always wanted them to know that they were already complete.”

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"Now when people see Alex they don't ask, 'What happened to you? Is there something wrong with you?'" Manero says. "Instead, they ask 'How did you get your arm? How does it work? What can you do with it?' Being able to change that whole conversation for us was the most wonderful thing."

Since working with Alex, the nonprofit has provided bionic arms to dozens of children for free from their small office on the UCF campus. Manero says Limbitless Solutions has worked on making the prosthetics for children more expressive and colorful with individual designs, like a paint-splattered blue arm or one encrusted with jewels, because kids often reject dull, "lifelike" plastic prosthetics. Currently, Limbitless Solutions is making removable covers for the bionic arms so that kids can switch out sleeves based on their mood. Manero says the nonprofit would also like to venture onto the international stage by helping children who need prosthetic limbs in conflict zones.

What started as a side project has become an all-consuming enterprise for Manero, but he says he likes to distract himself with cooking and music to keep his creativity flowing.

"It's been a real rollercoaster," Manero says. "We never thought it would snowball like this, but it's been so rewarding and absolutely worth putting all of our energy into."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Rasha Mubarak

Civil rights activist, organizer

In terms of her activism and involvement in the community, Rasha Mubarak is everything and then some. She serves as the Central Florida regional director for the Council on American Islamic Relations of Florida, the state's largest Muslim civil rights organization. She's the director of public relations for the Muslim Women's Organization of Orlando and president of the local chapter of the Palestine Children's Relief Fund. She's the president of the Young Democrats of Orange County. Prior to that – among a number of other accolades and achievements – she was the program and development director at the Arab American Community Center. And that's just the top of her current résumé.

“For as long as I can remember, I've had a peace sign in one hand and a Palestinian flag in the other.”

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But as a person, she's even more: In her own words, she's the sentimental type. In Orlando Weekly's words, she's the sentimental type, but with broad strokes of fierceness and compassion, and with a pearly smile as vivid and commanding as a waning moon. She's a self-described spiritual person – a quality she attributes to her mother. And on a similar note, she's along the family-homebody lines of someone who'd prefer to drink mint tea over conservation with her parents rather than do most anything else. In fact, it's her father to whom she owes her natural inclination as an activist.

"So at a very young age, for as long as I can remember, I've had a peace sign in one hand and a Palestinian flag in the other, and I was just out there at these demonstrations that my father and all of them – his generation – would mobilize for Palestine," Mubarak says. For her, as a kid growing up in Central Florida, it was the norm; she figured everyone went out in downtown Orlando to protest to free Palestine. As for her activism, she says, "It was just something embedded in me for a long time."

Over coffee, Mubarak thinks back to a time about a week after the Pulse massacre, in June 2016, when she, like many other Orlandoans, was still trying to wrap her mind around the city's shared grief. She remembers a number of the painful conversations she had to have with others, but most especially she remembers a call from her imam. He called to tell her that God has put her where God wants her, in a place where she can do the most good. Mubarak took that phone call as a sign that she has a purpose to serve in Orlando, even if that purpose might not be the same forever.

"I don't want to leave an opportunity where I feel like I can help create Central Florida to be even more progressive, more welcoming, more intersectional, more inclusive for all people," Mubarak says. "We are a city that has seen pain, but we are able to see that there is power in pain, that there is mercy in adversity and that we can continue to make Orlando even more beautiful than what it is."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Jim Philips

Talk radio host, voice of reason

Since 1972, the Central Florida airwaves have benefited from the presence of Jim Philips' distinct baritone. Philips, the host of WTKS-FM Real Radio 104.1's "The Philips Phile," started out in Central Florida as an AM radio news reporter before landing as an afternoon talk show host in 1986. Along with a motley crew of sidekicks led by longtime producer Jack Bradshaw, Philips has covered local, state and national news with a sense of humor and a low tolerance for political grandstanding from either side of the aisle.

Out of all of the stories from a storied career, Philips is most proud of a single issue: "My defense of the LGBT community," he says. "I know I was the first one whether print or electronic to step forward and defend the LGBT community for many, many, many, many years ... I have no qualms about that. That was the best thing I've ever done on the air."

Though he'd be the first to deflect any credit for Orlando's reputation as a gay-friendly city, it's hard to imagine that having a top-rated drivetime radio host ardently defending gay rights in the homophobic early '90s had no impact on that reputation. At 2017's Come Out With Pride festival, Philips was presented with the Debbie Simmons Community Excellence Award, a lifetime achievement honor for his early and continuous support of LGBT issues.

“My defense of the LGBT community was the best thing I've ever done on the air.”

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Last year, Philips announced that he would be retiring from radio as of January 2018, but a deal that allowed him to continue working Mondays-Thursdays – along with a pay bump – secured him to "The Philips Phile" through 2018. After his retirement, don't expect to hear Philips join the throngs of fans who call in to radio station talk shows, though. "Whenever I walk out, I'm going to take a microphone with me, and I'll travel. And wherever I go and someone points at that microphone and says, 'What's that?' that's where I'll retire."

In the meantime, we'll have the rest of the year to eat dessert first, grin like a dog, wander aimlessly, pound your conch as often as you can, buy your books with cash and eat some ants.

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Hari Pulapaka

Chef, mathematician, sustainability advocate

"Helping hands are better than praying lips." The quote from Saint Teresa of Calcutta resonates with Cress Restaurant's Hari Pulapaka, a Mumbai native who's called DeLand home for the past 18 years. There are talkers and there are doers, and Pulapaka is most definitely a doer.

Pulapaka is a Stetson mathematics professor by day and a chef by night – a stint that's earned him four James Beard Foundation Award nominations and, along with wife Jenneffer, high-profile invites to various food advocacy initiatives. Their dedication to social causes, particularly in light of benighted Trump administration policies, has placed the pair in the limelight at a time when many chefs and restaurateurs shy away from it. They've demonstrated unapologetic defiance, but have done so in a manner that fosters discourse through the universal language of food.

“We want to emphasize the power of food in bringing opposing views to a common table.”

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"We want to emphasize the power of food in bringing opposing views to a common table for dialogue, celebration and mutual understanding, as well as to highlight problems and injustices in society," says Pulapaka. "We want to empower business owners to be true to their values, not just in their private lives, but also while running their businesses."

Last year's 7 Courses, 7 Countries event offered a response to Trump's Muslim travel ban, and a Native American Dinner held on Trail of Tears Commemoration Day honored the sacrifice of American indigenous people. This year's Solidarity Sunday will showcase foods from nations Trump referred to as "shithole countries." Cress has hosted numerous charity dinners, be it in support of area farms or the hurricane victims of Puerto Rico.

And if that weren't enough, Pulapaka is at the forefront of the country's sustainability movement, participating in the James Beard Foundation's Impact Programs (Smart Catch, Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, Chef Action Network), the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, and the American Culinary Federation's educational programs.

Transitioning Cress into an events-only restaurant in its 10th year has afforded the Pulapakas time for such active involvement, and letting go of the daily grind has also allowed them to stage various fundraising events which they find to be "soul-satisfying."

"I feel privileged that I can engage in very active and meaningful ways to support these initiatives," Pulapaka says. "My aim is to make our region's food systems sustainable, equitable, just and delicious. Today I'm doing what I can in this regard as a restaurateur, chef and academic, but I'll continue to do so until the very end as a citizen."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Marni Stahlman

President/CEO of Shepherd’s Hope

If you're ever looking for Marni Stahlman, chances are she's not in her Windermere office.

The president and CEO of the nonprofit Shepherd's Hope is likely driving between the organization's free clinics throughout Central Florida, checking in on her staff, volunteer doctors and the hundreds of uninsured patients they serve every day. Try texting her instead.

Stahlman, 54, is one of the fiercest advocates for the uninsured in Central Florida, where one out of every four people is living without health insurance in a state whose governor chose not to expand Medicaid. Last year, close to 18,000 of those people visited one of the five locations belonging to Shepherd's Hope, including about 500 evacuees who came after Hurricane Maria from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

But this wasn't always the career path Stahlman envisioned. Growing up in Winter Park as the daughter of psychologist mother, she was being carted off to psychotherapy conferences as a kid and reading Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams as a teenager.

After an eight-year stint playing Mickey and Minnie Mouse at Disney World, she went on to get multiple degrees in psychology, including a doctorate, at the University of Tampa and Troy State University. By the time she was 33, she was the first female CEO of a major hospital in Central Florida and was recognized for her accomplishments by the Orlando Business Journal on its "40 under 40" list.

“I'm not naive enough to think I can change the world, but I can change one person at a time.”

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At the time, she was running Laurel Oaks Hospital, a privately owned, for-profit psychiatric facility for children and adolescents. During one weekend, Stahlman was attending a wedding when a 15-year-old girl who self-mutilated was admitted to the facility. The hospital's stretched-thin staff was supposed to check on her every 15 minutes – but during an emergency, they missed a check-in. Within those minutes, the girl popped open a plastic pencil sharpener and swallowed the blade.

"I resigned the next day," Stahlman says. "Luckily, she was not injured and she was taken to the hospital, but something very bad could have happened. We didn't have adequate staffing. Psychiatric care for children shouldn't be about the money. That's when I decided I would only work in the nonprofit sector and started on this path that eventually led me here to Shepherd's Hope."

Since starting at Shepherd's Hope five years ago, Stahlman helped consolidate the organization's nine locations into five locations along bus routes for more accessibility, increase staff and budget, and open up the group's first building, a 10,000-square-foot clinic in Winter Garden.

Informing a mother that her child has cerebral palsy or trying to find someone in the Florida Legislature who cares about uninsured working people can be taxing on the soul – which is why Stahlman and her staff rely on "hope moments." Those can be anything from getting an unexpected $2,000 donation to repair a transvaginal wand for ultrasounds to convincing Florida Hospital to pick up the full tab for someone's tumor removal surgery.

"I'm not naive enough to think I can change the world, but I can change one person at a time," she says. "I can't think about the 40 people waiting in line at other locations. I just have to think about that one person, and if we can navigate the system for that one, get hope and healing – that's one. That's a win."

Her Jewish faith and her 10-year-old daughter keep her grounded.

"I constantly say to her, 'You're not all there is,'" she says. "In Judaism, the concept of a mitzvah is to extend yourself, to reach someone else with nothing involved for yourself, to meet a need in some way. She'll come home and ask me if I did any mitzvahs today, and it makes me proud to tell my daughter what I do."

click to enlarge Ten people making Orlando a better place to be
Photo by Rob Bartlett

Will Walker

Venue owner, culture catalyst

Orlando Weekly music columnist Bao Le-Huu makes no bones about Will Walker's contributions to the cultural fabric of the City Beautiful: "Will Walker is as real as it gets, as important as all of the artists he's given a stage to combined. Will is Orlando music." But right now Will Walker, owner of the Will's Pub, Lil' Indies and Dirty Laundry venues on Mills Avenue, is too busy modifying the main stage at Will's in time for a Thomas Wynn show to really think about his effect on music and creativity in Orlando. And he shows no sign of stopping.

"This year will be the 23rd anniversary of Will's. I was 23 when it opened, so officially it's half of my existence," says Walker, with a mix of a knowing half-grin and wide-eyed disbelief.

“Orlando is in constant change. You have to start branching out and depending on other people.”

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Walker opened Will's Pub in 1995 a little further down on Mills Avenue and started throwing shows about a year in. Confesses Walker, "It was really makeshift – we'd slide pool tables out of the way and then it went from, we're doing shows every so often, to ... getting fed some really cool shows as soon as we were legitimate enough to have an actual PA." Things seemed to snowball quickly, with the bar becoming a go-to stop for artists up and down the alternative spectrum. Walker remembers a one-two punch from avant-thrashers At the Drive In with particular relish: "It was right when In Casino Out was coming out so no one had heard of them. The first time they played I swear it was me and like 15 other people in the room, it was amazing. And when they came back the following week, we sold it out by word of mouth alone."

The original location of Will's lasted for about a decade before some bad luck torpedoed the operation. Walker downplays what would have caused most music entrepreneurs to throw in the towel: "I don't think not doing this ever came into play." The current location opened in 2008 with a raucous Rich Evans-booked engagement by the Black Lips. Walker remembers the rushed opening with humorous self-deprecation: "The luxury that some people have to finish a project – I've never had that. 'We have to open or I'm gonna be broke! OK, let's do this.'"

Initial worries about operating a venue in an otherwise sleepy stretch of what is now known as Mills 50 soon gave way to shows nearly every night, and crucially, expansion with the opening of the Lil' Indies cocktail bar (named after his daughter) and the more gritty metal/tiki hybrid that is Dirty Laundry.

One of the secrets of the success of Will's Pub is bringing in new people and taking chances on new ideas. "Orlando is in constant change," Walker says. "You have to start branching out and depending on other people."

One of the "new people" Walker brought into the fold was local film evangelist Joshua Martin, whose Uncomfortable Brunch screening series launched at Will's Pub after a casual conversation. "He gave me the tools to not fail miserably right out of the gate," remembers Martin. "He is always like that, though. Always down to try something new."

Going into 2018, Walker is enthusiastic about what's next for Will's Pub. "We've got some alliances with people and are diversifying a little bit," he says. He's looking forward to shows by Agent Orange and Big Freedia alike. He's appreciative that Will's, Lil Indies and Dirty Laundry each have their own distinct audiences. And he's optimistic about the upcoming launch of the Uncontrollable Urge indie dance night, where he gets to right old wrongs. "DJ nights are something I've failed at for 20 years. We have never been able to make that work," he smiles. "But we're gonna."

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