Where else but in Delaware could a transplanted attorney make a name for herself collaborating on two innovative restaurants while helping to shape a statewide platform for the advancement of artistic expression?
When entertainment attorney and creative entrepreneur Angela Wagner moved to Delaware to be with the person she loved, her dream was to build upon a career that combines her legal expertise with her passion for creativity. Six years and several unexpected, yet welcome turns later, she’s well on her way to changing the landscape — and the menu — for local artists of every genre thanks to incredible opportunities and the warm welcome she received from Delaware’s business community.
In business, it’s all about location, location, location. And Wagner loves Delaware’s location that allows her to quickly reach major cities such as Philadelphia and New York while being able to come home to what she describes as a “beautiful way of living” here.
But Wagner has also discovered another equally important part of the equation for entrepreneurial success: in Delaware, relationships are key.
It didn’t take long for Wagner to experience — and benefit from — the Delaware Way of everyone knowing everyone else (or at least knowing someone who seems to know everyone else). From personal introductions and endorsements alone, doors opened for Wagner, allowing her to put her experience to work and grow her own professional network.
“I took a risk moving to Delaware because my industry (entertainment) wasn’t here — yet. But I am tenacious. I knew I could make it anywhere,” she said. “What was important was being around people I love, doing what I love, so I decided, ‘If I can’t find it here, I will build it here!’”
Her first big break to make a name for herself in Delaware came in the hospitality industry — a field she also knows from soup to nuts from years working every position imaginable since she was a teen. She successfully pitched a concept to the Big Fish Restaurant Group to transform an empty building on Washington Street in the city of Wilmington into the Harvest House, a meeting place featuring fast, healthy, casual food.
“Harvest House was the perfect blank canvas for me to make my mark on Delaware and show off what I do best,” said Wagner.
Opportunities spiral into other opportunities and, through her work on Harvest House, Wagner met Delaware entrepreneurs Jason Aviles and John Naughton, who would become her business partners in her next creative endeavor — Green Box Kitchen. Grant support from the City of Wilmington helped the trio create a vegan restaurant in an unlikely urban setting. The welcoming Market Street space expands on the concept of Wilmington Green Box, a nonprofit project that provides at-risk teens with entrepreneurial jobs while supplying communities with direct access to cold-pressed juices and healthy options.
It was during these restaurant projects that Wagner also got to know a Market Street neighbor, musician and filmmaker Jet Phynx, who would become her first entertainment client here in Delaware. And, through mutual contacts — there’s that Delaware Way of networking again — Wagner was introduced to, and had the opportunity to work for a time with Gayle Dillman, owner and CEO of Gable Music Ventures, a Wilmington firm representing the local entertainment industry.
Wagner’s dream has come full circle.
Today, along with Jet Phynx Films, Wagner proudly represents Delaware’s own Dallas Shaw, illustrator and creative director; visual storyteller Blake Saunders; mixed media artist Rick Hidalgo. She also does work for the innovative nonprofit film company Of Substance. and assists with branding, marketing and operations for The Mill Summit.
Wagner’s path may not have been linear, but she said she made an opportunity for herself through word of mouth here in Delaware that she probably wouldn’t have been able to do in other cities.
“Delaware is pretty much a playground for entrepreneurs,” said Wagner. “There’s relatively low risk to get into the market if you have a solid idea, business acumen and the right people behind you.”
“What I’ve found about Delaware is that if you have an idea, Delawareans will put you in front of the right people and figure it out together. I am so grateful for that.”
Wagner is now a top finalist in the Reinventing Delaware competition sponsored by the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, an entrepreneurial incubator providing a platform for individuals to present ideas that will create jobs and improve Delaware.
Her pitch to encourage Delaware to invest in the arts and creative economy, she said, is all about encouraging people to want to live, work and play here in Delaware.
“I want to champion that narrative – to highlight artists and give them a platform to tell the beautiful stories of the work that they do,” she said. “I want to help artists love where they live, to have pride and be proud to say, ‘I’m from Delaware!’”
Wagner is confident that if Delaware invests in the entertainment industry, people will recognize the state’s advantages and want to move here, buy houses, dine and vacation here.
“I would love for this little corner of the country to become a place for creative entrepreneurs to get started and plant roots here,” she said.
And when that happens, Wagner is ready to pay forward the same warm welcome she received to help other creative entrepreneurs find business success in Delaware, as well.