The Buzz Team
Michael was born and raised in Oak Park, Michigan. After receiving a degree in advertising and communications from Michigan State University, he went to Los Angeles and began his career in the advertising business, working in account management at Marsteller Advertising, TracyLocke and DDB Needham. As an account supervisor at DDB Needham, Michael met KHJ-TV sales rep and future wife and business partner Joni Abramson. Shortly after getting married, Joni and Michael literally pulled out a map, stuck a pin in it and moved to Portland, Oregon. Michael continued in marketing and advertising in Portland and later on in Houston. Then, after a 20-year career, Michael found himself between jobs. He began consulting, with a focus on small business. His initial clients included a law firm, a bank and a retail company. Eight months later, after becoming involved in a parks project with the city of Bellaire, Michael and Joni decided to start a community magazine. Joni quit her sales job at KHOU-TV, and the first issue of The Bellaire Buzz debuted in January 2002. The West University Buzz followed in 2005 and The Memorial Buzz and The Tanglewood/River Oaks Buzz in 2006. Michael and Joni have two sons, Andrew and Matthew, and a golden retriever (their third) named Bailey, who can often be found hanging out at The Buzz Magazines office. In addition to his love of Golden Retrievers, Michael has a passion for classic Porsches.
Joni Hoffman was born and raised in Houston. She graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in communications. Immediately after graduation, she moved to Los Angeles and started her career as an account executive selling advertising on cable television, and then moved on to selling advertising on broadcast television. It was during this time that she met her soul mate, Michael. They were not only bitten by the love bug, but both had an entrepreneurial spirit and longed to someday own their own business. They moved to Portland, Oregon, where Joni discovered Starbucks. She continued on her path of selling advertising as an account executive and started a family; Andrew was born in 1992 and Matthew in 1993. Three years later, they moved to her hometown of Houston and bought a home in Bellaire. She landed a job back in television selling advertising at KHOU-TV. Salespeople weren’t supposed to hang out in the newsrooms, but she always found an excuse to go to the newsroom and chat with the reporters. Joni has never met a stranger. It was her passion for storytelling, inquisitive nature and entrepreneurial spirit, plus the right timing, that inspired Joni and Michael to start The Buzz Magazines from their living room in 2001.
“She cared about commas.” That’s what Cheryl’s husband has vowed to engrave on her headstone. It’s a good thing Cheryl cares about commas, and most other forms of punctuation and grammar, since her job at The Buzz is to edit stories in all the print magazines. Most of what she uses in this job she learned as a kid at St. Thomas’ Episcopal School in Meyerland. Also helpful were the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism from The University of Texas at Austin, plus a summer internship at The Galveston Daily News. After grad school, she worked as a feature writer for many years at The Houston Chronicle. There, she learned from irreverent veteran journalists, met business writer and future husband Greg Hassell, and wrote for feature sections from Lifestyle and Entertainment to Travel and Texas Magazine. Among other adventures, she went on a dinosaur dig in Texas, pushed cattle over a Colorado mountain, wore a whooping-crane disguise in Wisconsin, rode on the Wienermobile in the Art Car Parade, and pulled cactus needles from her hindquarters in Costa Rica. In addition to a fondness for commas and their varied uses, Cheryl’s likes include thorough reporting and daring writing, plus fencing with buddies, riding horses and watching roller derby with her daughter, reading science-fiction novels with her son, and listening to Greg play banjo with The Blenders.
From the time Jordan learned the alphabet, all she ever wanted to do was write and read stories. At age 5, she announced she wanted to be a writer and she’s never veered too far from this dream. She grew up in Houston (her childhood was spent in Memorial and high school in Bellaire) and spent a summer interning at The Buzz Magazines, where she discovered her love of editing. She then ventured to Washington, DC for college at American University and graduated with a print journalism degree. Over the years, she’s gained experience with writing, editing and strategic communications for print and online publications, such as Psychotherapy Networker and at Baylor College of Medicine’s Office of Communications. Now she’s thrilled to be back at The Buzz managing online media and being part of the editorial team. She still loves to read and write and also loves to cook, bake and explore Houston’s restaurant scene.
Pooja Salhotra was raised in Bellaire, Texas and has always been an avid reader and writer. She grew up reading about neighborhood news in The Buzz Magazines every month and spent the summer after graduating from St. John's School as a Buzz intern. Pooja went on to Yale University where she studied psychology and economics and served as the City Editor for the Yale Daily News. Since graduating from college, Pooja has lived in New York City where she worked in sports marketing for PepsiCo and later interned with Manhattan's Legal Aid Society. She’s currently on a hiatus from Harvard Law School and is happy to be back in Houston and at The Buzz. In her free time, she enjoys running, watching rom-coms and trying new baking recipes.
John Duboise was born in Houston and grew up in the Memorial area. He attended Stratford High School and graduated from Trinity University with a degree in philosophy. Prior to joining The Buzz team in 2004, he was a graphic designer at the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Houston Photo Imaging (HPI) and the Gay and Lesbian Yellow Pages. He and his wife and son enjoy the year-round vegetable gardening that our Houston climate provides. He plays clarinet and writes music with an area band, Two Star Symphony.
Andy is originally from South Africa and moved to Houston in 1980. She is a graduate of Bellaire High School and The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts degree in magazine journalism, a minor in history and a secondary education certificate for social studies. After 16 years in the classroom as a social studies teacher for middle- and high-school-aged students, Andrea made a career change and came to work for The Buzz in 2003. For her first nine years she wore two hats by writing monthly articles as well as working as an account manager. Since 2012 her sole focus has been on the advertising side. In her spare time, she loves to read, take long walks with the family dog, watch HGTV, crime shows and Masterpiece Theatre, and spend time with her family. She gets a thrill from watching people leaf through The Buzz and point out those they recognize in it.
Stephanie was born in Baytown but her mother engineered a move to Houston long before she would be able to board a tricycle. From Kindergarten on, neither her parents nor teachers could stop her constant chattering and performing but she figured out early in life what to do. Stephanie’s ‘calling’ was to teach: a solution to maintaining that inner child while talking and playing simultaneously. Stephanie attended Bellaire High School and graduated from the University of Texas with a BS in Education. She loved her years of teaching elementary and middle school in Spring Branch ISD. One summer, her career unexpectedly changed courses and she transitioned into patient education at Baylor College of Medicine and The Methodist Hospital. From there, she was convinced to move into pharmaceutical sales where she worked (and talked) for years earning numerous awards. Stephanie’s spare time has most often been filled volunteering/fundraising for organizations such as The Junior League of Houston, Pup Squad Animal Rescue, Evelyn’s Park Conservancy and beyond. She enjoys being involved with the City of Bellaire and her great community. Stephanie is happy hanging out with her dogs and diving into the cultural and visual arts around town. But she’d prefer hanging out traveling in other states and countries. Since childhood, she has dreamt of having the Jetson’s flying car to travel more quickly, to more places, more often and to talk to many more people. That dream lives on…
Leslie Little mainly grew up in Mississippi. After relocating to Houston midway through college, she finished her accounting degree at the University of Houston. Her career in Houston after graduation began with the now-infamous Enron as a gas accountant. After five years with Enron, she relocated to Walnut Creek, Calif., with then-new husband, David. There were lots of fun times hiking, biking, camping, wine tasting and riding motorcycles while enjoying the California experience. Ten years in California makes you miss the South and some “Southern hospitality,” so with her young family, she relocated to Bellaire. While chaperoning an elementary school field trip with Buzz editor Joni Hoffman, she decided to take Joni up on her offer to help with sales for The Bellaire Buzz even though she was totally inexperienced with sales. Leslie is noted as being the first employee at The Buzz Magazines, as she started in 2002 after the first couple of issues were in the mailbox to Bellaire residents. And shall we say: “The rest is history.”
After graduating from Texas High School in Texarkana, Jo went on a cross-country road trip with friends from Texas to San Francisco, stopping along the way in Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and wine country. Once returning to Texarkana, she knew she wanted to live in a bigger city, so she packed up and moved to Dallas. She found her first retail job at Express as a part-time sales associate. It didn’t take long before she worked her way up to Visual Co-Manager. After Express, she worked for BCBG and Tumi. She also worked for Restoration Hardware for six years as Assistant Gallery Leader. A long-distance relationship with Karl, who she’d originally met in high school, led her to move to Houston, where she joined 7 For All Mankind in the Galleria as Assistant Manager. She was then promoted to Store Manager at their sister store Splendid in Highland Village. During Jo’s time at Splendid, Buzz editor Joni Hoffman became a client of hers and eventually recruited her to the sales team at The Buzz. After 15 years in retail management, Jo has had some moments in which she forgot she wouldn’t have to do “bag checks” before heading home at the end of the day. Other than that, she’s adjusting to life in the office well and is excited about her new career path. Outside of work, she spends time with Karl and their dogs Coolidge and Scruffs, working on her cross-stitch (not your grandmother’s style), or grilling with her friends by the pool.
Tracy Barnett was a travel writer and editor until 2009 when she headed south and decided to keep on going. Now she's the unofficial Guadalajara bureau chief for The Buzz Magazines. She's served as travel editor for the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express News and Rumbo Newspapers, after years in the trenches covering health, environment, immigration and human rights issues, subjects she still writes about as a freelancer and author. www.tracybarnettonline.com.
Deborah Lynn Blumberg is a freelance writer, editor and content marketer who specializes in business, finance and health and wellness. She got her start at The Wall Street Journal, where she reported on global financial markets during the height of the credit crisis. She’s also appeared as an expert commentator on WSJ Video and Fox Business. From there, she took a role in marketing and communications at JPMorgan Chase. Now, she tells the stories of the people and companies that are changing our world for the better. She’s written for clients and publications including J.P. Morgan, Keller Williams, the Greater New York YMCA, Barron’s, Newsday, MarketWatch, the Christian Science Monitor, the Houston Business Journal, Wellesley magazine, Rice magazine and Headspace. She’s the co-president of the Texas chapter of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) and is fluent in Spanish. She has a Master of Arts degree in Journalism and Latin American Studies from NYU and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish and Psychology from Wellesley College. In her spare time, you might find her on the yoga mat, learning to make kombucha or seeing a new foreign film. She’s also hard at work on her first novel, based on the true story of how her great grandparents helped save a group of European Jews from the Holocaust.
Although Sharon Brier grew up in the Rio Grande Valley she left as soon as she could and found herself immersed in all that Houston has to offer. With her University of Texas background in Radio, Television and Film, her endeavors always found creative expressions. She started The Children’s Museum and led the first board of directors but has also actively been involved in City ArtWorks when she created the Art of Conversation fundraiser, co-chaired Leadership Houston’s first gala and was a participating member of The Houston Jr. Forum, garden clubs and charitable groups. No wonder she has material to write about happenings in our community. Sharon’s other source of information is easily attained from her being a full-time real estate agent since 1980. Sharon’s writing started as a youngster with family newsletters. Her priceless sense of humor is used when she has a unique party as well as used in her columns.
Andria loves writing for The Buzz because it’s a great excuse to talk to people all over town, all the time. While she enjoys the puzzle of putting words together to tell a story (when bored as a child she would go into her family’s guest bedroom to write “books”), she really has fun talking to friends and friends of friends, learning their stories and advice. From writing for The Buzz, Andria has learned that you should park toward the back, less busy part of a parking lot (safer), that an acquaintance spends time in his backyard naked (as told by the neighbors, also friends) and that you should never pop popcorn in a microwave (cook it on the stovetop in coconut oil…then add truffle salt). Andria grew up in Galveston and graduated from Tulane and The University of Texas. She has lived in Washington DC and Paris as well and would like to do the Paris thing again, thinking she’d appreciate it more as an adult.
Angie Frederickson is a writer and stay-at-home mom. When those worlds collide, she has been known to hide from her children in order to meet writing deadlines. One favorite hiding/writing spot is her bedroom closet. Frederickson graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in English and from Georgia State University with a master’s degree in healthcare administration. Her background is in advertising and marketing strategy, and she was an account executive for advertising agencies in both Atlanta, Ga. and Nashville, Tn. Frederickson was also a marketing manager for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Then, she became a mom and her professional life changed. Ended, actually. Now that her children are all in school, she has rejoined the working world. She lives in Memorial with her husband, three children, dog, bunny and two turtles. When she is not driving overscheduled children to activities or dodging PTA volunteer requests, she enjoys playing tennis and running.
KUBE-TV Sports Director Todd Freed is known as the authoritative source for high school sports coverage in Houston having received the Distinguished Service Award from the Greater Houston Football Coaches Association. He is a frequent guest speaker and M.C. at various high school sports throughout the year. In addition, Todd is on the committee to select the Houston Texans High School Coach of the Week Award, and served on the committee to select the George H.W. Bush High School Sports Hero Award. In addition, Todd is the recipient of two prestigious Lone Star Emmy Awards, as Host/Producer of the state’s Best Sports Program and as reporter/producer of the Best Sports Story.
Cindy Gabriel was born into journalism. Her parents met on their college newspaper staff, then took her to work with them while running her great-grandfather’s small town newspaper in Rosenberg, Texas. It never occurred to her that going to work was anything but fun. The sound of the printing press, the smell of fresh ink, mixed with iron shavings from the typesetter, stale coffee and flattened cigarettes on the floor are etched into her earliest memories. Cindy’s first job in journalism would be as a wire service reporter. This would lead to radio news jobs for KIKK, KTRH and KQUE. Finally, she would become a local TV news reporter for the CBS affiliate, KHOU TV-Channel 11, followed by a stint as producer of the nationally syndicated Dr. Red Duke Health Reports. More recently, Cindy has worked for city and county government handling media-related communication involving the relocation of evacuees from New Orleans to Houston following Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ike and Harvey recovery efforts. The highlight of this was her production of a light-hearted video for homesick New Orleans evacuees on finding a job in Houston. The video, which opened with a little riff on The Wizard of Oz in the backdrop of downtown Houston, then appeared as the front-page lead story in the Sunday, New York Times.
Cathy caught the writing bug as a student reporter for Cypress-Fairbanks High School’s newspaper and then pursued a journalism degree at Texas A&M University. She graduated August 1980 with a class of seven, writing-smitten Aggies, including singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett. “I took notes for him in journalism law class while he wrote lyrics to songs,” she quips. “Still waiting for the song about me.” She reported for The Conroe Courier fresh out of college, cutting her teeth on international news stories, such as David, the Bubble Boy and the first space shuttle missions. She then moved on to the Houston Chronicle, covering all facets of news in Montgomery County. She has enjoyed a prolific freelance career for the past 20 years, writing for The Greater Houston Partnership and a variety of magazines, including Mary Engelbreit’s Home Companion, Country Living, Luxe, Texas Home & Living, Coastal Living and a host of other local, regional and national publications. She lives in The Woodlands with her husband, Scott, and two cats and has a grown son, Colin, who works in Austin. She volunteers at the local animal shelter when time allows.
Michelle Groogan has been writing for The Buzz Magazines since 2004. A former news reporter and anchor, she has the knack for telling a good story with truthfulness, empathy and compassion. Born in Chicago, she grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from James Madison High School in San Antonio. She went on to study Journalism and Broadcasting at the University of Texas at Austin. Her broadcasting career had her hopping markets all over the country until she met her husband Greg Groogan, another TV reporter. She gave up the rigors of TV for motherhood and devotes most of her time to raising her two beautiful children, Garrett and Hannah. With a love for writing, she keeps busy with a few part-time jobs including writing, public relations and advocacy work in special education.
Dai Huynh learned to connect with people through food from birth. The center of family life has always been at the table, where her mother, a self-taught Vietnamese cook, connected her five children and finicky husband with steaming bowls of jasmine rice and noodle soups. Through sheer luck, Dai turned eating into a career after the main food writer at the Houston Chronicle got tired of eating out (yes, it's possible). Her editor sent her off to get her culinary degree at the Culinary Institute LeNotre, where she learned about master sauces from Patrick LeNotre, a two-star Michelin chef who has prepared meals for French presidents. At the time, Dai believed that it was important to first master a recipe so you know how to not only cook it properly, but taste the dish before you change, embellish or reinterpret it. Eventually, Dai earned awards for her food and travel writing, including the prestigious James Beard Awards.
Annie has been a fan of the magazine ever since her family was featured on the cover of The Bellaire Buzz in February 2006. She grew up in West University and attended River Oaks Baptist School from three years old to eighth grade, then Lamar High School and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English/Creative Writing from Louisiana State University. Annie has always been passionate about writing. Her favorite teacher, sixth grade Language Arts teacher Mike Petrizzo (who still teaches at R.O.B.S.), used a memoir she wrote in his class as a sample for other students. More than 15 years later, Mr. Petrizzo was still using it each year in his classroom. Annie met Buzz Editor Joni Hoffman through a wedding Facebook contest she entered with her fiancé Tyler (which they ended up winning!). A month after they wed in March 2012, Annie started working at The Buzz as a member of the editorial team. She writes the Buzz About Town column and feature editorial articles. In July 2014, Annie and Tyler welcomed twins, a boy named Cash and a girl named Lila. In her spare time, aside from spending time with her babies, Annie enjoys playing with her niece and nephews, reading, exercising and interior design projects.
Jennifer Oakley is a native Texan and longtime Houstonian who loves to write. A 1983 graduate of St. John’s School, Jennifer earned a Bachelor of Journalism degree from The University of Texas in 1987 and a Master’s of Humanities from The University of Houston in 1990. Jennifer spent many years working in public relations, first as an account executive with McDaniel & Tate and then as Director of Public Relations for The Houston Humane Society. Jennifer then became a reporter, working for years as a ThisWeek correspondent for The Houston Chronicle and as a reporter for The Examiner newspapers. As a volunteer, Jennifer has written for The Junior League of Houston, Inc. magazines. Jennifer lives in River Oaks with her husband, attorney Bruce Oakley and their son, William, a student at St. John’s School. They have four older children, one who has graduated from college and three who are in college. Jennifer considers working for The Buzz a dream job and loves telling the stories of the folks who make up the Buzz neighborhoods.
Cheryl Ursin isn’t a native Texan, though she got here as fast as she could. Actually, because her father was sent temporarily to Dallas for his job, Cheryl was born in Texas, a fact which caused her father-in-law to cheer when he heard it. Cheryl grew up in Connecticut, went to Williams College in Massachusetts, then hightailed it to New York City, where she met her husband (who grew up in Memorial), had her two children, now in college and high school, and discovered the joys of freelance writing, publishing in a range of publications, from The New York Times and The Washington Post to trade magazines covering everything from wine and restaurants to telecommunications and banking. She’s reviewed restaurants and had fiction published. She was thrilled to discover that Houston is a very fun place to live. Incidentally, a copy of The Buzz was in her mailbox the day she arrived.
Russell Weil is a native, second-generation Houstonian, who loves the history of his hometown and all things burger. Author of the blog Eat More Burgers, Russell enjoys finding new dining spots with his monthly “Burger Buddy Adventure Group.” Russell also is a longtime docent at Holocaust Museum Houston, serves on the Board of Directors at Santa Maria Hostel and is the Director of Marketing at Al Ross Group. Russell grew up in Meyerland, and is a graduate of Bellaire High School. He received his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from The University of Texas in 1983.