Ave Maria Sun

Entrepreneurial Couple Thriving in Ave Maria

LEFT: Winston Thomas converted one of his garages into a production studio. RIGHT: Nicole Ricca, the talent behind Willow Mint Props, is proud to stand by her logo. COURTESY PHOTOS

LEFT: Winston Thomas converted one of his garages into a production studio. RIGHT: Nicole Ricca, the talent behind Willow Mint Props, is proud to stand by her logo. COURTESY PHOTOS

About 20 percent of American workers earn their living from home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and at Ave Maria, you’ll find a number of residence-based entrepreneurs. Take for example, Winston Thomas and Nicole Ricca.

Since 2018, the couple has lived with their three school-age kids in a five-bedroom, single-family home at Maple Ridge Reserve. Thomas, a Grammy Award-winning music producer and world-traveling DJ, converted one of their three garage bays into a production studio. Ricca commandeered a bedroom to sew and handcraft children’s props and fancy outfits for private clients, including celebrities like Kevin Hart. Her business is called Willow Mint Props (willowmintprops.com).

Winston Thomas’s Music Career

“I feel blessed that I’m able to make money off of what I love to do, which is music,” Thomas said, adding that he has DJ-ed around the globe, including in Thailand, Japan, India, Dubai, Singapore, the Caribbean and Latin America. DJ BlackOut, as he’s known, began spinning records in Long Island, where he grew up, following in his father’s footsteps who DJed for a living.



Although Thomas managed to get a few jobs at dance clubs in Manhattan and Queens, it was a visit to Miami that changed his life. On his first night at a club on South Beach, Thomas found himself sitting in the VIP lounge next to Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Right then and there, he decided to move to Miami, where he garnered multiple gigs at dance clubs around town, hobnobbed with recording artists and music managers, and booked jobs producing music.

In a career that spans 20 years, Thomas took home a Latin Grammy for his collaboration with Puerto Rican rapper and singer-songwriter Don Omar, won two Billboard awards for his production of Nicki Minaj’s second album, “Roman Holiday,” and produced the number-one hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, “This Is Why I’m Hot,” by American rapper MIMS. He has worked with mega stars Pitbull and Flo Rida, and also helped develop the talents of Jason Derulo, a pop and R&B singer-songwriter with multiple platinum singles.



Meeting Nicole Ricca

Miami was also where Thomas met Nicole Ricca. “The artists that I was working with made music videos, and at the time in 2002, Nicole was one of the top models in those videos,” Thomas recalled. “I developed a crush on her before we even met. I remember seeing her on MTV and saying, ‘Wow, that’s going to be my wife,’ but I was just dreaming, because I’m sure every guy that watched those videos was thinking the same thing. I didn’t think I would even meet her.” Now, all these years later, the couple has three children: Nyla, 15, Aspen, 8, and London, 12.

Making the Move to Ave Maria

The family had been living in Pembroke Pines for about 13 years when they made the improbable move to Ave Maria. “We were renting a house for $3,500, and that money was just going out the window because we didn’t own anything, so we were definitely looking to buy somewhere, and my best friend, Pierre Malette, an accountant, was doing taxes for somebody that lived in Ave Maria, so he kind of kidnapped me one day and took me out there to check it out,” Thomas recounted. Although he wasn’t looking to move to the west coast of Florida, Thomas fell in love with Ave Maria after one short visit and subsequently brought his wife over to take a tour with him. The visit by Ricca, and later the kids, sealed the deal, as they all fell in love with the town.

Finding a Sense of Security

“The first time our Pembroke Pines neighbors spoke to us was when they saw us moving out,” Thomas quips. “In Ave, all of our neighbors were really friendly right away. Our next-door neighbor cooked us dinner, which might be a regular thing out here, but it was so weird for us, and we loved it. The kids made new friends right away.”

Thomas also remembers seeing unlocked bikes scattered on a street corner in Maple Ridge and was delighted to learn that school kids cycled to this bus stop in the morning, left their bikes there all day while they attended classes and after school rode their bikes back home. “That blew my mind, because if you leave your bike like that in New York, it’s gone by the end of the day,” Thomas pointed out. “I knew this was exactly where I wanted my kids to grow up.”

The family loves the sense of safety they feel in Ave Maria. “At the Fall Festival or Hometown Christmas or any other event in town, we allow our kids to run around, and we would never do that in Pembroke Pines,” Thomas attests. “We feel safe. We know a lot of people in the neighborhood, and they know us. People actually look out for our kids.”

Everything Ave Maria Magazine

Last November, the couple launched Everything Ave Maria, a monthly printed magazine mailed to every home in town. The idea came from Thomas’ conversations with local business owners Danee’ Williams, of Oil Well Craft Beer, Phong Ho, of OASIS The Kitchen Lounge, and Jorge Arroyo, of Mercato at Ave, who were looking for a centralized means to publicize events and special promotions.

Thomas explains, “Our magazine promotes a little bit of everything. It’s pretty much coupons, a business directory, events, crossword puzzles, write-ups of business owners or just people in Ave. We’re also working on an Ave Maria comic strip. We want it to be by people that live in Ave Maria, about people in Ave, for businesses in Ave.” For the time being, he is investing sweat equity in their venture, taking photographs, designing graphics and laying out the magazine himself, and contracting a local writer and photographer for some of the content.

“We want Everything Ave Maria to become an important publication, and we’re excited about the future. We’re only 4,600 homes now, but we’re slated to be 11,000 homes. That’s a lot of people,” Thomas notes. “Not only did my wife and I fall in love with everything about the town— how family-oriented it is and how we could afford to buy a new house that was built just for us—but as entrepreneurs, we see this as a place of a lot of opportunity, because it’s new, and if you get yourself into something early, by the time it’s done, you’re going to be in a good position.”

To advertise or learn more about Everything Ave Maria magazine, email info@EverythingAveMaria.com, visit EverythingAveMaria. g com or call 239-388-1908.

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