- May 6, 2020
Music has the power to bring people together like no other art form.
Playa Pizza owner Stephen Facella and local musician Benjamin Neil are partnering to use the universal language to host a new event called “Fortune Finds,” a weekly songwriters showcase and open jam in Horizon West.
With the help of Neil’s co-host, Daxon Fischer, two of the three members of the local band If I’m Lucky are using their musical production background and passion for people to offer a platform for local artists to exhibit their talent in a comfortable setting.
The goal? To bring the community together through the art that has always done it best — music.
“We make music for people, and we make music because of people,” Neil said. “Not only the people that are part of the music community, but also the people that consume music. People that find a connection in music. If I can write a song or do something that brings people together, then I want to do that. There’s never enough music in my life. Anything I can do to make more music, participate in more music and share more music with more people is where I’m going to go.”
Facella first connected with Neil when Neil reached out over social media to introduce himself in early 2022.
The sign had just gone up on the Playa Pizza building during construction which read “live music” across the front.
When Facella learned Neil was a local musician who lived across the street from the restaurant, he invited Neil for a tour of the construction site. They’ve been friends ever since.
“I showed him the vision about how we wanted to have live music and highlight the talent in the community,” Facella said. “We wanted the place to be like a community gathering area or a community hangout.”
Facella said he believes there is an immense amount of talent in the area but artists don’t always have the opportunity to shine due to the large number of chains in the area who typically do not have open mics.
“We want to be that local hangout place where anyone can come and feel welcome, accepted and encouraged,” he said.
With more than 10 years in the event production and music scene industry, Neil provided the perfect perspective to bring to the table what Facella was searching for.
Neil shared he had hopes of making a showcase of original music in the area that was accessible for everyone from professionals to people who are just getting into songwriting or music. He said Playa Pizza seemed to be the perfect location because it was a beautiful space with a laid-back feel.
“It was just really cool to hear of a local business owner that was so aligned with me and wanting to get music out there, especially sharing original music since I feel like that’s something more rare in Orlando for businesses to take a chance on,” Neil said. “We want to be able to use whatever small amount of influence or platform that we have to highlight other talent that’s here. One of the things we talk a lot about with each other is ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’ so if we can use any kind of exposure we get to help bring someone else up with us then we’re going to do that.”
Through the band’s production company, Fortune House Productions, Neil and Fischer have hosted a handful of the events already and experienced an overwhelming turnout.
The first night the event was hosted in January, and it lasted more than five hours.
Fortune Finds is sectioned off into two separate slots. The first slot, which kicks off at 9 p.m., is filled with local artists the production company finds that have an established professional background. Artists that have performed so far in the slot include Mammoth & Chicken, Kaleia, About Tuesday, East Owls, Original Issue, Raspberry Pie and Fabiola Rivera.
The open jam slot of the event begins around 11 p.m. and continues until the end of the night. This section requires no sign up and offers the opportunity for who to sing or play a musical instrument. Instruments and back up are even provided for those that need assistance.
Neil said his other goal besides providing a platform is empowering artists.
“It’s really just an effort to bring the scene to the music community here together,” he said. “There’s nothing better than musicians supporting musicians.”
SUPPORTING LOCAL BUSINESS
Facella said one thing he learned during the pandemic was how fragile and interconnected the local economy is.
“There are so many chains in our area that employ people but don’t build community and their profits leave the area,” he said. “We are trying to keep our money as local as possible to stimulate our local economy. We really go out of our way to support local crafts, local businesses, local entertainers and artists.”
A testament to this concept is the beer served at the restaurant. There are 16 taps — and a beer cannot be on the tap unless it is brewed in Florida. For example, Cigar City, although based out of Tampa, is owned by a company in Colorado, so it’s not allowed on the tap.
While most of the restaurants in the Hamlin area of Horizon West are chains, Playa Pizza is a locally created brand.
“I live a mile from the restaurant,” Facella explained. “We have spent almost $1.7 million a mile from our house, our kids go to school here, we employ people from here, we buy products from Florida, the vendors we deal with are here, and we try and focus as much as we can on being hyperlocal. That’s our business philosophy.”
The restaurant’s vibe, interior and atmosphere are that of a beach, and Facella said he thought the perfect way to bring the relaxation and comfort aspect to attendees was through music.
“So far, the raw talent has been simply amazing,” he said. “We had an older guy who saw us online and wanted to play the drums. He came in and played an original song. Turns out he’s an immigrant from Egypt with 29,000 followers on Instagram, but he has nowhere around here that he gets to show off his talent.”
In the future, Facella said he would like the restaurant to be known as an engaged and giving community establishment.
“We want to use our profits for good and to build the community, to reinvest our community, so whether that means more locations here in our community where we’re able to do the same thing in other parts of Orlando, or whether it’s just this one location and we’re doing some awesome things in the schools, or we’re providing just a place for people to get a job and feel good about themselves and move on as they build our community in different aspects of their talents, we just want to be a place where people get their start and come here and feel comfortable,” he said.
As part of that goal, Playa Pizza recently has started to put together a 501(c)(3) organization called The Full Belly Fund by running a food pantry out of the restaurant.
“The place was a year late from opening, and while that was very frustrating and absolutely destroying when it comes to emotion and finances, we had an opportunity to help that kind of fell on us,” Facella said.
After noticing people walking from the apartment complexes next door, which are income-restricted and subsidized apartments, to the Mobile gas station to get snacks, Facella asked a passing gentleman what he was doing, who replied he was going to get food.
“It dawned on me that we are in a food desert,” he said. “No sidewalks, no public transit and three miles from the nearest grocery store. These people are using their food stamps to feed their families out of a gas station. We have groceries needed for the restaurant are delivered here every week so we decided why not run a grocery store out of Playa Pizza for those who are buying with EBT.”
EBT is the state agency’s method by which the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which formerly used food stamps, benefits are distributed to families and individuals.
Playa Pizza has already received a $7,500 donation from Hormel Foods and now is waiting for the United States Department of Agriculture to sign off so it can turn on the EBT machine for people to come.
“We want to try to make this a nationwide movement,” Facella said. “We want to do good to get good.”