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Two high school classmates reunite through their businesses

Samantha Albano and Gabriella Moss met in high school. But they reignited their friendship 10 years later through their businesses in San Marco Plaza.

Samantha Albano (left) and Gabriella Moss (right) are young entrepreneurs who are both driven to succeed.
Samantha Albano (left) and Gabriella Moss (right) are young entrepreneurs who are both driven to succeed.
Photo by Jay Heater
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It’s been a decade since Gabriella Costa and Samantha Albano shared similar goals at The Out-of-Door Academy in Lakewood Ranch.

During their junior and senior years at the private school, they both played on the volleyball team — both exceedingly driven to succeed, both team co-captains.

And though they took different paths after graduating from high school in 2013, they recently landed about the length of 10 volleyball nets away from each other in Lakewood Ranch’s San Marco Plaza as young business owners.

But, before launching into descriptions of their past, present and future, both women wanted to talk about their identities, in terms of their names.

Costa is now Gabriella Moss, after marrying her husband, Greg Moss, in April. She stresses that her concern was about her first name and not her married name. The Moss part was an easy transition for her. Her concern was getting people to know her as “Gabriella,” and not “Gabby,” as she used to be known. She sees Gabriella as perfect for her ownership of the Via La Casa coffee shop, wine bar and art gallery. It’s, well, elegant.

Likewise, Albano wants to turn the page toward the name on her birth certificate as she builds Purify, an Urban Sweat Lodge, toward being a brand throughout Florida, and perhaps the nation. While she has not married — “I’m married to my business,” she says — she has outgrown what people used to call her — “Sam.”

First names aside, along with being entrepreneurs and attending the same high school, the two women don’t have a lot of similarities.

Moss was a 6-foot middle blocker at ODA who joined the program when she was a junior. Albano was a 5-foot-6 libero who had come up through ODA’s system since sixth grade.

“I was driven, focused in high school,” Moss says. “But I didn’t figure out female friendships in high school. I wish I had that perspective. I didn’t keep any high school friends.”

Albano says Moss doesn’t need to feel bad about having little time in high school to develop relationships. “She was super sweet, smart and she worked hard,” Albano says. “I didn’t have a lot of free time, either.” 

When Moss headed to the University of Florida, Albano flew to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Like Moss, she says ODA was crucial in moving her forward toward her career goals.

“I have to give some credit to ODA, because they equip you,” Albano says. “College was super easy for me because of ODA.”

Albano graduated from Merrimack in four years while Moss earned a degree from the University of Florida in five. Albano received her degree in business marketing while Moss earned a material sciences engineering degree.

Both began tinkering with various jobs after college to search for what suited them best.  Albano opened her first Purify business in 2018 in downtown Sarasota and then relocated it to San Marco Plaza in March 2023 — right after Moss had opened Via La Casa in February.

Moss says they both benefited from parents who care.

“We are super privileged,” Moss said. “We couldn’t be here without our parents.”

Moss’s parents, Paolo Costa and Silvia Teixeira Costa, have lived in The River Club since 2008.

“My parents are entrepreneurs,” says Moss, who splits ownership of the business with her mother. “I have always been inspired by them. My entire life, I’ve learned that being your own boss marks success in life. My mom is an artist. So, Via La Casa started as an art gallery. Then my mom said, ‘If you are going to have a bar, you should put wine in.’ The original idea was more sip and shop. ... Browse with a drink. It would be something unique and special.”

Via La Casa is a mix of serenity and beauty.

Albano says she experienced some business struggles early with Purify, but quickly has come to the point where she has sold one franchise, is close to selling another and sees continued expansion as part of her future.

That makes her smile because she remembers the days after first opening when she listened to people passing in front of her business.

“There was a lot of educating, explaining to do,” she says. “I could hear people scoffing, ‘They won’t make it two weeks.’”

But five years later she continues to grow. Like Moss, Albano says her parents, Country Club’s Sandy and Mike Albano, have been key to her development. Right out of college, she was experiencing allergy problems and her parents insisted she move back to the Lakewood Ranch area so they could help her. In trying to solve her allergy woes, and joint pain she suffered from years playing libero, she came upon the combination of light and heat in a far-infrared session that had powerful healing effects.

Her research indicated that people could sweat out heavy metals, toxins and pathogens. Her business is formed on the premise that sweating is a highly effective means of eliminating toxins and that the far-infrared body wrap sauna promotes the elimination of toxins.

What happens during a session?

“I call it an elevated sauna experience, a far infrared light therapy not without direct heat,” says Albano. “The client rests on a Tempur-Pedic bed and watches Netflix or meditates or listens to podcasts over a period of 50 minutes. It can be a very healing experience.”

Both Albano and Moss have great expectations for the future of their businesses. But they also know it will take time.

“You don’t (have success) in a day,” Albano says. “Unless you are a celebrity, you will be grinding, wondering.”



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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