It all started when...
Ella Auerbakh, who has now been serving clients at her spas and salons in Park Slope for over 25 years, grew up in Vilnius, Lithuania, and more than anything wanted to be a pianist. She completed a conservatory of music, with a secondary degree as an aesthetician.
“Everyone was required to have a backup plan back then,” she says warmly. She never expected to use it.
After coming to Brooklyn in 1987 with a one-year-old child in tow, she started by offering children piano lessons. It was a frustrating experience, and her friends urged Ella to get licensed to be an aesthetician instead.
“Turns out pianists have good hands,” she says. Those friends were her first clients, and are her clients still.
Ella’s first job in Park Slope was at Rompal, the salon that used to be on 6th Avenue and 3rd Street (where neighbor Siama Muhammad opened Brooklyn Oak Dental Care last spring). Ella worked there for three years before before becoming a partner and running the business for another six years. When she decided to start Elan, all of her staff from Rompal came over — in fact, she has worked alongside some of her staff for 25 years.
What’s her secret to running a number of successful businesses for over 20 years in Park Slope, where we see so many come and go?
“You have to do it right, there are no shortcuts,” Ella says. “Good products, salaries, and staff. Happy customers. We work hard to make sure everyone leaves satisfied.”
She explains that in this neighborhood, you have to know your customers and what they expect, noting that hers can be very discriminating.
“We keep our standards high,” she says. “We invest lots of time in interviewing and selecting staff. All our staff are certified and we invest heavily in training to keep everyone up to date with the latest products and technologies. In return, we have a very low turnover, and they have everything they need to provide the best service — clean, quiet space, respectful colleagues.”
Ella notes that one way she has responded to clients’ needs is by making Venelle a certified green spa, offering organic hair colors and highlights, and no harsh chemicals ever. “Each line of products we have, we carry the full line,” she says.
When you’ve been in business as long as she has, you begin to notice not just what customers are looking for, but you get to know who they are. And now, after so many years, who their children are.
“It is an unbelievable feeling,” she says. “I knew my customers before they had kids, and now their kids are my clients and having children of their own.”
Ella says that kind of loyalty is something she couldn’t be a success without. “We have been through good times and tough times, good and bad economy, and thanks to our customers we are still here, and we expanded to a second location.”
As for the neighborhood, she loves its beauty, and appreciates how international yet community-oriented it is.
“People try to help each other. Everyone is accepted. But you have to be a nice person.”
Aside from her own businesses, what are some of her favorite spots in the neighborhood?
“The Hungarian place (Cafe Dada) across the street — love their pastries, very nice for breakfast,” Ella says. “And Mexican food and sangria from Santa Fe Grill next door. Madison at Cousin John’s Bakery is the best baker in the world. Tutta Pasta. DiVine. Back to the Land for groceries and specialty items.”
Ella is very particular about how she runs her businesses. All the aestheticians and massage therapists are licensed, wear uniforms, are incredibly professional and attentive. The salons are spotless, and very pleasant.
The feel is more that of a European salon-spa, where you go for treatments that leave your skin glowing and your body relaxed. We tried an express facial and a combination of deep tissue and Thai massage. Both Sabina and Yuth we’d recommend unreservedly, but Ella says that clients don’t usually ask for anyone in particular, because regardless of who serves them, it will be good, and there are dozens of reviews of her businesses confirming that.
Both, Elan and Venelle salons offer beauty treatments, massage therapy, and hair services. Upstairs at Venelle is a bright hair salon, with two treatment rooms in the back, while downstairs is a more private area that offers two massage rooms that can be combined into one if so desired, and three skincare rooms. Elan offers a similar combination of five stations for hair, four rooms for skincare and massage therapy, and two nail stations, should customers wish to add it to their experience.
Her salons are well known for making waxing as pleasant as such a procedure can possibly be (just take a look at these Yelp reviews), and they are possibly the only spas in Brooklyn to offer NuFree hair removal system.
“I like to compare waxing to going to the dentist,” Ella says. “When people think of facials, they think pleasure. When they think of waxing, they think pain. Waxing has to be gentle, fast, professional. No bruises or redness. We offer six to seven varieties of wax and treatments. Our staff is very professional, very fast and gentle, and very private. There is no hand contact, and absolutely no double dipping.”
It’s hard to say what to expect from Ella in the next 25 years, but for 2014, she says she’s planning to add laser hair removal as a service at Venelle. The staff is already laser licensed, now it is just about equipment.