After writing a well-received Facebook post discussing her dissatisfaction with nail salons, former real estate agent Nina Babaie had an epiphany. She would resolve her complaints by investing in her own salon. She had already accumulated significant savings from a successful career, and despite a passion for selling homes, she was determined to create the salon experience she envisioned for her community in San Diego.
Its name is Cürbar, pronounced “cure” as in manicure and pedicure. The salon launched in March 2016, and over the past year and a half, Babaie says business has exceeded expectations. That may be because Cürbar has exceeded its clients’ expectations as well. The friendly nail salon offers a straightforward, simple menu, choices for reading that go beyond tabloid mags, and impeccable sanitation.
“We even have staff that’s just dedicated to cleaning,” Babaie says. “I’m kind of a germaphobe so we’re extremely sanitary, and we remove all our tools and bowls from sight after every service religiously.”
Beyond Cürbar’s impressive dedication to service fundamentals, the “fun stuff” is where Cürbar’s uniqueness reels in — and retains — its clients: Meaningful literature is provided for those who prefer to read about yoga or nature than peruse celebrity gossip, and to encourage visits from the entire family, the TV often projects sporting events for dad, while the front lobby area serves as a chic play area for kids, with Disney books, puzzles, and a chalkboard wall.
“We play really fun new dance music and the vibe is as if you’re coming to hang out at a friend’s place,” Babaie says. “I wouldn’t say Cürbar is a relaxing environment. It’s meant to be social, and a lot of the customers have become my friends.”
Straying as far from a typical salon’s decor as she could, Babaie hired a design contractor whose background was in remodeling homes rather than commercial spaces. The contractor sourced Cürbar’s furniture from places like Restoration Hardware and Anthropologie. One side of the salon is feminine, with delicate wood paneling, and the other masculine, with brick. The contrast is made evident by the dainty ivory chairs for the ladies and large leather armchairs for male clients. Techs sit on either fluffy stools or gray beanbags.
Although Babaie describes a “women’s side” and a “men’s side,” the distinction is not enforced and clients are welcome to sit where they please, especially if they come in with a significant other. Cürbar often sees men who are brought in by their wives, but keep returning on their own because of the gender-neutral vibe. Because of the above-average amenities for children, Cürbar also attracts many mothers who bring their children.
“It helps because the moms don’t have to worry about getting a babysitter or boring their kid at the salon,” she says. “It’s funny, now the kids never want to leave the salon because we have so many options to keep them entertained.”
In addition to flipping the pages of Charlotte’s Web or solving a puzzle, kids can get their own manis and pedis for a discounted cost. Overall, though, the menu at Cürbar keeps it simple. Clients can choose between traditional polish, gel-polish, or regular gels at either a basic or deluxe level, the latter of which can include services like hot stone massages, paraffin, masks, and towel wraps.
“Our menu is straightforward and to-the-point,” Babaie says. “We don’t upsell, so we don’t offer callus removal unless someone asks.”
New nail techs go through levels of training, and the final phase is giving Babaie herself a manicure.
“We’ll have them do hard colors, like red or white, and it will have to be perfect,” Babaie says. “We’re a little picky with how we train them, and getting on the floor is a big deal.”
Although Cürbar doesn’t train every nail tech in nail art, it’s something they can provide if the nail tech expresses interest. Babaie pushes the techs to excel with intense training, but she also highlights the need to reward staff for their talent.
“We’re closed for holidays like Father’s Day and the Fourth of July because we want everyone to be able to spend time with family,” Babaie says. “And I think the small things are important too. Sometimes we’ll get lunch catered or do team bonding experiences.”
San Diego’s Del Sur neighborhood is family-oriented with lots of gated communities, as well as college students from nearby universities. The relatively wealthy area has also housed a number of Chargers football players, whose wives have come into Cürbar.
“We’re only five dollars more than the salon down the street, but it’s still affordable for everyone,” Babaie says.
Cürbar’s affordability is one factor of its success, but Babaie’s attention to detail is what distinguishes the nail salon from others in the neighborhood, from providing entertainment for kids to retailing Havaianas flip-flops as an alternative to disposible spa slippers.
“We’re growing and expanding every day,” Babaie says, noting she envisions ultimately launching Cürbar’s own polish line. “That probably won’t be for a while, because we’ve been so much busier than expected.”