THE SCOOP: For former engineer Karina Restrepo Mitchell, who emigrated from Colombia to the United States 12 years ago with a minimal understanding of English, the nail salon was a source of support and warmth during an unfamiliar time.
“I would go to English class in the morning, and then I would share what I learned with my customers at the spa during the day,” Karina says. “They would correct my words and grammar, so they were part of my process of learning.”
In Colombia, she would occasionally do nails and waxing for fun, but she was invested in her engineering career. However, upon seeing the thriving and welcoming spa community, she says, “my hobby in Colombia evolved into a career I’m passionate about here in the United States.”
Fast forward to today: She and husband Hustine Mitchell own and operate Mi Cumbia, an upbeat organic nail spa with strong Colombian influences that celebrated its seventh anniversary in May.
THE DECOR: Mi Cumbia is decked out with foreign flair, from Colombian coffee bags hung around the salon to the upbeat Latin music that bounces off the intentionally imperfect and slightly scratched clay walls.
American-born Hustine, who changed his name from Justin to honor his wife’s heritage, learned to embrace imperfection as he began to discover Colombia’s culture while visiting Karina’s birth country. He noticed people would fix broken items instead of replacing them. “A hand-touched mark gives an item significantly more meaning and creates value in it. It’s about authenticity,” he says.
Before Mi Cumbia, the couple had opened a more generic nail salon called Tierra Mia, but it lacked the Latin spirit that is now essential to their salon’s success. Karina and Hustine made the decision to completely revamp and rebrand the former salon by renaming it after the country’s traditional Cumbia music and integrating the elegant yet rugged essence of Colombia.
THE MENU: While the salon’s ambience is rustic and worn, its services are as close to perfection as possible, says Hustine. Mi Cumbia makes its own products, including lotions, waxes (for brows, bikinis, etc.), and a coconut oil exfoliator that was inspired by Karina’s childhood home remedies for dry skin.
“I would spend all day in the river and ocean, and afterward, my grandmother rubbed me with sand and coconut oil to exfoliate and moisturize my skin,” she says. “I’ve kept these remedies with me, and when I opened the spa, I knew each service would have shredded coconut meat and virgin coconut oil, as well as a little bit of pumice to represent the sand.”
THE STAFF: Every staff member has gone through an intense training, which is paid for by Mi Cumbia, to ensure that there’s consistency in the service quality. “I train them exactly how to do it so everyone is on the same page,” says Karina, who now works as the lead esthetician. “The training is very tough, but it’s important to provide consistent services to clients.”
While Mi Cumbia radiates the culture of Colombia, the staff is actually very international, with nail techs from countries like Vietnam, Costa Rica, China, and Mexico, although some are local.
The salon staff has been with Mi Cumbia for years. “We have a principle of hiring only the best, and we pay our employees and staff much better because of that,” Hustine says. Service prices are on the higher end accordingly.
THE LOCATION: Mi Cumbia is located in Rittenhouse Square, a relatively affluent neighborhood with an expanding business community and exploding restaurant scene in the heart of Philly. But even more important are the people: Karina picked the city because of the support she received from fellow Philadelphians.
“I saw it was possible to grow here as person and a business because of the support of the community,” she says. “At the first spa I worked in, everyone was so appreciative of my work.”
THE CLIENTELE: When Mi Cumbia first opened, the most appreciative clients were those drawn to the organic aspect of the services, but as time has gone on their clientele has expanded to include a little bit of everyone.
“There’s a mix of clients,” Karina says. “In the beginning it was mostly young people who were into a healthy lifestyle and did yoga and Pilates, but more and more people are getting educated about our organic ingredients. We also have a lot of pregnant ladies looking for a natural salon.”
Clients are also attracted to the emotional warmth and liveliness of the salon that draws from the friendly Colombian culture. “This isn’t a salon where no one talks. There’s energy here and a family atmosphere,” Hustine says. “People come in and socialize with their friends, or meet new people.”
EXTRAS: Also in alignment with its cultural identity, Mi Cumbia serves complimentary organic Colombian coffee to its clients. The staff grinds the beans fresh for each cup that’s served and offers unrefined sugar from indigenous tribes that’s imported directly from Colombia.
“Whether it’s the relaxing pedicure area or the conversations we have or the Colombian coffee we serve,” Hustine humbly acknowledges, “everything we do here is of a particular quality.”
Salon name: Mi Cumbia Organica
Owners: Hustine Mitchell and Karina Restrepo Mitchell
Square Footage: 550
Opened: May 2007
Number of Nail Techs: 7
Number of Employees: 11
Specialties: Organic services, waxing, foot massage
Compensation Structure: Hourly, plus commission
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