IN THE BEGINNING: When Katherine Pappas and Carol Mavrakis business partner talked about opening a spa, they knew exactly what they wanted it to look like and what services they wanted to offer. And those services didn’t include nails. “We thought nails didn’t equate to wellness. When we thought of nails we pictured salon smelling of acrylic products,” says Pappas. The spa planned to only offer massage, body treatments, facials, and waxing.

But soon after Egea opened its door, Pappas discovered by chance that clients were clamoring for nail services. The spa is located in Evanston, Ill., home to Northwestern University. The Kellogg Graduate School of Management had chosen to do a customer satisfaction study at Egea and during exit polls clients kept saying the same thing: the number one thing they wanted was nails.

Pappas thought it over and had a change of heart. Maybe offering nail services wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all. Now Egea employs three nail techs and offers a range of manicures and pedicures - no artificial enhancements here. And in keeping with the spa and wellness concept, Egea only uses polish containing no toluene or formaldehyde. Nails have become such an integral part of Egea that Pappas is in the process of expanding the spa to make more room for manicure and pedicure chairs.

“We’ve converted some of the massage rooms into our pedicure area,” says Pappas. “We have a platform with luscious back leather chairs that recline. Clients place their feet in silver vessel sinks.”

Interestingly enough, the spa has always offered complimentary foot soaks at the beginning of every massage service to help relax and warm the body.

A major portion if the spa’s business still comes from massage and skin care, but Pappas says she anticipate the nail business will grow, especially since they spell plenty of spa package.

WHAT’S IN A NAME: When it came choosing a name for the spa, Pappas had something in mind from the start: Egea. Egea was the daughter of Asclepeus, the first physician in Ancient Greece. Egea would bathe her father’s patients and use hands-on therapies to treat them. Her healing powers became so well known that today in Greece, Egea is synonymous with “good health.” and, Pappas and her partner are both Greek, so she though it fitting to honor their heritage by giving the spa a Greek name.

The name also fits Pappas’ vision of creating a place where clients could find alternative healing therapies that can be easily integrated into any lifestyle. The look of the spa also ties in with its name. Its sleek logo and serene island colors of aqua and sand create a tranquil and beckoning presence. Big windows give passerby a glimpse of the interior. You won’t find marble or anything remotely frou-frou here. “Everything is focused on the art of lines,” says Pappas.  “When you come here you literally feel like you’re escaping the real world.”


When Pappas left a successful career at a Fortune 500 high-tech company to raise her children she enjoyed being home with them, but knew she wouldn’t mind eventually going back to work. Better yet, she wouldn’t mind owning her own business. “My partner and I had always talked about opening a business together,” she says.

Mavrakis’ husband owns the building the spa is in. “I took a look at the building and envisioned a cool, hip urban spa. My partner immediately said, “Yeah, let’s do it,” she says.

Although neither woman had a background in the beauty industry, they were savvy enough to know what they wanted in a spa. “We’re both big spa-goers, so that helped,” says Pappas.

The location was a good start. The spa is housed in a historic, 103-year-old building a few blocks from Northwestern University, which happens to be Pappas’ alma mater. Pappas and her husband also lived in Evanston at one time, so the area held a special place in her heart. Plus, practically every business on the block is owned by a woman. All these reasons convince the business partners they had the perfect location on their hands.

Pappas took a class on opening and managing a spa and hire someone to handle public relations for the spa. Since she has a marketing background, she’s handled all marketing aspects from the start, from creating the logo and private label retail products to choosing the colors of the towels and the bathroom.

She even held a focus group with Evanston residents to get their opinions on everything ranging from the spa’s logo to the types of robes they were planning on using. “We got good input from the people,” says Pappas. “We didn’t make many strategic chances, but we did settle on a logo and even made changes to the robes as a result.”

Pappas handles customer service, retail, and marketing matters; her partner focuses on the day-to-day operations.


Since Egea is so close to Northwestern University, it attracts its fair share of college kids and faculty. “We get lots of clients who come to us from the university,” says Pappas. “They tend to be very educated and professional. They’re little more environmentally conscious and conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies.”

Most of the clients are women and range from late 30s to 60s. About 20% of the clients is male, so having a neutral color scheme probably helps make them feel more at ease.

Although there are other salons offering nail services in the area, Pappas isn’t too worried about the competition. “All of those places have their own persona,” she says. “No one is exactly like us. We’re probably the only place in the area that’s wellness-focused and offers a quite environment.”

The fairly recent opening and expansion of the spa has kept Pappas and her team busy. Dealing with such challenges as trying to keep employees busy and the typical issue many new salons seem to go through (think booking, hiring, etc.) has kept everyone on their toes, so for the time-being Pappas wants to focus on her clientele and employees. “If you grow really quickly you sometimes tend to forget about your clients. We don’t want to do that,” she says. “I always tell my employees that everyone at the spa should believe they are Egea. Everyone should leave the salon feeling happy.

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