Salon Name: Z Beauty Lounge

Owner: Catherine Chow, Corina Nurumba

Location: San Francisco

Square Footage: 1,500

Years of Ownership: Opened September 2003

Number of Nail Techs/Employees: 3 nail techs/5 total

Specialties: Spa-style manicures and pedicures

Compensation Structure: Salary


MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Walk into Azalea Boutique and it’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen. The boutique, which seamlessly blends fashion, beauty, and lifestyle under one roof, offers an eclectic mix of clothing and accessories. But that’s not all.V enture further into the store and you’ll come across Z Beauty Lounge, a small oasis tucked away in a section of the boutique where clients who want a respite from shopping can get their hands and feet pampered.

The boutique and beauty lounge are the brainchild of Catherine Chow and Corina Nurumba.

“We wanted to open a boutique based on our needs,” says Chow, who has a background in hotel management. “We felt there was a lack of boutiques in San Francisco that offered moderately priced items.” Not to mention boutiques offering nail services.

Opening a boutique was a natural next step for the duo, who started off producing fashion shows. “We’d always have the models get their nails done,” says Chow.

Once the idea was in place, it was time to look for the perfect location, and Chow and Nurumba found it in Hayes Valley, an up-and-coming neighborhood that is virtually chain store-, coffee house-, and restaurant-free. Here, individually owned shops abound, and the area has a young, eclectic feel. “The area used to be really seedy, but it’s changing,” says Chow.

The idea of merging beauty with fashion is not a new one, but combining a nail salon with a clothing and accessories boutique is a fairly unique concept — and makes perfect sense, especially in a town like San Francisco, where driving around looking for parking can sometimes be tricky and pricey. “Parking can be so bad in San Francisco and it can take forever to find parking to do everything you want to do in one day, so we figured why not do it all in one place,” says Chow.


Chow and Nurumba decided to go with two different names for the boutique and beauty lounge in order to differentiate them and form their own individual brands, but they did tie in both names: The Z in Z Beauty Lounge was taken from the Z in Azalea.

“Lounge” is an appropriate term for a section of the boutique that resembles just that. Clients don’t really feel as if they’re in a salon while they’re getting services and it looks and feels more like a cocktail lounge.

THE NATURAL: “San Francisco has lots of nail salons, but many of them don’t necessarily focus on sanitation and cleanliness,” says Chow. “We felt there had to be a salon that is clean, uses great products, and is affordable.” Enter Z Beauty Lounge.

Chow ensured her staff and services were the crème de la crème. “I’m a big nail enthusiast,” she says. “I’m picky about the way my nails are filed, buffed, and polished. I made sure the nail techs I hired provide high-end service and understand how to take care of even the most demanding clients.”

Although she may not be a nail tech, Chow is involved in every aspect of the beauty lounge. She works closely with a head nail technician. The two go through each product to determine step-by-step instructions and what amount should be used on a client.

“I’m here every day. I choose the products, the treatments, and I work directly with the nail techs,” she says.

Z Beauty Lounge offers a small but effective range of services that use only natural and organic products, from cuticle cream and nail polish remover that comes individually packaged, to fruit and natural oil-infused warm foot and hand baths.

The service menu may not be extensive, but the services that are offered cover the basics; from the Sports Manicure for clients who want to get in and out in no time to the Z Manicure, which ensures clients’ hands are massaged, exfoliated, and polished to perfection. Presently, you won’t find any artificial nail services here, although Chow is considering adding silk wraps to the menu.

The nail area consists of two bamboo low chairs for pedicures and a lounge style manicure bar. The bar was custom-made and can seat up to four people. The beauty lounge also features a retail area. A range of products including soy candles, lotions, and bath gels are available to tempt clients. All are organic or all-natural.

“Since we offer all-natural treatments, we wanted to reflect that in the salon,” says Chow. “We wanted to make the place look cool and soothing and get clients in a relaxed mood.”

The décor certainly helps relax clients, as does the red wall — all thanks to Nurumba, who has a background in architecture. Chow calls her “my everything.” Nurumba was responsible for designing the boutique and beauty lounge as well as creating the logos.

In keeping with the beauty lounge’s attention to cleanliness, frequent clients get their own set of implements, which are stored in cubbies. The cubbies, or personal lockers, as the staff likes to call them, are offered to frequent clients to show appreciation for their support and loyalty. The lockers also act as a partition, separating the beauty lounge from the boutique. Clients can store their favorite sandals, books, or whatever else they’d like. “Sometimes we’ll even place a bottle of polish in each locker as a way of thanking our best clients,” says Chow.

LURING THEM IN: The beauty lounge opened its doors in early September 2003, and it hasn’t been hard to attract a following. A local newspaper did a story on them that garnered the beauty lounge its fair share of attention. Plus, since it is located in a hip area of the city, it’s not too hard to attract clients.

Chow says two-thirds of her clientele are women. The beauty lounge does attract its fair share of working women, and Chow says they usually favor neutral colors on their fingers. “I also see a lot of clients not going so much for one color on both fingers and toes. I see a lot of red toenails and neutral fingernails,” she says. The other third, men, love getting pedicures.

And, it’s not unusual for clients to come in pairs.“ The area has lots of good places for Sunday brunch,” says Chow. “It’s not unusual for couples to come by afterward and get a service done.”

Z Beauty Lounge hasn’t been around very long, but so far, it’s clear it’s made an impression on its clientele. In fact, it’s proved so popular that Chow is considering adding other services to her menu in the near future, such as waxing.

Chow and Nurumba wanted to create a beauty lounge that would be higher in quality than the lower-end salons in the area, but would be less expensive than going to a spa. They’ve certainly done a good job so far.

 “Clients come to get their nails done, listen to music, and drink tea,” says Chow. “They really feel like they can sit here, relax, and get away from it all. They come for the ambiance.”

By thinking outside of the box, these two business partners have managed to stir up excitement and bring something new to the beauty industry — not to mention the fashion industry. It’s a fashionably beautiful blend indeed.

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