- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

Co-owners left Oregon for capital's demand

Connecticut Avenue is one of the busiest arteries in the District with shops, bumper-to-bumper traffic, crowds, restaurants - and Spa du Monde.
Spa du Monde, which opened at the end of January, is a full-service spa, where Washingtonians can pretend they are from somewhere else.
"The stress is here," said co-owner Nasreen Rahimi, who looked at cities across the nation for the perfect setting for her spa. She settled on Washington because it seemed to be the most stressful and really in need of relaxation.
"Just come to us. We'll take care of you," is Ms. Rahimi's promise.
But she said the spa is taking care of her and her business partner, clinical psychiatrist Gar de Bardelaben.
Spa du Monde is not just any high-end spa offering massages, facials, hair styling, manicures, pedicures and body waxing. It incorporates the secrets the owners have collected over the years as world travelers, Ms. Rahimi said.
The newly opened outlet of relaxation and pampering boasts of itself as a getaway from everything Washington, with light New Age music piping through the spa as customers sip beverages waiting for aroma-therapeutic massage, acupuncture or facial treatment.
"Here, it is an escape. It's like being in an oasis," Mr. Bardelaben said.
At one end of the spa, trained stylists create works of art - not just haircuts - on their customers. At the other end, customers clad in white robes and flip-flops wind down from a facial or massage treatment with a healthy lunch.
Like dedicated entrepreneurs, the owners keep the spa open seven days a week.
Mr. Bardelaben said world travel exposed him to services not common in the United States, like caviar treatments to smooth lines and wrinkles, aromatherapy to energize or relax, and permanent and semi-permanent makeup, where pigments are injected into the skin.
"We have a wellness focus," Ms. Rahimi said. "Spas are becoming machines, and we don't believe in that."
Even the bathrooms are intended to induce a sense a relaxation with soothing music, low lighting and scented candles.
Since opening in late January, the owners said they have begun to develop a list of regular customers. They hope to post revenues close to $1.5 million by the end of the year. And the owners eventually hope to open another spa in Tysons Corner.
Mr. Bardelaben and Ms. Rahimi believe in each location funding the next. "When you get your cash flow, why go and borrow?" he said. The two started Spa du Monde in the District from personal savings.
Mr. Bardelaben decided to get into the spa business with Ms. Rahimi after he found himself repeatedly suggesting massage as a treatment for many of his own patients.
The two met in Portland, Ore., where Ms. Rahimi still keeps a small salon. Their offices were in the same building, and Mr. Bardelaben often got his haircut in her modest salon. After referring many of his patients to massage therapists, Mr. Bardelaben decided he, too, could provide that service.
But he realized quickly that going it alone would be too expensive.
He asked his friend Ms. Rahimi to help. "I wanted to be in business with Nasreen because she knew the salon side and I knew the consulting side," he said.
The two agreed Portland provided little support and incentives for entrepreneurs in the field. "The climate wasn't there, the population wasn't there, and people don't spend money on services like that [in Portland]," Mr. Bardelaben said.
But the District seemed like the perfect setting.
Ms. Rahimi had escaped from Iran in 1979 during the political change in power and moved to Italy to study style and design. Later, she moved to Oregon, where she opened Nasreen's in 1983 after just three months in the area working as a cosmetic consultant at Nordstrom.
She said she had always wanted to open a salon because of her entrepreneurial spirit and her training in Iran in the field of beauty maintenance.
"That's the gift God gave me," she said. "The gift is the eye, the gift is the heart, the gift is the touch."
Some of her customers agree Ms. Rahimi does not stop at giving basic treatment.
Francesca Gysling, 25, said she had been casually searching for spas around the District to no avail. None seemed to measure up to spas in New York City until she wandered into Spa du Monde.
"They said 'hello.' They gave me a glass of cranberry juice. It was almost like going to someone's house," she said. "And, it's pretty reasonably priced."
For full leg waxing, the spa charges $60. An acne-treatment facial costs $90. An electro-acupuncture aroma lift runs about about $115, and is supposed to improve the skin nutrition by reoxygenating the tissues and accelerating collagen synthesis.
Professionals can escape to the spa for lunch as well. For $90, clients will receive a massage, manicure and lunch.
Ms. Gysling said she found in her search that spas in Georgetown by comparison do not have the ambiance that Spa du Monde does, nor the service, which by Ms. Gysling's standards were higher than some of the finest New York City spas.
Spa du Monde calls customer service a priority in light of what Jim Leavy, assistant to the executive director of the Day Spa Association, calls a "booming spa market."
Once the domain of mostly affluent white women, spas these days are attracting more men and black women, Mr. Leavy said.


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