While some mothers and their adult daughters might blanch at the idea of sharing the same roof, let alone a business, Gail Ann and her daughter Neka Pasquale have not only figured out how to pool their strengths, they’ve turned their family-run Evo Spa, a 2,665-square-foot spa and wellness center in Northern California, into a thriving local oasis.
Evo Spa, nestled in the quaint Strawberry Village open-air mall in Mill Valley, California, opened its doors in April 2004 with the vision of offering a plethora of wellness services—including acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine—along with more mainstream spa offerings such as waxing, facials, massage and body treatments.
In fact, when DAYSPA first profiled Evo in February 2006, the spa owners were just starting to delve into a full array of wellness programs.
Today, Evo offers a wildly popular line of cleanses, detoxification programs and nutritional offerings. It also brims with extra perks such as Bio-Mats (devices originally developed by NASA that employ far-infrared, negative-ion therapy and amethyst quartz crystals) on all of the massage tables, a Hydro-Heaven chromatherapy bed (an antigravity, dry hydrotherapy bed from Italy) and a Quantum Biofeedback machine that helps pinpoint energetic imbalances in the body.
“I try everything personally and if it meets my high standards, only then do I consider bringing it into the spa,” says Ann, a licensed esthetician. “We’re not into fluff or the flavor-of-the-month. Our focus is on creating and supporting beauty from the inside out and this has been our philosophy from the start.”
Just getting to that starting line, however, took on an evolution of its own. —Amelia Glynn
“My mom had always talked about us working together, and I would be like ‘yeah, yeah,’ but I didn’t think we ever actually would,” admits Pasquale, a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist.
Ann, however, clearly remembers the moment she first saw her daughter as a powerful healer and potential business partner.
“Neka had invited me to a party that one of her acupuncture clients was throwing to celebrate being cancer-free. The woman got up and thanked everyone for coming, and then turned to Neka and said that she couldn’t have made it to this place without her help and support,” Ann recalls. “In that moment, I really got it. My daughter is an amazing woman.”
Today, as co-owners of Evo, Pasquale acts more as the creative partner, spending her days at the spa, meeting clients, devising new wellness programs and services; while Ann plays the role of business-minded thinker, researching new products and equipment as she oversees the operational side. When it comes to problem-solving, Ann is proactive while Pasquale tends to “wait and see.”
“It’s a very collaborative, checks-and-balances kind of relationship,” Pasquale says. “And it works.”
That’s partly because the pair share the same goal of blending wellness with beauty—a philosophy that Ann likely passed down to her daughter. “I was into health and nutrition way before it was fashionable,” Ann says. “It’s something I’ve been passionate about since before Neka was born—she’s been hearing me talk about it her whole life.”
But for Pasquale, that often meant growing up in a home with no candy or sugar cereals, and, sometimes, even contending with sprouts germinating in the bathtub.
“There were times, when Neka was a child, that I could tell she was embarrassed by her hippie parents,” Ann says. Before PTA meetings, for example, Pasquale would carefully select and lay out the clothes her mother was to wear. “She wanted me to look the part!” the hippie-turned-spa-expert says with an easy laugh.
Despite all those growing pains, Pasquale clearly was influenced by her mother’s passion for health and healing. She enrolled in acupuncture school after college and—after becoming a licensed acupuncturist with a practice of her own—accepted her mom's offer to work together.
At the time, Ann was operating Cheek t’ Cheek, a 600-square-foot skincare business that she’d opened in 1979 in Larkspur, California. Years later, when a larger spa space became available in Mill Valley, Ann and Pasquale decided to take their working relationship to a new level.
A far cry from Cheek t’ Cheek’s modest outpost, Evo today boasts nine treatment rooms; an inviting reception area with green and bronze mosaic tiled walls; and an expansive boutique, tastefully appointed with high-end product lines (Éminence, Epicuren, Jane Iredale and SkinCeuticals to name a few) as well as loungey sweaters, plush robes, handbags, jewelry and accessories. Ornately carved 19th-century wooden doors imported from India separate the boutique from the treatment rooms, and to pass through them is to enter a space that feels at once peaceful and transformative.
For most spa owners, setting out to quadruple the size of their facility would be a daunting task. But armed with little more than a dream and some meager savings, Ann and Pasquale say they took things one day at a time, dealing with issues as they cropped up.
“For those first few months, we basically winged it,” Pasquale recalls. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t bumps along the way. So much closeness can take its toll. “When you’re stressed out and you’re working with your mom, all of your stuff comes up,” Pasquale says. “You don’t have the same boundaries as you do with other people.” Sometimes that translated as general irritability, other times as a lack of checking in on a personal level.
“We definitely needed more of a break from each other, but we worked through it,” Pasquale says. “Luckily, we’re on the same page when it comes to just about everything.” And when they’re not? “My mom has the last word!”
Ann describes the evolution of both their business and their individual roles as “very organic.” Pasquale made the wellness arm her focus while Ann took charge of business operations. To ease the transition, they hired a spa director and department managers to oversee the day-to-day, but still hold regular meetings to encourage good communication among the team. Although they both weigh in on hiring and firing decisions, Ann and Pasquale leave the bulk of this responsibility in the hands of Evo’s director and managers.
“We laugh about it now, but I don’t think either of us realized how much work it would be to get Evo off the ground—managing the money, hiring, planning—the stress was just over the top,” Pasquale says. “Learning that we could really trust each other made our relationship so much stronger.”
And their spa has flourished as well. Evo’s clients—a diverse range of teens to seniors, with a growing following of male clientele—have increasingly come to the spa seeking total health and wellness solutions. And while acupuncture remains one of Evo’s most popular treatments, it often serves as a gateway to other wellness offerings including Pasquale’s meticulously crafted detoxification and weight loss programs, and retreats that include far-infrared sauna sessions, body wraps and detox foot baths in addition to dietary recommendations and supplements.
To bring new clients to the spa, Evo relies heavily on word-of-mouth but also places ads in local publications, such as Marin Magazine, to help educate potential guests about the spa’s services.
In October, Ann launched a popular educational “Evo-lution Master Series,” which brings experts to the spa to speak on wellness and beauty topics ranging from the benefits of a raw-food diet to the latest techniques in lasers, fillers and injectables.
Last spring, to expand upon the family’s wellness brand, Pasquale launched her own organic juicing business called Urban Remedy. Her juice cleanses, ranging in duration from one day to several weeks, come in three main “flavors”—signature, green and customized—and are sold as individual juices in Evo’s boutique and as part of its comprehensive wellness packages.
More recently, Ann and Pasquale have been reaching out to local gyms, personal trainers and supplement companies to co-host open-house events as a way to attract new clients.
Pasquale, ever the creative dreamer, hopes to soon open a small Urban Remedy storefront near the spa with a sweet little juice bar and supplements display. It’s all part of this mother-daughter pair’s original mission to blend inner wellness with outer beauty.
“We’re fully incorporating the internal with the external,” Pasquale says. “When our clients come in for a facial and sauna, and maybe a fresh juice, they leave looking healthier, and they feel healthier, too.”
Open since: 2004
Facilities: 2,665 square feet with 9 treatment rooms, his-and-hers locker rooms, relaxation area and boutique
No. of employees: 40 (16 are full-time)
Product lines: Éminence, Osmosis, CosMedix, Arcona and more
Most popular treatments: Kaya Kalpa body treatment with shirodhara (90 min./$225), Epicuren lifting and toning facial (75 min./$135), Sacred Hot Stone massage (75 min./$130), Raindrop Ritual massage (90 min./$155)
Amelia Glynn is a freelance writer and author based in San Francisco.