Beauty Illuminated

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With a new location in the Hill Country Galleria, Milk + Honey day spas are hard at work beautifying and relaxing Austin. Owner Alissa Bayer discusses her business and life philosophy, and the art of creating tranquil retreats that invigorate the body, mind and soul.

Walking into the new Milk + Honey day spa in the Hill Country Galleria, every ounce of stress, anxiety and negativity from a busy lifestyle immediately melts away. Delicate, flower-infused aromas waft through the air while, overhead, soft music lulls guests in to a state of near euphoria. Spa Partisans – which Milk + Honey defines as “enthusiastic supporters of all things spa” – escort customers through a dimly lit hall to a lounge area comprised almost entirely of an oversized sectional sofa. While sipping fresh cucumber water, guests blissfully sink into the couch, awaiting their turns on the massage table, in the facial suite or perched atop a pedicure station, where they will dangle their feet in an indulgent milk soak.

Whatever their chosen spa treatment, every single customer who departs from Milk + Honey does so with a look of utter contentment and relaxation on their faces. And that’s exactly what Alissa Bayer expects of her business.

“It is important to me to align my business with something I love in life,” says Bayer, the owner and founder of both the Hill Country Galleria and downtown Milk + Honey spa locations. “I’m doing something positive, something that leaves the world better off than it was before. I get to make my living off making people feel more comfortable, more beautiful and less stressful. How many people are lucky enough to say that?”

The spacious 4,300-square-foot Hill Country Galleria spa, opened in mid-March, boasts nine treatment rooms, each oriented so that guests feel a million miles away, not only from the neighboring treatment rooms, but from civilization entirely. And though the downtown location of Milk + Honey, opened in January 2006 in the hip Second Street District, was recently expanded from five treatment rooms to nine, it is slightly smaller, at 3,700 square feet, than the new location, which seems a luxurious sanctuary that goes on forever.

A native of Tampa, Fla., Bayer moved to Austin from San Francisco six years ago to attend the University of Texas’ MBA program. Though she knew she wanted to “do something entrepreneurial,” Bayer was unsure where her master’s degree would lead her.

“All I knew is that I didn’t want a regular job,” Bayer laughs. “And they say you should do what you love, so that’s how the spa idea came about.”

But not willing to give up their home in the Bay area, Bayer and her husband Shon decided to only remain in Austin until she completed her education. But then, as with many other Central Texas transplants, the Austin bug bit Bayer, particularly since it was the ideal metropolis for her Milk + Honey concept.

“Austin is such a great place for a start-up business,” she says. “You can make a big splash here and have a strong business presence. I’m so glad we stayed. And I feel really good about contributing to the local flair.”

Though Bayer keeps incredibly busy running two spa locations, she’s already starting work on a new salon concept for Austin. In the long run, Bayer has even bigger goals of making Milk + Honey a national brand, though she admits that’s likely a few years off.

In addition to her desire to de-stress Austin, Bayer also sees her business as an opportunity to create a great place to work for her 70 employees, and to create a little awareness of the local charities she supports.

“All I want to do is more good than harm. And it’s wonderful that I have the opportunity to use my business as a tool for doing good,” she explains.

And though straight, Bayer says of particular importance to her are organizations that work for tolerance and equality. To that end, Milk + Honey contributes upwards of 300 gift certificates a month to local charities that are aligned with Bayer’s beliefs. The spa is a huge supporter of the Human Rights Campaign, and always donates auction items for the group’s annual gala. Bayer also hopes that she’ll soon be able to host a fundraising event for Atticus Circle, an Austin nonprofit that works to educate and encourage straight people to fight for equal rights for GLBT partners and families.

“I’m looking forward to using the reach of my business to bring more people in to that organization,” Bayer says. “Something that’s really important to me is that I don’t want to live in a world where we have so much discrimination. It’s just a basic human rights issue.”

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