The Land of Milk & Honey

A WELCOME RETREAT IN THE HEART OF DOWNTOWN AUSTIN, TX, Milk + Honey appeals to an eclectic clientele representative of the city it calls home. According to founder Alissa Bayer, the spa attracts young professionals, typically under the age of 40, who are likely to live or work in the downtown area. Bayer created the spa after earning an MBA from the University of Texas-Austin, which she chose for its strong entrepreneurship program and favorable locale.

The lessons she learned there helped her find her path. "Business school is full of opportunities to learn about yourself and to explore alternative careers and industries," says Bayer. "I knew early on that I wasn't interested in the big business jobs that were coming through the career center." Instead, she focused her attention in another direction. "During my two years of graduate school, I read hundreds of business plans and interacted with dozens of successful entrepreneurs," she says. "Everyone says you're supposed to do what you love, and I do love visiting spas. I was not naive enough to think that working in or owning a spa would be as relaxing or soothing as being a client, but I knew I wanted to earn a living by having a positive impact on others, both my employees and my clients, and I didn't want to work for anyone."

The sun-drenched reception area at Milk + Honey features a variety of retail products.
The sun-drenched reception area at Milk + Honey features a variety of retail products.

Following graduation, Bayer began researching the spa industry and creating a comprehensive business plan. She gave herself six months to see if she could secure funding and a lease. "I cobbled money together from friends and family, took a line of credit on the equity in my home in San Francisco, and convinced the Small Business Association to guarantee a bank loan," says Bayer. "After eighteen months of gestation and hard labor, Milk + Honey was born, and I've never been happier."

The exterior of Milk + Honey paints a welcoming portrait that beckons passers-by to stop in for an impromptu visit.
The exterior of Milk + Honey paints a welcoming portrait that beckons passers-by to stop in for an impromptu visit.

Sporting a sleek and contemporary design, Milk + Honey offers a well-rounded spa visit. "I believe my clients are looking for a complete spa experience rather than just a straight-up service," says Bayer. "There are lots of places in town where they can receive the same service and a better parking spot. They come to Milk + Honey because they know that not only will the service be fantastic, but also the robe will be comfortable, the music soothing, and the staff friendly and unpretentious. They leave feeling like they've been on vacation, even if only for an hour or two."

The name Milk + Honey is one many have come to embrace. "In the early stages of creating the concept, there were definitely a few people who really didn't like the name, and I'm so glad I ignored them," says Bayer. "There are so many things that Milk + Honey represents: comfort, abundance, natural goodness, sweetness, and decadence, to name a few. I really like the feelings that the name conjures, and I feel strongly that it has great branding potential."

The entrance to the relaxation lounge features a decorative floral arrangement.
The entrance to the relaxation lounge features a decorative floral arrangement.

In creating the menu, Bayer opted to keep it simple, as she, herself, doesn't like being overwhelmed with choices. She wanted to offer treatments that were effective and met their objective, be it relaxation or hydrating the skin. Interested in offering natural skincare lines, Bayer chose Skinceuticals; Trilogy, an organic line from New Zealand; and Pangea Organics. "In my personal life, I buy organic and practice conscious consumerism, and I try to bring that to the spa as much as possible," says Bayer. "There are some issues and conditions that can't be addressed effectively with organic products, but we try to use natural ingredients as much as possible."

The relaxation lounge is an escape from the hustle and bustle of Austin.
The relaxation lounge is an escape from the hustle and bustle of Austin.

Although most clients gravitate toward basics like massage, The Spa Partisan ($140, 1 hour and 40 minutes) is another popular choice. It begins with a full-body dry brushing and a homemade scrub of coffee, ground almonds, honey, brown sugar, evaporated milk, and jojoba oil—all of which come from Whole Foods. The treatment also includes a 60-minute massage using the spa's signature Milk + Honey body butter.

Milk + Honey's entrance provides a glimpse inside the spa.
Milk + Honey's entrance provides a glimpse inside the spa.

With 26 employees on staff, the spa is able to accommodate approximately 50 clients in addition to 45 nail clients. The staff consists primarily of part-timers. The few full-timers are part of the managerial, concierge, or support staff. "By far, my biggest challenge is communicating with my large and growing staff. Because we are new, our policies, procedures, and protocols are evolving, and it is difficult to keep so many people up to date on all of the changes, especially considering how many staff members are part-time," says Bayer. Determined to create a positive workplace for her employees, she makes staff relations a major priority. "I have made a concerted effort to create a culture and environment where everyone feels valued, supported, and involved in the success of the spa," says Bayer. "By ensuring the happiness and success of my employees, I make it very easy for them to make our clients happy."

Milk + Honey
Milk + Honey

As for the future, Bayer is looking to go above and beyond the retail categories typically found in most spas. To this end, the spa already offers luxury jewelry, pajamas, handbags, and even artwork. "I'm flattered that we have received such a warm reception, not only from Austin but also from our clients who visit us from out of town," says Bayer. "Though I have my hands full right now, I wouldn't be surprised if there is another Milk + Honey location soon."

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