Zen and the Citi



Like most successful entrepreneurs, the owners of Banyan Citispa (New York City) began with a dream. May Chan and Cindy Zhao wanted to create a one-stop shop for spagoers. Fortunately, the two friends had both their individual and collective experience to draw on, as Zhao had experience working in a nail salon and Chan is an esthetician.

Because competition in New York City is intense, the two of them, along with marketing director Trista Huang, did a lot of research before opening. What they found was that, although the city is ethnically diverse, most spagoers were frequenting European-style spas. Wanting to create a Southeast Asian-inspired spa, they looked to China, India, Indonesia, and Thailand for inspiration. "We did research in Asia as to what people do to maintain their beauty," says Huang.

 An array of pillows creates a cozy ambience in one of the massage rooms.
An array of pillows creates a cozy ambience in one of the massage rooms.

Despite the Asian theme, the owners chose Pevonia as their skincare line of choice. According to Huang, they wanted a product line they could trust. The spa also offers a line of 100 percent natural herbal products from Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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The spa's Asian influence, however, is evident in the menu, which features the Oriental Herbal Compress with Thai Massage ($120, 60 minutes; $150, 90 minutes; $220, 120 minutes). As one of the spa's most popular treatments, it helps warm and soothe tired muscles with a Thai herbal compress filled with approximately 20 herbs. Other Asian offerings include the Asian Blend Shiatsu ($95, 60 minutes; $125, 90 minutes; $195, 120 minutes), the Asian Body Glow ($110, 45 minutes; $180, 90 minutes with massage), and the Asian Herbal Sesame Facial ($120, 60 minutes), which has proven to be a harder sell among the facials. Huang attributes it to cultural differences, as many are unfamiliar with the nourishing benefits of black sesame.

The pedicure area is an ideal place for friends to chat. below right: Clients can relax in the lounge before and after treatments.
The pedicure area is an ideal place for friends to chat. below right: Clients can relax in the lounge before and after treatments.

With seven therapists, three estheticians, three nail technicians, and a number of administrative staff members, the spa treats approximately 15 clients a day throughout the week and about 30 on Saturdays and Sundays. Peak hours are weekdays between 5:30 P.M. and 8:30 P.M. Situated in New York City's trendy Soho neighborhood, the spa is fortunate to attract its fair share of tourists. Huang credits hotel referrals from The Mercer, the Soho Grand, and the Tribeca Grand as being responsible for some of the tourist traffic. According to her, tourists make up one-third of the spa's clientele, Soho residents make up another third, and other New Yorkers who have heard about the spa make up the rest.

The female clientele is equally divided between those interested in relaxation and those seeking help with daily maintenance. Men, on the other hand, are primarily interested in relaxation. "Ninety percent want only massage," says Huang. To better accommodate male clients, the spa opened a men's facility, which is located on a separate floor. Now, Huang's biggest challenge is getting the word out. "We know we have great service, a beautiful environment, and great products, but the competition is tough."

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