The woman: Alissa Bayer, founder of milk + honey, Austin’s premier urban day spa.
The mission: From locker room to lounge, create a nurturing, hospitable, and restorative experience.
The commitment: “The biggest compliment is seeing people leave with ‘massage face.’ They’re so relaxed, they’re almost tipsy.”
Top 3 ways she’ll change your life:
- Slip into a robe and consider yourself a VIP.
- Take one step back from the daily grind, one step forward into a soothing spa, and for goodness sake, spoil yourself a little.
- Feel good. Look good. Exfoliate, repeat.
In sum: Thanks to world-class treatments, graceful design, and a distinctly Austin lack of pretension, an hour or two at the spa can be as accessible and delightful as taking yourself out for ice cream. So stop resisting the robe.
Behind the scenes
It is 10:58 a.m. and I am sashaying around the downtown milk + honey spa like a queen in her kingdom. Cucumber-infused water? Don’t mind if I do. Relax on a pillowy sofa? Why yes, I believe I shall.
I bump into another robed client on my way to the snack table. She looks lost, but in a serene, blissful sort of a way. A staffer gently points her towards the wood-paneled locker room, handing her a glass of water in the same movement. Classic.
“At the front desk, we call it ‘massage face,’” Alissa Bayer tells me. “People are so relaxed, they’re almost tipsy. They can’t remember how to do math. They need help figuring out where to sign their name. To me, that’s the biggest compliment.”
As the founder of milk + honey spa, Bayer is responsible for a dramatic increase in massage face in the greater Austin area.
Originally from Tampa, Bayer lived in D.C., New York, and San Francisco before moving to Austin for business school. Then she began casting about for an entrepreneurial endeavor.
“I got a notebook and jotted down every idea I had for a business. I went through a long list of things: a shoe store, handbags, wine and cheese. I thought about what I would enjoy, but then also what I could be good at. It became a short list,” Bayer says. “The spa fit.”
Her advice? “If you find something that you enjoy and that you are good at, success is not far away.”
Mondays, made over
Thanks to her time in San Francisco and New York, Bayer recognized a need in Austin: a high-end day spa with an inviting lounge and locker room — a spa where the experience began the moment you walked in the front door and lasted long after the actual treatment.
Bayer opened milk + honey spa in its downtown location in 2006. A Hill Country Galleria location followed, as well as three salons – which, among other accolades, were named among Elle Magazine’s top 100 salons in America. The spa has been named the top day spa in Texas by Les Nouvelles Esthétiques.
After all the 80-hour work weeks, is Bayer – who used to get her hair cut just twice a year – reaping the benefits?
“I now book myself every Monday at 9 a.m. for a 90-minute massage,” she smiles. “I’m just now living the life everyone thought I was living this whole time.”
Make mine with sprinkles
The hallmarks of milk + honey – graceful design; thoughtful touches in the lounge and locker room; the consummate hospitality of the staff – have earned the spas, and now the salons, a devoted following. Bayer even started a VIP (very important partisan) rewards program for loyal customers.
Bayer prides the spa on “sticking to the basics really well.” Their treatments use natural and organic ingredients, hailing back to Cleopatra’s own beauty regiment of, you guessed it, milk and honey.
All of that was reassuring enough, but I was still nervous. Didn’t “spa” imply a well-heeled, pulled-together clientele? Would the front desk know I was an imposter?
“I want milk + honey to be considered a great treat; not necessarily a luxury,” Bayer told me, “like treating yourself to Amy’s ice cream.”
Ice cream. Now she was speaking my language.
At the salon, after a glorious facial treatment from Kendra (who was so sweet I may start a fan club), I relax in the lounge area with a fresh glass of cucumber water. In the magazine rack at my feet, Austin Woman Magazine catches my eye. In my happy delirium – my own version of massage face, I suppose – I notice it’s the entrepreneur issue.
As I sink into Alissa Bayer’s vision, I thank heaven and Cleopatra for women entrepreneurs.