Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine Business Review January 2007.
By Craig Smith
Sonja Akey was born in the wine country- the German wine country, between the Mosel and Rhine rivers. She is a relaxed, easygoing woman who is quick to smile, yet she is very serious about her profession and Greenhaus Spa, her business at 1091 Fifth Street (adjacent to the Napa River Inn.)
When Akey was younger, she wondered what career path she should choose. Her mother thought it was a no-brainer, and suggested that she become an esthetician.
“What is that?” asked Sonja.
Her mother explained and said, with Sonja’s dual loves of esthetics and health, she would be a natural. After looking further into the field, Sonja made a decision, and enrolled in one of the best esthetician schools in the world, in Wiesbaden, Germany. After an intense year of schooling and five years collecting experience in the wellness industry, she wanted to move to Bavaria to work as an esthetician at the well-known “Lancaster Spa,” but was told fluent English was a must. So, in 1990, she moved to Napa to be an au pair. Plans to return to Germany, however, changed when she got married. Akey decided instead to open her own spa, and did so on First Street where Miyamo is now located.
“I opened the doors and just sat there, from Monday through Saturday, waiting for customers to come in. I knew nothing about advertising or marketing myself,” says Sonja, laughing at her naiveté. Her first customer, Diana Gerig (“She is still a good customer,” says Akey, obviously proud of the relationship) did eventually show up, and primarily through word of mouth, so did others.
Within six months, Akey was busy. She stayed in business there until 1995, leaving when she had her second child. Raising two kids while running a store was too much. Akey scaled back and rented a room from an acupuncturist. After three years, she was told that she had more clients than the small clinic could handle, and she had to leave.
Harry Price approached her about opening at his new property, the Historic Mill & Hatt Building. Now a single and determined mother of two, Akey leaped at the chance. She was the first business to open there, and did so amid the on-going construction in July 1999. Six months later she hired her first receptionist. Today, fourteen people work at Greenhaus Spa.
Akey is very clear about her mission.
“A spa is a necessary part of health, not just a luxury item,” she says and keeps prices low so that people can afford her services.
She is committed to high-end service and products, and is extremely detail oriented. Every esthetician that works for her is personally trained by Akey.
“Training in Europe is very intense, and I want everyone at Greenhaus to be the best.”
It shows – Greenhaus was voted “Best Day Spa” in Napa & Sonoma Valley in ’04, ’05 and ’06.
Akey says the spa boom has changed the industry, with newcomers trying to be bigger and fancier than the last one to open. Akey proudly asserts that her staff is as well or better trained than any other. She sticks to the basics, providing her staff with on-going training to keep their skills at their peak. She also sticks to her niche. “We are a boutique spa. Kind of like ‘Cheers,’ where everybody knows your name,” she said and laughed.
Greenhaus Spa is open seven days a week and can be reached at 257-8837, or by visiting