Meet Vesna Maras, the lawyer turned retailer who has swapped her legalese for an altogether new jargon. Having had a 19-year career as an attorney in California and most recently New Orleans, the pursuit of a budding retail endeavor has nipped at Maras’ heels for the last little while. And after countless hours of wonder that turning to planning and execution, the end result now unveils twofold: enter Mint Uptown Salon, a contemporary neighborhood spa, and Frances & Finch, an adjacent apparel and home goods boutique. Both are located at 4601 Dryades, next to Il Posto Cafe.
I met Vesna at an open house a little over a year ago when she was in the throws of her home-buying journey, and recently I caught up with her about her latest endeavor:
Q. Where are you from and how did you get to New Orleans – and what’s made you stay?
I guess I would say that I’m “from” a number of cities, as each has shaped my journey. I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio then moved to the East Coast to attend Boston University. I graduated with a Film degree and ultimately stayed on in Boston for another three years. My first “real” job was as a Copywriter for Simon & Schuster. Tasked with writing direct mail promotional brochures for textbooks (it was about as interesting as reading this job description), I lasted nine months before neither I nor my boss wanted me to “be” a Copywriter at Simon & Schuster.
Eventually, I landed a gig I liked as the assistant to the head of the Product Development department for the shop at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Nonetheless, I found myself applying to law schools. To be honest, outside of my life long interest in reading about famous trials (acquired from nowhere in particular as there are no other attorneys in my family), I really have no idea how that all came about but I decided to roll with it and moved to New Orleans to attend Tulane Law.
After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles to take a job as a litigator in the public sector. I accrued a lot of vacation time in lieu of overtime pay and found myself returning to New Orleans over and over again during my thirteen years in Los Angeles. It always felt like I was “home” as soon as the plane was wheels down jostling over potholes on the runway at MSY. I moved here again six years ago and haven’t looked back. I stay because . . . wait, are you seriously asking me that? Because I know what it means to miss New Orleans. And I’m a Saints fanatic. Word.
Q. How did your career in law bring you to where you are now?
I think an early passion for entrepreneurial endeavors paved the way more than my career in law. At the age of five, I roped off our kitchen every Sunday and charged my Dad “green money,” as in “keep the coins,” to eat burnt toast that I prepared with some weak Lipton tea. By the age of eight, I was selling potholders I made on a tiny plastic loom. At eleven or twelve, I took orders for cases of Texas Ruby Red grapefruit and walked the neighborhood delivering them in a wagon. Around that time, I also became the regular dog walker for a Shitzu named Junior and, unbeknownst to my Mom, took a second job day sitting a bed-ridden elderly man a few afternoons a week so his wife could go run errands. In junior high school, I convinced the lifeguard at our local pool to subcontract me her duties to keep the pool clean. I received 25 cents for each pool tile I scrubbed with Comet and $1 for thorough leaf removal with a net. In high school, I worked as a gas station attendant in the era of full serve (check oil, tires, wiper fluid and pump gas) and also at the local mall selling garish 80s clothing. And so on and so on. I just love it! I have worked retail on and off since high school. Even when I was practicing law in Los Angeles, I started a small business selling apparel and accessories at private functions and routinely bought and resold on eBay for profit.
Q. The business? What is it, if you were in an elevator and had 15 seconds to describe it to someone? Other than the fact you aren’t on Freret and do not serve Vietnamese food (because of the new Vietnamese spot about to open called Mint on the corner of Freret and Soniat across from Dat Dog)?
Actually I’m opening two businesses! In fifteen seconds, elevator person would hear that Mint Uptown Salon offers spa services in a contemporary but small and comfortable space and Frances & Finch offers a well-curated selection of apparel, accessories, home decorative items and art! I feel very fortunate that several very talented and well-respected ladies in the spa industry, two of whom used to work at Bamboo Apothecary together (aka “The Bamboo Krewe”), esthetician and lash specialist Kelly Lawson and nail specialist Michelia Tran, came aboard and made my vision a reality!
Mint offers women, and the oft-forgotten men, facials, microdermabrasion, waxing and nail services. We also offer makeup application by Angela Ugulano, who is both an esthetician and experienced make up artist, and massage via local legend Judy Bolton! I am very proud to say that Mint is the only local business in New Orleans which sells the exclusive Natura Bisse skin care line out of Barcelona and uses these phenomenal products in our services. The salon also carries a variety of cosmetic cases by Stephanie Johnson and Hudson & Bleeker, as well as hair accessories, jewelry, fun temporary tattoos, candles and other interesting objects that catch my eye.
Frances & Finch is a separate retail shop, scheduled to open early 2014, but which operates a store within Mint, carrying indie label apparel lines such as Maison Scotch, Wilt (best t-shirts ever!), Odd Molly, Line & Dot, Threads for Thought, Yoon and Shae, as well as home decorative lines such as Coral & Tusk, K Studio, HomArt and Tatine candles. The shop will also have some amazing original art! If you stop by Mint, you’ll get a preview of Frances & Finch by way of a tiny “pop up” shop operating through at least the holidays!
Q. Why Dryades?
I live in the area and specifically wanted to cater to locals and open up in a residential neighborhood, not on Magazine Street, which I think has gotten very congested Uptown. We’re right next to the fabulous Il Posto Cafe, across the street from Normand Dry Cleaners and up the block from Charlie’s Steak House. A tiny commercial zone surrounded by houses in a walking neighborhood – I couldn’t be more thrilled – exactly the type of location for which I was on the hunt. I had my eye on the building we’re in for years, from the time it was rather run-down and painted turquoise, hoping that a developer would snatch it up and renovate. It was a grocery store in the 1930s and then went through several incarnations from laundromat to yoga studio. As soon as I saw the “For Lease” sign in the window, I grabbed the space. It was literally nothing more than ripped up concrete and a few center beams. Some people thought I was completely crazy, but I had a picture in my head of how great the space could be. I did not use a designer and my interior buildout was done by Strain Renovations – they patiently walked through each step with me bringing that picture to life!
Location: 4601 Dryades (corner of Cadiz, enter on Cadiz)
Hours are as follows:
Sunday – Monday CLOSED
Tues thru Fri 10-6
But feel free to contact us at (504) 304-6225 or firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll see if we can accommodate a request to come in a bit earlier or later!
Also, follow us on Twitter @MintUptownSalon for flash specials, as well as on Instagram and Facebook.
Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at UptownMessenger.com, he also shares his family’s adventures sometimes via pedicab or bicycle on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.