Inside the Spa Where Calming Treatments Are Served Up With Craft Beer Oakwell Beer Spa invites guests into a world of relaxing treatments combined with craft beer. Learn how Damien Zouaoui and Jessica French turned a popular European concept into a budding U.S. wellness chain.

By Emily Washcovick

Key Takeaways

  • Great customer service starts with hospitality, and great hospitality starts with training. A well-trained and knowledgeable staff can make guests feel confident in your business.
  • Responding to reviews isn’t about who’s right or wrong. While the customer’s experience is only one side of the story, their feedback is valuable and can help improve your business operations.
  • Even if you don’t intend to expand now, include potential strategies for growth in your initial business plan. This will help you be prepared in the event demand exceeds supply in your first location.
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Oakwell Beer Spa

When Damien Zouaoui and Jessica French, owners of Oakwell Beer Spa, dropped everything to start a small business, they were looking for a grand concept, a unique business model primed for growth.

While traveling the globe, they came across all kinds of creative businesses, from hedgehog cafés to Airbnb alternatives in camper vans. But one in particular hit home: a beer spa they visited in the mountains of Zakopane, Poland. While soaking in a relaxing tub of barley and hops, right next to an all-you-can-drink tap, Damien and Jessica talked about the potential for the popular European activity and how to translate it for an American customer base.

"In America, we realized that [the spa industry] is very transactional and is really focused on a specific audience. You need to be healthy. You need to be wealthy," Damien said. "We made a promise to ourselves... that we create an inclusive space where everyone is welcome. Let's break the stigma that the day spa was meant to be for a specific audience, perhaps women, in America."

Settling in Denver — a U.S. capital of adventure, wellness, and craft beer — Damien and Jessica began to bring their vision to life. Environment was a huge piece of fostering a sense of inclusivity. Oakwell's beautiful interior design steers away from the white and sterile spa aesthetic, creating an approachable and intimate ambience. The spa even offers a variety of treatment options for non-beer lovers, including wine and cocktail baths.

Oakwell's accessible and comfortable atmosphere was a key piece of the experience for reviewer Jessica K., a first-time beer spa goer.

"The minute that you walk into this establishment, you're in awe with the beautiful interior design and greeted by the friendly staff," her review reads. "Before our spa, we enjoyed the complimentary snacks and made our way to the amazing self-serve beer wall. The beers offered are local, and if you're not much of a beer drinker like I am, there are options of wine and rosé. Beer Spa is a unique concept, and I loved every moment of it."

Because Oakwell's business model is so unique, reviews are a crucial part of spreading the word and finetuning services. Damien and Jessica acknowledge that the novelty of their idea can cause apprehension, and they appreciate guests like Jessica K. who take the time to share their experience.

"Good, bad, this is not the point [of reviews]. The point here is to help us to do better and always improve services. I always remember… 'Okay, there's two ways [to go about receiving feedback]... We take it personally and answer personally, or we take it professionally by stepping back.'"

Damien and Jessica respond to guests' reviews every time they receive feedback. However, instead of replying right away, they put a lot of thought into how they'll navigate any criticism, often calling guests personally to talk about their experience before responding publicly. They've crafted this review response strategy by looking at the way other small businesses handle critical feedback.

"I think often the business wants to prove that the guest was wrong or shed more light on the situation. Maybe, 'Oh, well, the guests didn't follow our policies and they did A, B, and C wrong, and you're misleading in this review,' and it really does not look great," Damien said. "It does not make the guest feel like [they're] going to be heard if there is a complaint or an issue. It feels very aggressive and combative. And that's something that's really important to us—that everyone's feedback is valid, whether they were in the right or wrong."

While they've received some critical reviews, the spa has 4.9 stars on Yelp and nearly 400 reviews, due in part to the prioritization of hospitality. Customers are known as "guests," their names are learned, and the details of their anniversaries and celebrations are prudently noted. The trained, full-time staff has played a huge role lifting the business off the ground. By the time an employee begins serving guests, they're an expert on Oakwell's beer lineup and equipped to help customers lean into the relaxation of the experience.

Oakwell's top-notch customer service has led demand to exceed supply. With a growing waitlist on their hands, the next step for Damien and Jessica is opening a new location in South Denver to accommodate their guests in the southern suburbs. The new location is projected to open in the fall of 2024.

The owners hope this expansion will be followed by other locations across the country, both company-owned and franchised.

"It was always our plan from the beginning to build this with the intention to scale. We didn't want to just run a mom-and-pop, single location for the rest of our lives," Jessica said. "When we chose this concept during our travels, a lot was behind it."

In addition to the importance of creating a comfortable environment with high-quality customer service, Oakwell Beer Spa believes:

  • Online reviews are a key way to help customers learn about your business and manage expectations, especially if you have a unique business model.
  • It's important to take a step back when responding to reviews. Taking the time to understand the customer's side of the story can be a valuable way to improve business operations.
  • Business ideas are everywhere. Look outside your immediate surroundings for opportunities and think about how you can make these ideas fit within your community.

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Damien and Jessica, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.

Available on: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pandora, and Soundcloud.

Emily Washcovick

Small Business Expert at Yelp

As Yelp’s Small Business Expert, Emily is meticulously focused on helping local business owners succeed and grow. Her expertise lies in customer engagement, reputation management, and all things digital marketing. Through speaking engagements and thought leadership, Emily shares industry insights that entrepreneurs in any business category can leverage for the growth and well-being of their businesses. She is also the host of Behind the Review, a podcast from Yelp and Entrepreneur Media, where each episode features conversations with a business owner and a reviewer about the story and lessons behind their interactions.

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