Introducing: Wild Oleander, Bushwick's Newest, Neon-est Nail Salon And Spa
Written by Jennifer Picht | Photography by Raydene Salinas
As Wild Oleander’s website describes, the one-month-old nail salon and spa is definitely a “paradise under neon lights.” The Bushwick pamper haven, owned and operated by the bubbly and red-haired, 35-year-old Sandra Hatton, is a tropical ’70s escape—but it’s way cooler than your Floridian grandma’s basement. We at Lady Guns really dig it, from the salon’s retro décor to the MoMA-worthy nail art designed by the oasis’s talented creative director Misleidys.
Get used to seeing the salon’s vibrant, floral wall paper and the mod bubble chair welcoming you to pop a squat in the seating area—your Instagram feed will be flooded with images of the unique space. One of the salon’s particularly striking features is the pink neon sign hanging above the pedicure station, which encourages onlookers to “Keep on keepin’ on.” We assume the message has become a daily affirmation for Hatton, reminding her to endure the undeniable trials and tribulations of opening and operating your own business.
“I never thought I would have the opportunity to be so creative. To have a thought that turns into a vision and then becomes a plan and, ohmigod, I’m grinding concrete now—what am I doing?” says Hatton, who along with her all-star, close-knit team of friends and relatives have put their blood, sweat and tears into creating not only a selfie Nirvana, but a much-needed, quality salon where locals (on a budget) can get great services and nab some vintage wares. Oh, yes, throwback lovers—wander over to the Playboy magazine covered wall beckoning you to rummage through Wild Oleander’s vintage clothing and record selection curated by Nicole Alyse, owner of American Gypsy Vintage, and one of Hatton’s besties.
The operation, which began in January 2017, is truly a friends and family affair, for Hatton’s business partner is her step mom (Catherine Gude-Hatton), and her cousin (Jessica Ostroska) manages the fort. Judging by how Hatton gushes and interacts with her tribe, you can tell the salon-owner is confident her baby is in good hands. That is especially important since Hatton still works and travels for her other full-time gig as the Vice President for the matchmaking service called It’s Just Lunch. (Works two jobs, values family and wants to help people find love and feel beautiful and confident—is it any wonder why we think Hatton is a lady gun?)
While opening her own salon wasn’t always Hatton’s dream, the existence of Wild Oleander was inevitably written in the stars. Well, at least according to Alyse’s mystical mother Gina Sereda, who will be running the salon’s spiritual healing sessions and psychic reading events. “She [Gina] was actually the first person to tell me that I was going to open my own business. I went through a breakup, and it was one of the worst things that happened to me this year. I told her, ‘I really need you to heal me!’ And she said ‘You’re going to be fine. You’re opening a business this year.” We’re so glad she did because now Varet Street, along with the locals who will inevitably book multiple treatments, have become even more beautiful. We sat down with Hatton to chat about how she deals with stress, what it takes to run and open a salon and more.
HOW SHE SPENDS HER FREE TIME: I’m pretty simple. I like to go out to dinner with my girlfriends, but I love cooking at home with a glass of wine. I haven’t been out to dinner in four months. I’m not kidding.
HER FAVORITE SPOTS: I used to always go to La Esquina in Williamsburg. I would order corn and margaritas. I also love Minetta Tavern in the West Village. It’s just a great place to chat and enjoy a drink with good company.
HER GO-TO KARAOKE SONG: I have a list of 35 songs saved on my phone. I have too many, but it’s usually some female-rock song from the ’90s. I like No Doubt or Alanis [Morissette]. I do a lot of country too.
WHAT SHE’S READING NOW: I’m in the middle of eight books I started in January and stopped reading right around the time I started opening the business. My friend Isaac [Marion] wrote this book called “Warm Bodies,” and I’m reading his sequel now. It’s called “The Burning World.” It’s so good.
HER MORNING RITUAL: I travel a lot for [It’s Just Lunch], so I’m away 7 to 10 days out of the month. If I’m at home, I’m cuddling with my kitties. I cannot get out of bed until Apollo and Jemma get five minutes of cuddle time. I’m such a cat mom. If out of town and staying at a hotel, the first thing I do when I get up is order room service. It’s not a luxury you get at home.
ON HER WORK HISTORY: I’ve worked at salons and spas for a large majority of my career, but then I transitioned into sales in the weight loss industry. I like consultative roles. I want to help people. No matter what I do, I want to feel really good about it. But once I got promoted and worked my way up in the company, I stopped doing the face-to-face stuff and it got boring. I wanted a job where I could get back in front of people and do what I like best. I started working for It’s Just Lunch in 2010. I didn’t know anything about dating, but my former boss at Jenny Craig said I would be really good at it. I’ve been doing it for seven years and I love it.
ON CHOOSING A SALON LOCATION: With beauty, I’m used to a certain level of service and experience, which I haven’t seen at all in the city—especially in Bushwick. Since it’s where I live, I wanted to open a place where I felt a salon was needed. I didn’t want it to be on the most foot traffic-y street. I like that [Wild Oleander] is a bit tucked away. The reason we rented this space is because Lindsay [Risk] at the Risk Gallery & Boutique next door was so welcoming. There’s [an unconventional] hat [and jewelry] store down the street [Aileyan Accessories], and Patrick [Kavanaugh] came in to help drill up our shelves on a Saturday night. He walked by, playing air guitar, and asked, “Do you need help?” He was here until 4am in the morning. This neighborhood is amazing. Everyone we met has just been so supportive and our neighbors are already coming in for services.
ON CREATING HER VISION FOR WILD OLEANDER: I started with wallpaper, let’s put it that way. I collected thousands of pictures on my phone and I knew I wanted to do something ’70s. I feel like it’s the era with the best clothes, music and everything. The tropical theme came about because I was born in Hawaii, and I just love anything tropical. I’m obsessed with pineapples and flamingos. I moved to Florida when I was 19 just to get back to the ocean. I wanted to do something different. I was so sick of seeing plain, modern white walls. In Bushwick and in Brooklyn in general, everything is so rustic. Like, you have a cow on your wall? Great, so does everyone else.
ON HOW SHE PREPARED FOR WILD OLEANDER: I don’t want to give him too much credit, but I was in a relationship with someone who owned a bar and he was in the process of opening another one. He did motivate me and inspired me, and helped me realize the struggles and challenges. I asked a lot of questions, not just to him but other people who owned businesses I thought were really successful. I knew I wasn’t going to figure it out all by myself. I did a lot of research and spent hours online. I think I googled stupid things like, “How to start a business.” “What business licenses do I need?” “Will I go to jail if I do this?”
ON WHY SHE WANTED TO OPEN A SALON: I love the beauty industry. I like helping people feel beautiful, but I know the industry can be very superficial and the prices can be astronomical. That’s why I want [Wild Oleander] to be a place where people come in and get a really good service and not be, like, ‘Well, I can’t pay my bills now!’
ON THE UNEXPECTED HURDLES: I wasn’t expecting how hard it was to hire people. I thought it would be a piece of cake. I’ve had no-shows for an interview 20 or 30 times. I’ve had people not show up to do their paper work or not show up for training. I was very surprised because we pay competitively and we offer commission. I also wasn’t expecting how long everything actually takes. We did a pretty fast job in terms of renovation. We didn’t start physically renovating until the end of March. Getting your business license takes longer than you think. And if you have a certain budget, you better double or triple it.
ON WORKING WITH HER FAMILY: My business partner is my step mom [Catherine], and she’s amazing. She made my dreams come true. We had our family do a lot of the labor. My step mom’s nephews did all the electrical, and her other nephews installed the air conditioning. They all live on Long Island. It became a fun thing for us all to be here and order pizza and work until 4am. It’s nice that everyone is really invested in the business.
HER ADVICE TO FUTURE BUSINESS OWNERS: The advice I received that really rang true was not to rush into hiring anyone. Bring people into your circle who you really trust, love and who are as passionate about your business as you. I wrote down a list of five names and asked myself, ‘Who would really want to be invested in my business?’ Now, all five of those people are somehow involved. I’ve always done everything on my own, even though people have told me not to. Learning it’s okay to ask for help has been a big life lesson for me.
ON SUCCESS: I don’t think successful people ever feel they are successful. I feel like once the people around me who are counting on me start feeling successful, then I will. If they reach their ideal level of happiness, then I will feel that way too.
ON DEALING WITH STRESS: There were days when I would be so stressed, I would not eat for an entire day. I would be so hungry and in such a bad mood. When you don’t sleep, it’s pretty easy to get into the cycle of, ‘I’m just going to get up and go, and not eat today.’ So talking it through with people who understand has been very helpful and therapeutic for me.
HER BIGGEST SACRIFICE: Sleep. I honestly didn’t know I wouldn’t sleep for four months. Now I get about six hours of sleep a night and I feel really calm. And I have no social life. I can’t remember the last time I went to a restaurant. I used to cook every night, and now I just order Seamless. So if you open your own business, just realize you’re not going to sleep, you’re not going to eat healthy and you’re going to order a lot of pizza.
BEST SELF-CARE TIP: One thing I always do is get my nails done and make sure my hands look nice. I’ve been drinking coconut water every single day to stay hydrated. And I make sure to wash my face at night.
ON BUILDING HERSELF UP AFTER SELF-DOUBT: I don’t even know how many times I’ve cried during this process. I’ve had moments where I’m like, ‘What did I do? I’m so stupid, I just made the biggest mistake of my life. I’m going to fail.’ It happens to everyone, especially when things don’t go the way you plan. I think you just have to remind yourself that no one is going to do a better job than you, and no one is going to work harder. I had to remind myself of how far I’ve come. I don’t want to fail anyone else, so I just remind myself that [failure] won’t happen.
ON THE LADY GUN WHO INSPIRES HER: It’s definitely my step mom [Catherine]. When I told her I was going to get a business loan and open a salon, she said she had the same dream and vision. She became the financial business partner, just like that. She has just been so generous, but the fact [that] she believed in me so much was just shocking. [Catherine] and my dad aren’t even married anymore, but she’s always been so amazing to me and my three siblings. All my friends love her. She takes us out on her boat. She’ll go to the bar with us, pick up guys for us and bring them over. She’s been a really good partner. She let me have all the creative freedom. I’m still in shock— I can’t believe she helped me do this. She’s a kick-ass step mom.