Zoya Reyzis fills many roles: Pianist. Wife. Mother. Grandmother. Patron of the arts. Raconteur.
She is also a Ukrainian immigrant who made good as a businesswoman. And she has the stories to prove it.
A classically trained pianist whose musical education began at the age of 7 in the former Soviet Union, she put her music career on hold after immigrating to Cleveland in 1978. From 1986 to 1996, she worked as a nail technician at ZOYA, the salon in Beachwood that she opened with her chemist husband, Michael.
"We were marriage counselors, psychiatrists, lawyers and best friends with these women," Zoya said.
From that modest beginning, she and Michael launched Art of Beauty Co. in 1996, after clients began clamoring for a nail-drying product Michael invented called Zoom Dry. Art of Beauty also manufactures Zoya nail polish (more than 300 colors) and Qtica hand, nail and body treatments.
The company won't disclose employment or sales figures, but its products are sold at high-end cosmetic counters and salons around the world. The Associated Press described Art of Beauty as the "manufacturer of the world's leading natural professional nail care products and cosmetics," and the October issue of Allure magazine gave the company a Best of Beauty award for its Zoya Remove Plus Nail Polish Remover."This award is a huge honor for any cosmetics company. It's like an Academy Award in the beauty industry," said Erin Giddings, who does media relations for Art of Beauty.
Besides helping to run the business, Zoya teaches piano and sits on several music boards, including the Cleveland International Piano Competition, or CIPC, and the Women's Committee of the Cleveland Institute of Music. Her lyrical world view and gift for the art of narrative have resulted in a collection of human-interest stories that all revolve around the salon and its customers.
"There's something intimate about the 30 minutes a manicurist spends with a client," Zoya said. "I related each phase of the service to a part of a musical composition: Exposition (the removal of old polish); development (nail shaping, filing and cuticle care); recapitulation (applying new polish). Everything is music to me."
Karen Knowlton, executive director of the CIPC, has known Zoya and her husband for 10 years. "She has a story for everything," said Knowlton. "She's a dynamic personality."
Those stories range from funny to bizarre to tragic to humbling.
Funny: When Zoya and Michael were first setting up shop, they encountered language and cultural barriers. The East Side of Cleveland was very different from Odessa in southern Ukraine.
"We met a woman who had emigrated from Russia," Zoya recalls. "She was a professionally licensed masseuse. She approached us about opening her business in our salon. We liked the idea because the massage was a very popular part of the spa culture of Eastern Europe.
"So Michael puts an ad in the paper saying that we had just included a new massage parlor in our salon. We soon found out the meaning of a massage in this country was very different from our country. We had men lining up to get massages. We had to throw them out of the place. They wanted something different than what we were offering. It became so much trouble, we dropped it all together."
Bizarre: "I was doing a client's nails once, and it was very apparent that this woman was in fact a man," Zoya recounts. "The hands were too large for a woman. There was makeup covering the stubble of a beard. But this person was absolutely pleasant, and we were chatting away. Then I looked down at the service order and saw that the client had ordered a Brazilian bikini wax. That's the whole thing. This could be a problem.
"My mind was racing. I was trying to think about what I would do. What I would say. I was flustered while we were talking because I was trying to figure out what my plan was going to be. I decided that when we went for the wax, if it was evident he was a man, I would tell him we do not do bikini waxes for men. It was a salon policy. That's what I made up in my mind.
"Then we went in the room for the wax. I looked and it was clear. He was no longer a man. I did the wax. He, now she, must have had the operation recently."
Tragic: "There was a woman who brought her elderly mother in every Saturday to have her nails done. It was a standing reservation. I always enjoyed catching up with both of them. They'd been clients for years. Then one Saturday, the older woman seemed distant and uncommunicative. I thought maybe she wasn't feeling well. Her daughter seemed a little concerned. She was staying closer than usual as if she was observing her mother.
"When I was done and it was time to wait for the nails to dry, the woman immediately went in her purse for her keys. The nail work was ruined. So was the inside of her purse. Her daughter and I just looked at each other. There was an awkward pause. I would later discover this was another recent indication that the woman was developing dementia. She never came back to the salon again."
Some clients treated the employees like servants.
"A woman came in one day and was all put out because her nanny had called in sick on the day of her nail appointment. She was forced to bring the child with her to the salon. The child was 4 years old and bouncing all over the salon being disruptive. Just when the woman's nails were painted, the child had climbed up on a high counter and fell over backwards, hitting his head on the floor. And was wailing.
"The woman was alarmed but not about to ruin her newly painted nails by embracing her child. She stood over him but holding her hands away in the air shouting, 'Someone pick him up and make sure he's all right!' "
Humbling: Zoya came back from a business trip last year with what is arguably her most astounding tale.
A classically trained pianist whose musical education began at the age of 7 in the former Soviet Union, Zoya Reyzis put her music career on hold after immigrating to Cleveland in 1978.
She and her husband were in Milan, Italy, and decided to take in the opera. Afterward, they were having a hard time finding a cab to get back to their hotel. They asked a guy hanging around the street if he had any suggestions. He had time to kill and offered them a ride in his chauffeured car.
Michael Reyzis complimented him on his English. The man told Reyzis he was Irish.
They said they were from the United States. He said he had several homes in the United States. Michael asked him what he did. He told them he had a band.
"I'm Bono," he said.
"What is Bono?" Zoya asked.
"Haven't you heard of U2?"
"We've played at the White House. For Nelson Mandela," he insisted.
"Do you think you are Bach or Beethoven?" Zoya asked him.
"She almost made him cry," said Michael.