A rice farmer’s daughter from Arkansas, Michelle Venne wanted to honor her heritage when she opened Southern Serenity Salon and Spa in O’Fallon two years ago.
“We live in a very chaotic world. It is a Southern tradition to slow down and enjoy each moment,” she said. “I wanted to bring the South up here. I wanted people to feel at home and experience the hospitality I had growing up.”
That’s why oversized rocking chairs are placed in the waiting area.
Venne recently celebrated relocating to larger quarters at 125 Springfield Court, which is on the other side of South Lincoln Avenue, where her first place was.
She transformed an old 4,000 square-foot insurance building into a relaxing and safe atmosphere. Among the new features are an ADA-compliant bathroom, wheelchair ramp, and elevator. A pavilion outside and a lower level can be used as event space.
She opened July 1 and hosted a grand opening and ribbon-cutting Tuesday, offering food and sweet tea.
Venne is a cosmetologist, massage therapist and esthetician. She offers all the services spas do — massages (men, women, couples, pregnant mothers), mud body wraps, hot stones, paraffin dip, manicures, detox pedicures, waxing, facials and more. She employs five people.
“It was my dream to own a salon and spa. At 46 years old, I finally did it,” she said. “So far, so good.”
She grew up in Slovak, Arkansas, a town of 86 people.
“And they are all my cousins,” she said, smiling.
“I come from a hard-working rice family. Our blood is in the dirt there. We didn’t have city amenities. Growing up, our playground was outdoors,” Venne said. “I grew up on catfish, deer meat and a garden.”
Something was triggered inside her one day in 2003. She was driving to a college class when she passed a cosmetology school. She pulled into the parking lot and changed her life.
As a spa operator, Venne focused on clientele wanting to feel rejuvenated — to release muscle tension, have mental clarity restored, release energy and renew a sense of well-being.
As an Air Force wife, she traveled in Europe and observed spas in different countries, gathering ideas and calming techniques. Her home state, Arkansas, is home to some of the oldest spas in the country, she pointed out.
In 2015, Venne moved to O’Fallon. In May 2019, she opened her salon in the small office space near Southview Plaza.
Challenges posed by COVID and — a Black Widow
She started on expansion plans but then life was disrupted when the coronavirus pandemic was declared in March 2020. Because of the public health emergency, her business couldn’t be open during lockdown.
But another challenge is nothing new to her, she said.
“It was a huge stress, being closed. But once we opened back up, we were booked solid. We have a very supportive clientele. They’re like family to me,” she said.
They returned to revamping the new place. Her two daughters — Cecelia, 14, and Mia, 11 — helped during the COVID-19 quarantine.
“The kids and I ripped up carpeting and wallpaper in the new place,” she said. “Our church friends came to help.”
Another setback happened. Venne was bitten by a black widow spider and underwent reconstructive hand surgery.
“I made it through,” she said.
‘A great melting pot’
Known for her Southern charm, she will regale clients with hilarious stories while she is pampering them. A nurturer by nature, Venne said she enjoys meeting new people.
“O’Fallon is a great melting pot of every nationality,” she said.
Now surveying her new space, Venne remarked she never could have imagined the growth of her operation. She rents chalet space to local entrepreneurs wanting a new beginning — experts in yoga, deep tissue Thai massage and a nail technician are among them.
She has staff working seven days a week.
“We all have different schedules — our staff and then the women who rent chalets,” she said.
For more information, visit the website, www.southernserenitysalonandspa.com or call 314-301-9262. People can schedule appointments online.