Owner Getty Gizaw calmly surveys the organised chaos around her while greeting clients with a never-waning smile. Today is particularly busy for her – one of her managers has had an emergency, so Gizaw is manning the front desk. Even with one staff member gone, no customers are turned away, and Gizaw happily makes a plan to accommodate them.
“The motto here is: there is no ‘no’ at Soho,” Gizaw says with a grin.
The salon works on a first come, first serve basis. The fact that there’s a short wait doesn’t seem to faze customers. If Rihanna deems Soho the place to be, then who are they to argue? Rihanna isn’t the only celeb who has had her famous digits beautified at the salon – Samuel L Jackson, John Legend and locals like Lira and Dion Chang have all had their turn in the chairs.
Gizaw’s connections as well as her quest for perfection are probably responsible for the high-profile clientele that frequent the salon. The enterprising entrepreneur is the founder of G2 Media Inc, a successful marketing, event and public relations company in the US that has brought many international names to our shores, including Jay Z, R Kelly, Shakira, Bill Clinton, and Beyonce.
“I was born in Ethiopia but left there as a kid,” Gizaw explains in between steadily handling customer requests and staff queries.
“What happened with my marketing company was, I started coming here as a teenager and meeting people. A radio DJ wanted to bring so and so here, and I said, oh I know their producer. It really started because I knew people in the States. I started my company before I even finished university. Bringing people to Africa became our niche.”
It was during a visit to South Africa with R Kelly that the idea for Soho came about.
“The irony is that R Kelly’s biggest hit is I Believe I Can Fly. He’s afraid of flying – it took me a year and a half to get him to come here!” Gizaw says with a laugh.
She produced Kelly’s performance at the opening ceremony of the World Cup.
“The crazy thing was that it was the first time that I had spent three and a half months here. I had very limited time and I needed a mani and pedi. I was so frustrated that in a country that is so advanced in so many ways, there was nowhere to get a quick, basic treatment,” Gizaw recalls.
It was this frustration that led to the creation of Soho.
“My normal career and what I do here are very similar. When you produce events, you get to see the crowd’s reaction. Here you get to see how people react to how they look,” she explains.
Gizaw’s attention to detail is evident in Soho’s design as well as the way it’s run. Each station is named after a place in New York, and the outlet is made to look and feel like a New York loft. Nothing is coincidental, and each element serves a functional purpose. Much like a city apartment, space is an issue in the store, so every available nook and cranny is used. Pedicure stations resemble airline seats, with tray tables for laptops, plug points and chargers for cellphones and a cubby hole for handbags – Gizaw is pedantic about hygiene and wouldn’t dream of making you put your bag on the floor.
The most notable thing about Gizaw is that, while she has had access to celebs and statesmen, she remains unaffected. She treats everyone from staff to clients in the same no-nonsense, warm way.
“You look like someone stole your lunch money,” she says jokingly to a tired looking deliveryman, who leaves beaming after a bit of banter with Gizaw.
She’s also involved with every aspect of her salon, pointing out almost invisible specks of polish on chairs and taking time to chat to customers enjoying treatments.
“People always say that I’m very hands-on. I don’t know any other way to be,” she says with a shrug before running off to tend to another customer.