After moving from Karmel Mall, Ritual Med Spa owner Sagal Abdi and manager Sabrin Ali found their new business didn't qualify for pandemic aid. That support went to preexisting operations. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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The outside of the Uptown building where Ritual Med Spa is located still has plywood covering the windows, left over from the unrest after the killing of George Floyd by police last May. And then there’s the pandemic, which has closed businesses across Minnesota.

Not ideal circumstances to launch any new venture, particularly one offering beauty treatments.

But owner Sagal Abdi, her sister and manager Sabrin Ali, and their small staff are working through the challenges, serving a handful of faithful clients a day in a bright, airy second-story space finished in beige and light green, and décor inspired by natural landscapes. 

Just opening the new facility is an achievement, Sabrin said. “This is the first Somali medical spa in the United States. That’s proven fact!” 

A medical spa can provide a far wider range of services than a “day spa.” Ritual Medical Spa offers facials, a variety of laser treatments, skin rejuvenation, and massage, as well as specialty treatments like cupping. They also do chemical peels to smooth the skin; dermaplaning, which uses an exfoliating blade to skim dead skin cells; body contouring; full-body waxing; microneedling; and services specific to darker skin, like treating hyperpigmentation.

Ritual Med Spa, located on Hennepin Avenue near 28th Street, is open to everyone, but many of the customers are Somali and East African. Many of these clients had previously sought out Sagal at her salon, Sagal Beauty Salon, located in Karmel Mall. Sagal ran the salon for 11 years, but a little over a year ago decided she needed a change.

 “I wanted to be still in the beauty industry, and just add some fun to it,” Sagal said. “I was tired of doing hair.”

Sagal Beauty Salon has now been transformed into a beauty supply store, where Sagal sells her own beauty product line, including shampoo and conditioner, and various hair and skin products. Like the medical spa, which is separate, her beauty line offers some of what’s missing from mainstream stores for people with dark skin.

“We specialize in melanin, because we’ve learned that there was a gap in education for melanin skin tone,” Sabrin said. She added that while the spa specializes to customers with darker skin, they cater to everybody.

Sagal said she chose a new name, Ritual Med Spa, rather than the name of her previous business in part to cater to a broader audience, including people of all different races. “This business is not only for us, it’s also open to everyone else,” she said. “That was the reason why we had a new name, so that we can invite everyone in. Everyone should feel welcome.”

“We’re so thankful the community stepped forward and said, ‘We’re going to make you win,’” Sabrin said.

‘This is one of my favorite success stories’

Sagal was able to get CARES Act funding for her beauty supply store business, because even though it changed from a salon to being a supply store, it was still an established business. The spa didn’t qualify for pandemic relief because it hadn’t opened yet.

“We were about to open, and Corona happened,” Sagal said. “We closed for another four months, and after that, we opened.”

Business hasn’t been great. The spa generally serves between three and six clients a day. 

“We’re blessed if we have one client; we’re blessed if we have 20,” Sabrin said. 

“You know, we managed,” Sagal said.

“We opened up in a time when people couldn’t pay the rent,” added Sabrin, so they had limited expectations. “As the pandemic hit, we literally changed our narrative.”

The year of preparation for the new business included Sagal going back to school for laser treatment to add to her cosmetology license. The business also received support from the African Development Center, where Sagal took classes in business and entrepreneurship, and got a loan to purchase equipment for the space.

Ayan Abdinur, a program manager and loan officer with ADC, said Sagal is a hard-working business woman, and ADC wanted to help her expand her business. “Ritual Med Spa is very unique to our community,” Ayan said. “I like her vision, and we support innovation.”

The programs ADC offer help clients think about a five-year plan, and to find ways to save money and re-invest, Ayan said. That’s tough in a pandemic. “Every business is struggling right now,” Ayan said. “Honestly it’s been a bit frustrating for this type of business. They can’t get the COVID relief because they are new.”

Yet Ayan says she’s proud of what Sagal has accomplished as a woman and a minority business owner “This is one of my favorite success stories,” she said.

Ayan has herself tried out some of the services at the spa. “I got a facial and a massage. It was amazing,” she said. “She might be the first med spa in our community.”

Ritual Med Spa is in the midst of re-pricing its services in order to appeal to more customers.

“As far as clients go, financially our services are a bit expensive for them,” Sagal said. She added that the spa has been working with clients to offer discounts, as well as extra sessions in order to build up that customer base. “So far, with the situation that is going on, we are surviving.” she said.

“Being still able to pay employees, still able to pay our bills, and still turn a profit during a pandemic” Sabrin said. “We’re blessed.”

*This story has been updated to include additional information. 

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist. You can find her dance writing at the Star Tribune, and other writing at places like City Pages, Minnesota Monthly, the Southwest Journal, and...