Wednesday, August 3, 2011



Fourteen years ago this November, Ella Carol Hunt opened her popular Caracalla Spa in the Heights.

For two years prior, Ms. Hunt had carefully planned out the spa after having visited a number of day spas around the country. Since opening Caracalla, planning and developing spas has become her forte, and she's helped a number of spa owners get their businesses off the ground.

For the Little Rock spa, everything was painstakingly detailed towards fulfilling her vision. That included installing surgical lighting, providing a double water filtration system to ensure the purest water, and selecting the name, "Caracalla." Ella, who has some Italian ancestry, has visited Italy several time for hair shows. Later, she became enamored of the famous Caracalla spa outside of Rome, because it was "democratic."

"It was the first in recorded history for everyone, the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated. They had areas where kids were taught. There were healers. It was so large, it was just enormous."

The bath complex could accommodate more than 1,600 people at a time. The site also had two public libraries and a number of shops.

Ella wanted that democratic feel, not just a spa that catered to the elite. And she wanted it to be integrated into the community.

"It was born out of not doing something fancy. When we opened the spa, we wanted more of a community feeling. I don't like attitudinal hair salons.

"I didn't like a lot of the spas I visited, especially in the South. I had to dress up to impress them ... . They had it right longer ago. It should be about customers being served."

For her, the name "Caracalla" denoted a willingness "to heal, to serve."

"That's what took my breath away about the name," she said. "Even though we are in the Heights, and the Heights is old money, it's a beautiful, relaxing atmosphere. It's not stuffy, not highbrow.

"It's not about you being beautiful when you come in. It's about us doing for you. It should be about the customer - always."

Caracalla has two associates who do facials, two who do manicures and pedicures, four body workers, and seven stylists.

"The quality of our hair stylists is amazing."

She loves the fact that a stylist has the opportunity to make a client feel better. You have the opportunity as a hair stylist to make someone feel great - not just creating a beautiful hair style, but by being a friend in a pleasant atmosphere and teaching a client how to maintain a look with quality products.

"No one is paid commission on products. If they recommend it, it's because they truly want to help your hair be better."

As an aside, Ella said that although many salons are still offering the "Brazilian blowout," Caracalla will not do the procedure.

"The Brazilian blowout is seriously poison," she warned, adding that one of her stylists wound up in the hospital from breathing the fumes. Her spa now offers a natural relaxer instead.

Caracalla offers extensive massage services, including Reiki, hot stone massage, sports massage, pre-natal massage and couples massage.

"Michael Dawn is a bodyworker who worked for us for years, and he was the 'most popular' massage therapist we ever had. He is back! He moved to Kealakekua, Hawaii, for five years and worked at one of the top national spas in America called the Hawaii Healing Ohana. It has been ranked in the top 10 nationwide!"

Speaking of top rankings, Caracalla 's body wraps are winners too.

"We won a national award for our body wraps, because they are hand-made from organic flowers and materials. We don't use anything that is 'store bought.'

"We do some really nice body scrubs with Dead Sea salts and hand-made organic oils and flowers."

Ella makes the ingredients herself.

"I don't buy anything in a tub. It costs me more time and money, but that's the beauty of it and what makes me want to keep doing this.

"We sell our products nationwide. They are all organic, and we've done really well with them."

The manicurists there offer the new shellac gel nail polishes that are not only good for your nails, but last for about three weeks.

Folks who perform facials have a new tool, LED lamps, that are quite beneficial, she said.

And, she said her body work associates are "just fabulous."

"We have the two best wax people in the world. They are wonderful. People just love them."

And when someone doesn't have a good experience at Caracalla, Ella encourages them to e-mail her. The spa offers "so sorry" gifts. "We want to admit we made a mistake and correct it."

In addition to the spa services, Caracalla offers vintage items at Christmas and lots of jewelry year round.

"All of the jewelry we sell is hand-made by individual artisans I connect with. And the hair clips. This stuff I love. You get to know the people who create it, and you're helping feed the little guy."

That's a nice touch, because Ella started out as one of those young artists trying to make ends meet.

After studying art at Fayetteville, she worked as an artist and was successful, having exhibited in The Delta. Convinced that she needed another vocation to help support her art, she decided to go to barber school and then trained as a stylist too.

"I thought I'd get in and get out and support my art, but I just loved it. It really is much more fascinating and complex than you would think."

Ella worked as a stylist for 13 years at one salon, and was happy there, but felt like there was more out there for her.

"I had been there, done that, learned as much as I could and was ready to venture out and take a big step."

She studied spas for two years and saved her money. In addition, she sold her home. "I am not married and had no family money.

"I went to every spa you can name out West and down South and some in the East."

Ella took the best from what she saw and came up with lots of innovations of her own, such as her on-line scheduling system created by local software engineer Troy Rinker. It allows the staff to check and shuffle appointments from home computers or I-phones.

She also pre-adds tax into the total price of products and services for the convenience of customers. And she's tried hard to be an integral part of the neighborhood.

"We are now opening up a space for community gatherings. We will offer it to businesses and individuals at minimum to no money. We have seating up to 24. Anybody interested can e-mail me at"

Associates at Caracalla will be teaching free classes there too on such subjects as how to stretch and yoga.

"I really want to serve all. Giving back to the community really means everything to me."

Ella said Caracalla went through a stressful phase for a time, when associates were leaving, and she was struggling to learn how to be a better manager.

"I'm not good at management, I'm good at design," she said frankly.

Now she feels the spa has turned the corner.

"Caracalla is going through a huge transition. It's becoming this incredible place. One of the things I've noticed, really great people keep walking in the door.

"The last three associates we hired are all three past business owners ... . Rhonda Bauman owned a day spa/salon, and Anna Hoerrmann owned a salon. Stephanie Johnson is in the corporate department and owned a salon and day spa in Woodstock, Georgia. So she brings so much knowledge to the table, it benefits all of us!

"It just feels like a family there now. I feel like this might be my favorite time at Caracalla. I am grateful. It is turning into what I always wanted it to be."

Story by Bobbi Nesbitt in the August 2011 issue of Shoppe Talk.

Check out Caracalla on Facebook and on the web at

Ella Carol Hunt Profile

Ella Carol Hunt

Tell us about your family. I have a sister who is a chef. My brother is a doctor, and I have a sister who works with me.

You said you have no children and are not married. Do you have an extended family of friends? My best friend is Cathy Browne. She and her husband are the owners of Hank's Fine Furniture. I met her in Florida. My massage therapist there said, there's someone here from Arkansas you should meet. I was really not interested, but we met, and now we are best friends. My other best friend I met over the internet, Nancy Hopkins. (Ella said their common interest was Borzoi dogs.) She's helped me learn a lot about dog language. I have two best friends who work for me, Meredith Hawkins and Don Edwards. And Quendy Gaither, who worked here for 13 years. She moved to Fort Smith to teach school and get married.

Is there anything you'd like to learn how to do? Be a better boss. I just don't think I've learned the joy of bossing. I don't even like the word "boss." I like "leader." To me, they are not staff, they are associates.

Where do you live? In the Heights.

What's your favorite city? New Orleans and San Francisco.

What would you do if you won a large lottery? I would open up a small retail business, mostly green, on a beach in Florida.

What do you like to read? I end up reading a lot about management stuff. I like self-improvement books. I love reading Cesar Millan's books. Two of my favorite books on business that have been great tools for me are Why We Buy and Corporate Lifecycles.

Who's your favorite writer? Vita Sackville-West.

Where were you born? Columbus, Georgia. I grew up in Florida on the panhandle.

Do you have any pets? Luther, a Borzoi. He's the first dog I've ever had in my life. He's such an amazing creature. (She ran him in a recent competition in Texas.) I haven't ever trained a dog, and he took two places and was the best in show.

Do you have any hobbies? Running my dog, fishing, hiking and swimming.

What's your favorite food? Mexican.

Is there anything you would not eat? I'm not big on clams - anything mushy - clams, oysters, squid.

What's the most unusual thing you have in your fridge? Quendy Gaither made these cookies, and one was a snowman. He's about three inches long and he lives in there. He's like controlling the refrigerator. He's always there for me when I open the door.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? Cesar Millan, the Dalai Lama, and John Lennon.

What do you like to watch on the tube? I am a big fan of Suze Orman. I watch Cesar Millan. I love NOVA and Antiques Road Show and Til Debt Do Us Part.

Do you support any charities? Our favorite charity is the Little Rock Humane Society, and we give to a non-kill shelter out west. And we supported Brad Pitt's charity for New Orleans.

Is there anything you'd like to see Little Rock do differently? I appreciate the fact they did the bike paths and dog areas, and the Big Dam Bridge is awesome. I'd like to see those kinds of things in all areas of town. It gives a comradely safe feeling. It makes people feel more loved and safe and encourages health.

The nation? Let's start it all over.