Luxury and relaxation at The Kura Door Holistic Japanese Spa

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Photos courtesy of The Kura Door Holistic Japanese Spa

by SHAANTAI LEARY

On the corner, in a quaint neighborhood surrounded by brick homes typical of the Avenues neighborhood, sits a lovely stucco-style building surrounded by trees, bushes and vines; an outdoor patio completes the peaceful picture. A solid wood door establishes the entrance to The Kura Door, a holistic spa located at 1136 E. 3rd Ave. in Salt Lake City.

The massive door is an actual Kura door. In Japan, they are used in the family’s treasure house. Inside the treasure house are several chambers and the Kura door is used for the innermost chamber, which safeguards the family’s most valuable treasures from typhoons, fires and theft. This door was considered very important to the family.

According to the spa’s description of its services, “Our own entrance is adorned with such a door, a door that stood in protection over 150 years ago in Japan and stands again here today as a symbol of the integrity with which we guard our most important treasures – our guests.”

The woman at the front desk checks in guests and offers them comfortable sandals to wear instead of shoes. This helps reduce noise and dirt as guests walk on wood and bamboo floors through the two-story spa. Also, it is customary in Japan to leave one’s shoes in an entrance hall to distinguish the home from the outside environment.

It is very peaceful inside the spa. From the moment a guest makes an appointment to the moment she (and occasionally he) walks out the door, each guest is treated like royalty. A personal locker, showers, sauna and steam rooms and scented, organic lotions are just a few of the amenities that leave guests feeling as if they are a part of the Kura Door family.

A passerby, smiling and looking to the ceiling as if it held the answer, described the atmosphere saying, “There is just something about the Kura Door.”

And for those who have jumped on the green movement, the Kura Door is right up their alley. The spa is a completely green building, with insulation made from old denim, chemical-free paint and state-of-the-art water and air purification systems. In fact, all of the water in the building is recycled using an osmosis process.

The spa was started for a cause. Ali Kulmer, 35, and her husband Mark Kulmer, 37, began the business to help people find a way to heal naturally by finding their inner beauty and making their body better from the inside. Ali Kulmer’s mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and after several different types of natural treatments, she is now cancer free. She was a driving force behind the creation of the spa.

The Kura Door sees many cancer patients as well as those just looking for some relaxation. Guests don a thick, white kimono and relax with a cup of organic herbal tea while they wait to be called for their treatment. The spa is really about one’s well-being and the health of the body, rather than vanity. Consequently, guests won’t find a hair salon or technicians applying acrylic nails. The Kura Door does, however, offer a very wide variety of options to spa.

The Web site features a “How to Spa” page that advises novices to hydrate the body in advance and arrive about 20 minutes early to avoid feeling rushed. This will allow the body and mind to take a break from its busy day. An array of massages are offered, including Seisei, ShiatsuSamurai, Japanese Stone Massage and Four Hands Massage. The most popular treatment is the Kura, what the spa calls its “signature massage.” The unique massages range from 30 minutes to two hours in length.

The Kura Door also offers three body treatments to suit each guest’s needs: the green tea and ginger sea enzyme body wrapancient volcanic ritual and the traditional Javanese lulur body ritual, which “was originally designed as a ritual to prepare a bride for her wedding day.”

In addition, 12 different facial treatments, five different pedicures and six types of body enhancements are offered. Guests can pick and choose the treatments that sound appealing, or consult the Kura Door’s experts for suggestions.

Andy Lynner, 41, is a licensed massage therapist who has been working with the Kura Door since the spa opened in 2003. “It’s not just that we hand them [guests] their robe, let ’em wander around, fend for themselves. It’s really about making sure that they know where everything’s at and if they need anything, they can ask us for that,” Lynner said.

Amanda, 27, director of guest services, has been with Kura Door for more than two years. She said “it’s not just about coming in and getting a service; we really try to create an experience for them (customers), from the moment they step in the door.”

Amanda had been working at a spa in Park City as a massage therapist, when she came to the Kura Door and received a Thai massage. She realized that if she were going to work anywhere, it would be at the Kura Door.

During her visit, she said she was able to sense the spa’s “good energy” and employees’ happiness. She also observed that the spa “was very aesthetically pleasing but still felt warm.” Amanda said that combination can be difficult to achieve. “Either everything looks really perfect, but kind of feels cold, but here they’ve kind of figured out how to do both,” she said.

The Kura Door’s staff take customer satisfaction very seriously. Co-owner Mark Kulmer said, “We want someone to come in here and feel like it’s their house.”

The Kura Door has even won awards from City Weekly, such as “Best Day Spa” in 2008 and “Best Sake Soak” in 2009. As well, Salt Lake Magazine recognized it for “Best Pedicure” in 2010.

Unlike most businesses, the Kura Door’s gift certificates never expire. And, to ensure that customers are satisfied with their purchase, Kulmer said the spa keeps track of every certificate that is sold just in case it is misplaced or stolen. In November, the spa began offering weekly specials, such as a discount on a specific type of pedicure. When gift certificates valued at $100 went on sale for $90, Kulmer said the spa sold 25 certificates in just 15 minutes.

Business picks up around the holidays and during the fall and winter months. The Kura Door also is usually very busy on the weekends, so the best time to visit can be a Monday or Tuesday. Kulmer said the spa has between 500 and 1,000 clients who come at least four times a year.

The Kura Door has 61 employees and the establishment can do 15 appointments at any given hour. Kulmer said if an employee decides to leave, she usually goes away for a sabbatical and then returns. Those who do not come back to the spa stay in touch; the spa works like a business but staff interact like a close family.

Kulmer used to hate to work; he dreaded every day that he had to go in to work for someone else. “When I get home from vacation, I can’t wait to get to work,” Kulmer said, describing his newfound passion, his business, which is the Kura Door.