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Hand Job Founder Will Nguyen Promises Unforgettable Mani-Pedi Experience

Hand Job may sound lascivious but its staff is harmless. The salon, located at 565 Castro St. between 18th and 19th streets, is quickly becoming a neighborhood sensation with its pun-themed products and services. (photo: Bill Sywak)

By Xander Piper

Already tourists wanting to experience the Castro's unique sense of humor are stopping to get a picture in front of the sign of the neighborhood's newest nail, skin care and massage salon. Open since August, the cheeky locale Hand Job has attracted a lot of attention.

“When the name came up I just couldn't get it out of my head I thought it was so funny,” said Will Nguyen, founder and co-owner of the trendy new hangout, located at 565 Castro St. between 18th and 19th streets.

Although the conventional wisdom is that the current economy is unkind to new business, especially in the luxury services of high end nail salons, that didn't stop Nguyen from trying. His pilot store on Divisadero Street was doing well but he knew the racy title had one home, Castro Street. “I knew if I didn't do it now I would never do it,” he recalled.

His family is steeped in the business with two older brothers who own salons and a cousin as well. Kevin Ho, his business partner and Hand Job's chief aesthetician, contributes his 15 years experience in skincare work. Nguyen tells his story very graciously, giving credit to a wide network of friends who helped him follow his dream, from those that cheered him on, to an interior designer friend whom he credits with doing a wonderful job on a very low budget.

The salon is a well-appointed blend of Asian and modern styles. Behind a metal mesh curtain are couches strewn with pillows featuring prints of Chinese women. Lounge chairs are set up in front of large ceramic bowls where customers can be pampered by up to three workers at a time. Off to the side in the main room is a stylish tea bar matching modern accents with Japanese fans. A selection of black and green teas from China and Japan are all available in loose leaf and steeped in individual clear cups. The signature service is the “Million Dollar Handjob,” where a customer receives extra pampering as three different aestheticians administer a manicure, pedicure, and facial together.

As well as their menu of more moderately priced services, Hand Job offers “Ladies Night” the first Monday of every month where woman receive a free eyebrow pluck with a manicure pedicure (men are welcome to stop by as well). The salon hopes to expand its theme nights and already has a “Bear Night” in the works.

The tongue-in-cheek humor of the title is found throughout the salon's menu. Nguyen had studied marketing at Berkeley and is hoping to eventually add merchandise that capitalizes on his suggestive puns. However, a petition of nine parties, some of them competitors in the area according to Nguyen, recently found the name less than savory and objected to it as he sought his massage permit from City Hall. As a result, a petition of over 60 signatures was put together to in support of Hand Job, which eventually received its permit for massages, which Nguyen expects to begin offering this month.

Hand Job seems to be the kind of business made for the Castro neighborhood, wedding high style with irreverent humor. Nguyen is very pleased with the change of address. “It's a very open and creative crowd in the Castro,” he said. “Most of my clients are small business owners, successful and very fun people.”

Creating a pleasant atmosphere for customers is his main goal. Will explained that he tries to live his life by the words of Emily Dickinson: “If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.”

Hand Job is located at 565 Castro St. (415) 863-2243.