For almost an hour at Oak Park’s Victoria Salon, the scene is of any beauty parlor on a quiet Saturday afternoon. Locals gossip through the snips of wet hair as others relax quietly, getting lathered up with a coloring brush. No one seems to have paid any mind to the small sign out front that says, “Appearing Today: Elvis.”
“Have you seen Elvis?” the salon’s co-owner Frank Platis asks a customer. “Oh, he’ll be here soon.”
As patrons of varying ages either break into hysteric laughter, awkwardly smile or coolly nod along, fellow owner Victoria Rau and stylist Martin Antonio Lopez begin to do the twist as they sing along. The patrons are getting a first-hand look at what has become a routine service at Victoria Salon: live entertainment.
When Rau, an Oak Park resident, was not satisfied with the management style at the salons where she previously worked, she decided to start her own business. She teamed up with longtime friend Platis, a community theater actor who had been laid off by the public library. Neither anticipated that Platis’ secret weapon would give their shop an edge over the competition.
“At first, we were just running a salon. Then there were some days where I’d get antsy and I just starting doing things,” Platis said. “And people enjoyed it. So we said, ‘You know what? Why don’t we just start cutting hair and doing entertainment?’ ”
Eight months later, the dancing, singing and impersonations have become a staple at the local salon.
“Whenever Frank gets the whim and I hear everybody cracking up, I know what’s going on,” Rau said. “I turn around and he’s dancing and imitating Elvis Presley.”
Both Platis and Rau are part of a large Greek-American community in the area. They describe their relationship with an ambiguous title used in many small ethnic communities, “kind-of cousins.” They see the entertainment as an extension of their business philosophy, which is to offer a welcoming atmosphere.
“I wanted people to feel like they were coming home, coming in and having a little bit of the Greek hospitality,” Rau said. “I’m very proud of my heritage.”
It doesn’t seem common to be brought into someone’s home with warm greetings and small plates of delectables, followed by an impromptu sing-along to “Love Me Tender.” That hospitality might make some of us text a significant other with “FAKE AN EMERGENCY!” before politely excusing ourselves because our girlfriend is sick after eating some bad clams. But Victoria Salon does have an indescribable, welcoming feeling.
It’s a small, cozy space with a smart interior design. The prices are competitive but on the more reasonable end of the range. Men’s haircuts are $30 and women’s are $45 to $60, while manicures are $21 and pedicures are $45.
Upon entering, little spots of Greek influence jump out at you, whether it’s Rau’s sincere, maternal welcome, offers of coffee or homemade Greek cookies, or the display of worry-beads and scarves made by “Aunt Kiki.”
Platis and the gang are not exactly Broadway performers — far from it. Platis has just three or four slightly outdated impersonations in his repertoire: Elvis, Fred Astaire, John Travolta and Patrick Swayze. But there is something in his confidence and his satisfaction for performing that has a sweet, affable “Waiting for Guffman” charm to it.
“I like working in a salon because it’s a service business. When people come in, you want to make them happy,” Platis said. “It’s kind of like acting. You want them to feel good when they leave. That makes it real fun.”
Another image that comes to mind while watching Platis strut around is a dad trying to be funny in front of his kid’s friends. “I think that the entertainment is worth every penny of my manicure,” patron Anne Rumsell said in between fits of laughter.
Other customers have nothing but good things to say about the salon.
“It’s interesting,” Jennifer Alexander, a weekly regular, said cautiously. “It’s a fun group. People definitely seem to like it. Rau and Platis are very charismatic, very animated people.”
A couple of patrons also noted that regardless of what you think of Victoria Salon’s entertainment, the owners’ sincere efforts to make people feel at ease are refreshing in a town with 10 salons in a one-mile radius, some of which greet you with stuck-up and fake attitudes.
“A lot of places have a very pretend soothing atmosphere,” Alexander said. “This place has a real energy.”
Rau says the hardest part of the job so far has been finding reliable people. The store is currently hiring and looking to take on more employees with a similar type of singing, dancing attitude.
“First they have to cut good hair,” Platis said. “But after that we are looking for people who like to entertain.”