Returned missionary brings a piece of Thailand to Provo with ‘Fish Kiss Spa’
PROVO, Utah — A sidewalk in Utah County is an ocean away from where Jameson Tanner spent two years of his life.
“It was totally different to say the least, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said, reflecting on his LDS mission while standing in the sun outside his business in Provo. “My dad actually served his mission in Thailand 30 years earlier.”
The country hooked Tanner — and when he returned home, he couldn’t wait to reel in a couple of high school friends. He soon returned to Thailand on vacation, along with William Wright and Porter Willis. The school of three quickly waded into the culture that had such a powerful impact on Tanner.
What they encountered saturated their minds. They took a canal of inspiration, and used it to catch a career.
“The first reaction is the best part,” Tanner said, gesturing to a customer about to plunge her feet into an aquarium.
“When I first saw it, it was like ‘What exactly happens?'” Tanner said, reflecting back on his first experience spotting the practice in Thailand. “I saw a video of a friend doing it, and I was thinking ‘He must be crazy, what is he thinking?’ All the little fish came and started nibbling his skin, and I thought ‘Does it hurt? He’s laughing, it must be ticklish.'”
“We don’t know who said it first,” Willis said. “We all just kind of had the idea together. As soon as we did it, we brought some other friends with us. We wanted them to try it immediately after.”
“We got to thinking, if we want people to try this because it’s so fun, we felt like people would do the same thing here in Utah,” said Wright.
Although their customers tend to wriggle a bit at the odd sensation, Willis is on hand to calm any concerns.
“They have like really strong lips, and so they are seriously just like kissing your feet,” he said to a couple who’d just begun receiving the treatment. “Like you’re putting your feet in a bottle of Coke.”
You can call it a pedicure in a pool, or just a way to shed some skin — but either way, these aquatic entrepreneurs observed an opening, and dove right in.
“A lot of people in Provo have traveled, and they’ve seen this done in other countries, but they haven’t done it here,” Wright said. “They want their friends and their family to try it. And so once we brought it here, people would come and say ‘I did this in Bali,’ or ‘I did this in Indonesia, and I’ve always wanted my family to try it.'”
“We wanted to bring a culture not of the Utah/Utah County feel to Provo,” Tanner said. “And we thought, what better way to do something like this than to bring a fish spa from Thailand, Indonesia, that part of Asia, here.”
The imported the fish, commonly referred to as “doctor fish,” from Indonesia. So far, they’ve been soaked with success — despite some initial challenges.
“Who’s going to give money to some knucklehead, 20-odd year-old people?” Tanner said, thinking back on their struggles to get funding.
“The minute we got home, I think it was the day of, the day after, we met with a small business development center counselor down at UVU. We learned that it wasn’t as hard as we thought, and then a couple weeks later, we learned that it was as hard as we thought.”
“We got here, got the building, and worked 96 hours a week, ate one meal a day,” Willis said.
“We actually did three free days for Provo,” Tanner said, proudly speaking of his marketing plan. “Through social media, we invited influencers, things like that, and they came in before we opened.”
Their plan seems to be working — Willis says most Saturdays, they have a line of customers outside the door.
All three hope their new business continues to snag new clients. But the friend who first set foot in Thailand might just take whatever he catches in his net, and use it to sail back to his second home.
“I would go back in a heartbeat,” Tanner said. “If I had a million dollars, I’d keep going back. Every year.”
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