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Skin in the game: Spa continues family tradition in downtown Missoula

Kindred Skin+Sole Jacqueline Kukay is following in her mother’s footsteps with her new downtown salon. (Jessie Crowley/5 Crow Photo)

Filling a niche in downtown Missoula, where the retail neighborhood is friendly, Kindred Skin+Sole carries on a family tradition.

Owner-aesthetician Jacqueline Kukay provides express luxury services and a place for customers to escape – even for 30 minutes – into a relaxing facial, pedicure or nail manicure at her 115 W. Front St. shop.

“We are right on Front Street across from the new Merc Hotel, so we have great visibility,” said Kukay. “We fit in downtown because we’re a new fun business growing and near other women-owned businesses, which is fabulous.”

Next door is APORTA, a designer textile, knitwear and accessories company at 117 W. Front and nearby is The General Public, 112 W. Front – both women-owned shops.

Kukay follows in her mother Lisa Pilato’s footsteps. Pilato ran Claws and Nail Lounge, a downtown spa, for 16 years in the Hammond Arcade building on the corner of Front Street and Higgins Avenue.

“I worked with her, then took over from my Mom, rebranded and expanded into this location,” said Kukay, one of three sisters – all aestheticians.

Entwined in the Kindred logo is a tree, representing her family tree.

“We are back to where we started with my Mom,” said Kukay. “My sister owns a couple of facial spas in Colorado. My other sister is an aesthetician and Mom is a nail technician. We stay grounded and have branched out.”

Kindred held its grand opening on Aug. 20, although it’s been open since June 17. Kukay was hyped about the turnout.

“We did 20 percent off all services and 25 percent off all retail. We had live music and drinks and visited. We probably had 100 people show up,” she said.

A university student who’s a client won a facial treatment for a full year at the grand opening.

Comfort and relaxation on the run are Kukay’s selling points, though the Kindred business model does not include private spa rooms for clients.

“We are a facial bar,” said Kukay. “Our facials are side-by-side. We are not spa-like; we are more open air. It’s still quiet and relaxing, but it’s express services.”

That means clients looking for a much-needed break from daily stress can either walk in for a 30-minute facial or book a session online at

The point is to provide clients with a short break without breaking the customer’s bank.

“We wanted to make it affordable,” she said. “There are options for more fluff service or make them as quick as you like … so you feel relaxed. The service is lovely and feels longer than that.”

Prices start at $45 for a basic facial, plus options. Basic manicures start at $25 and pedicures start at $30.

“I just wanted a space where women can come in and hang out and just be present,” Kukay said. “My mom represented that well. She had a lot of the same clients who watched me grow up and are now watching my kids grow up.”

Kindred’s side-by-side stations provide relaxation and a quiet, nurturing atmosphere. (Jessie Crowley/5 Crow Photo)

The mother of two teens, Kukay invites a wide swath of clientele. Many of her customers were Claws and Nails regulars.

“Fortunately, we are getting a lot of new ones. It’s a mixture: a lot of college girls, a Mom brought in her son yesterday for a pedicure, which was great, and men’s facials – they’re not afraid to get things done. That was our goal.”

“In a few weeks, Kukay will host a Teen Back to School event for high school girls and their mothers to learn how to start a healthy skin regimen.”

Kukay employs six nail technicians and four aestheticists, all Montana-state certified. Aestheticists specialize in skin pampering. Someone with a full cosmetology license can work on skin, nails and hair.

Kukay studied at the Concentric Healing Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

“It was a super unique school,” she said. “Since it was holistic, we learned Reiki and holistic services, but we don’t do that here.”

Leaders in the local spa industry eschew ruthless competition in favor of camaraderie and filling specific niches.

“We all have our own specialty and a way to contribute to Missoula. I think we’re all really unique enough to be able to support each other.”

Already downtown are Sorella’s Salon and Day Spa, 207 E Main St., and Cedar Creek Salon and Day Spa, 110 Carousel Dr.

In September, Skin Chic will open a second location in the former Missoula Mercantile location, now a Marriott Hotel with a variety of shops, after being in business at various locations in Missoula for 18 years.

“I think it’s super cool that they’re all locally owned and not franchises,” said Skin Chic co-owner Jennifer Clouse of the spa shops.

“I’m friends with a lot of aestheticians in town — we all know each other and give advice,” said Kukay. “It’s been really interesting in how we can all help each other. I’m so grateful for it. I would like to think that men in this town are doing the same thing for each other. I hope we can help each other succeed and I can instill that in my son and daughter.”

Coming full circle, Pilato now works for her daughter as a nail tech.

“Kindred is our common connection, so we’re hoping you leave here as friends,” added Kukay.

Story Renata Birkenbuel with the Missoula Current

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