Celebrating Thirty Years in West County
Michael Stusser is the Owner & Founder of Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary
Inspiration of Japan
The inspiration for Osmosis was born in Japan the day I took my first enzyme bath in the spring of 1984, in a place called Cosmo Port on the island of Kyushu. As the healing warmth of the bath enveloped my entire body, I was relieved of a crushing nerve pain that had plagued my body for months. At the same time, I dropped into an indescribable experience of sensing the entire universe like never before; a vivid picture of a healing sanctuary with the enzyme bath at the core surrounded by meditative Japanese style gardens and gracious hospitality flashed before my mind’s eye. At this moment, I knew it was my calling to bring the concept of Japanese enzyme baths back to West County. I knew nothing about spas or business, but I found a partner in Calistoga who helped me to learn about how spas work.
Our Humble Beginnings
On November 11, 1984, the foundation was poured for the 400-square-foot enzyme bath prototype, built out of wood from a recycled chicken coop in a back yard. I worked with my friend Steve Stucky from the Zen Center to create a garden with a stream and beautiful stones to greet guests when they arrived to the hillside setting in Calistoga. The first baths were offered in May of 1985.
My tools of the trade were a snow shovel, wheelbarrow, sifting screens, and a 1950 Chevy pickup truck with a long bed and tall sides. For years I shoveled, sifted, and hauled tons of sawdust as I searched different sources, trying different wood species, and delivering the mix to the spa in Calistoga every week. It was a slow start and building people’s interest took time. It was a hand-to-mouth time financially and I lived in the same room that I received guests, managing to store my bedding and keep a basic kitchen in a four foot by four foot storage area.
In the fall of 1987, an article about the enzyme bath was published in the Sunday section of the San Francisco Chronicle. The phones went crazy for months. There were far more people wanting to come than either the Calistoga outlet or the prototype could handle; it was time to start looking for a larger place. I saw an ad in the classifieds for a commercial property in the bucolic village of Freestone. When I went to see the place, it was really hard to visualize how it could be nice. The property was run-down, with an enormous amount of junk stacked up on the five acres. The back of the property along the creek was an undisturbed wilderness paradise that called out for love and protection.
After lots of soul searching, I decided to go for it. It took an arduous 18-month process of fundraising, designing, and working through 18 governmental agencies to find out if it could really even happen. In the end, permits were issued, investment money came in, 400 cubic yards of debris were removed, and a total renovation of the property was completed for an opening on November 11, 1989.
Up and Running
After launching in Freestone, the recession gradually lifted. My cousin Susan Stein, who had an extensive background in hotel management, showed up as the first hospitality manager for Osmosis, applying her exceptional expertise and talent to the emerging company culture. As the boom of the 90’s unfolded, things really took off and the business grew. Outdoor massage areas were added and the building was expanded multiple times. Outside of Calistoga, Osmosis was one of the only businesses of its kind in the area for years. We were in the New York Times and a feature story on Bay Area back roads aired on Super Bowl Sunday in 1997 that packed the house for months.
In 2000, Osmosis Day Spa began the construction of a Kyoto-style meditation garden designed by a world expert on Japanese gardens and built by Zen priest Steve Stucky and his landscape crew. It has been meticulously curated since then by two dedicated garden artists. This garden has become recognized as one of the most authentic Japanese style gardens in the U.S. and adds an enormous aura of tranquility to the Osmosis experience.
Our Commitment to Sustainability
In 2006, we doubled down on our commitment to sustainability and conducted a total eco-renovation of the property and our operations including putting in a constructed wetland to recycle all the gray water from the spa. We founded the Green Spa Network, which has become a national organization supporting environmental consciousness and practices within the spa industry.
Over the last decade the whole gestalt of Osmosis—the services, the place, and the people—has become like a magic balm, with a distinct flavor all its own that is quite palpable and substantial.
Our staff of nearly 80 serve guests seven days a week, bringing forward the original vision with freshness and fullness every day. The core values of beauty, kindness, and healing have provided the foundation for a workplace of giving and friendliness. When we hit November 11, 2019, commemorating 30 years in Freestone, we celebrated how much the Osmosis creation has touched so many people.
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