The Journey from Refugee to American Business Owner
By Molly Marley
If you ever feel like Roswell lacks the amenities of a thriving metropolitan, just make an appointment at LuLu Salon and Day Spa where you will feel transported to a glamorous shop that could easily be in Paris, France. LuLu has an ambiance that instantly welcomes and relaxes you, offering top of the line services at competitive prices provided by a friendly and professional staff. The salon opened in Roswell in August 2015 and owners, Roaa and Yasser Saadoon, are committed to serving their clients by continuing to grow their business and bringing the latest styles and techniques to their town. Today they have a thriving business with plans for expansion, but their journey to success took lots of hard work and determination.
Roaa and Yasser were both born in Iraq and left the war-torn country as children, with Roaa moving to Jordan and Yasser to Lebanon. Growing up in the Middle East, Roaa went to a prestigious academy to become a hair stylist and worked in her family’s salon in Jordan. Yasser was trained in men’s hair and had his own salons in Lebanon and Iraq. As 20-somethings, both made the move to America as refugees settling in Dallas, Texas, though through the process neither was certain at first even what country the United Nations would send them to. The life of a refuge is difficult, especially when you leave behind your friends, family and career. “I start from zero. Under zero,’” shares Roaa, “It was a shock for me. No family and I’m the baby. It was hard for me.”
In Dallas, the refuge program set both Roaa and Yasser up with jobs working at Blockbuster Video where they first met. Roaa admits that it was hard starting over and working for someone else when she was used to working in her family owned business back home. One thing that made the transition easier is that Dallas is home to a large Arabic community where Roaa and Yasser made friends who spoke their native language. After settling into life in the United States, Roaa was ready to get back to her passion of styling. She went to every salon she could find in Dallas seeking work that would help her gain more experience, especially wanting to learn techniques to work with African American hair, which was not common in Jordan. She also worked in New York where she studied and received more training in a variety of hair techniques. With a desire to constantly improve her craft, Roaa observed everything she could, even offering to clean salons and wash hair for free just so she could learn more.
Meanwhile, Yasser moved to Amarillo, Texas to take a job with a company painting airplanes. Looking to grow in the business, his supervisor, who previously worked in Roswell, suggested Yasser look into Dean Baldwin Painting and put in a call with his former employer. Yasser made the move to Roswell and started work the next week with Roaa coming to visit when she could. Established in a good career, they decided to make Roswell home, and Roaa moved here the same day they were married. Once settled and ready to get back to work, Roaa transferred her stylist license from Jordan to New Mexico. Instead of starting completely over, she was allowed to attend beauty school for a lesser number of hours to prove she already had the skills needed. Next came the hardest part, passing the two written tests. Roaa didn’t learn English until she moved to Roswell and shares that taking a test in another language was extremely difficult. “I spoke nothing in English,” she explains, “I didn’t even know about ‘yes’ and ‘no.’” Despite this major hurdle, she passed and was ready to start serving clients in her new town.
Roaa quickly established herself through her dedication to offering the best services to her clients, all while learning to speak, read and write English for the first time. She and Yasser then decided to take a leap of faith to open her own shop. Yasser adds they were especially nervous about the venture since they just bought their house the year before. “It was so scary,” Roaa revealed, “We are alone. Just me and my husband. Anything happens it [would] mess up everything.” Yasser assured his wife, “It’s ok. If we lose, we lose. It’s no problem. I trust her because she does good work.” He found a new building on Main Street and secured a lease as the first shop to move in. Even though they were starting the business alone, they got lots of advice from their families and Roaa notes that modern technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with family, even with the time difference. “When I wake up I always call family,” she adds. After struggling to find the perfect name for their new business, Roaa discussed it with her mom who suggested ‘LuLu,’ her childhood nickname and she instantly knew it was perfect. “I wanted an easy name and a beautiful name,” explains Roaa, “When I move here nobody call me LuLu. I forgot my nickname. Now when I see my name, I remember my mom.”
Although Roaa was scared the first week, she was shocked and grateful when they were busy on their first day of business and continued to see new clients every day, thanks in part to letting her work speak for itself on social media. Yasser helped at first by working at the desk and cleaning the salon. When they began to see more men coming in looking for a barber, they struggled to find someone. Roaa suggested that Yasser also transfer his license to the United States. Though he was hesitant at first since this was his wife’s salon, he followed Roaa, going back to school so he could begin working with clients. The couple has made it their mission to bring the best techniques back to Roswell and offer the same service you could get in the finest salons all over the world.
Roaa and Yasser think it is important to continue to invest in their training so they can best serve their clients and keep up with the latest trends. They attend hair shows all over the world to bring back what they learned to their clients in Roswell with their priority being healthy hair. In 2017 Roaa and Yasser traveled to Dubai when they were selected to attend the exclusive Mouniir Dubai Hair Show to focus on the best color techniques, which is their specialty. Roaa says she tries to go to every hair show that is close so she can keep growing as a stylist and building her salon, sharing that when she puts her name on her work she wants it to be the best. Yasser points out, “Small towns, everybody knows everybody, so here there is no space for mistake.” Being the best means continuing to take more classes and add more certifications to her portfolio, so she can bring more services to Roswell including microblading hair removal, skin tightening, and tattoo removal, just to name a few. “I want to make people happy,” Roaa adds.
With experience gained all over the world and job offers to move elsewhere, Roaa and Yasser are committed to providing their services in Roswell. “I love the people from Roswell. My favorite people,” Roaa exclaims, “I want to make this is my home. I want to make it amazing. I want to make it better. USA is my home.” They continue to spend their free time studying the latest fashions and celebrity hairstyles because, as Roaa explains, “I want to bring the best to Roswell. I want to bring them [clients] everything nice. My clients touch my heart. My clients are my friends.”