deLegge: asheville's international entrepreneur
by pat beebe
a little of her story, you are surprised by the slender, vivacious blond
with the stylish haircut, expressive blue eyes, and dimpled smile who
greets you at DeLegge European Salon in Asheville. She is, you think,
too young to have experienced so much, to have come so farfrom
cloistered childhood in Communist Poland to award-winning hair stylist
and international entrepreneur. But you sense great strength in this
single mother, a certain resolve, an energy that embraces all of life
and what it brings. And you believe it.
axis of her world shifted for the first time when Jolanta Dominiak was
nine years old. That was the year her mother got on a bus near their
home in Wroclaw, Poland, with a tour group traveling to the Czech Republic
and Yugoslavia, and when the bus came back, she wasnt on it.
when Jola was 15, her father explained about living in a communist country
and that everything she read in the history books was wrong. And at
17, she was on a plane slicing a three-thousand mile rip through her
life, hurtling toward an abstract place called America and the stranger
who was her mother. When she landed in Los Angeles, the pattern of ordinariness
dissolved for Jola, suspended, it seemed, in a constant state of impending
disaster: L.A. was such a scary place. I couldnt drive a
car and my mother told me it wasnt safe to hitchhike like I used
to do in Poland, or even ride the bus or walk the streets by myself.
I felt imprisoned and I wanted to go back to my familiar life.
anxiety persisted and she saw signs and portents everywhere: I
was afraid of black cats, broken mirrors, stepping on cracks in the
sidewalk, walking under ladders. And when an earthquake hit on
New Years Day 1979, and she felt the ground literally shift beneath
her, it was one sign too many: I told my mother we had to get
out of there.
had never been Anna Dominiaks intention to be separated from her
daughter for so many years. When she walked away from the tour group
in Yugoslavia she simply wanted to escape the oppression of a bad government
and a bad marriage, and ensure a better life for her child. She would,
she thought, find that better life in America. But, isolated as she
had been from the rest of the world, she had no idea how long the process
would be. There was the year spent in the immigration camp in Italy
waiting for passage, and the five years in Los Angeles before she could
become a U.S. citizen, and the two years it took to get a passport for
Jola. In fact, it took the intervention of then Senator Bob Dole, to
untie the red tape. A friend of Annas who was big in L.A.s
Polish community commandeered the senators ear at a breakfast
one morning and suddenly the waiting was over.
the years they were separated, Jola had received hundreds of letters
from her mother promising their reunion and new life in America, but
when the dream became reality it brought with it an overwhelming sense
of finality. It was her first attack of nostalgia, or tesknota
a Polish word that also connotes sadness and longing. There is a touch
of it even now as she narrates her story and speaks of her semiannual
trips to see her father and check in on the salon she owns in Opole,
the earthquake, Anna and Jola loaded up a U-Haul and headed for Seattle
and the familiar loyalty and affection of another Polish community.
Although she already had completed high school and one year of college
in Poland, Jola needed a U.S. high school diploma to get a job and she
enrolled as a senior. Following graduation she worked for a short time
as a bank teller, which helped perfect her English, but she found it
confining and not creative.
to her liking was the opportunity to see the world that the airlines
offered a flight attendant. She flew first for Continental and then
for Northwest. But when the opportunity she was waiting for came
to fly Northwests international flights it involved a move
to Minneapolis, and her new American husband refused to make the change.
followed many dark years with an abusive spouse who couldnt hold
a job. To make ends meet, Jola resurrected an idea of becoming a hairdresser
she had toyed with in Poland. There, she hadnt been able to find
the necessary apprenticeship, but here in America such a career might
be possible. She got a student loan for $5,000 the cost of the
best school she could find completed the course, and went to
work for one of Seattles most prestigious salons. But as the babies
began to arrive first Dominick and then Louis the cost
of childcare became prohibitive and Jola left the salon to set up shop
in her home. There were many times when there wasnt enough
money for food or gas, but my friends would come to my house so I could
do their hair and we survived, she reflects.
slowly she began to realize that she was losing herself. Stripped of
self-confidence by her husbands constant barrage of verbal abuse,
she was increasingly unable to make decisions. One day, standing in
front of a grocery store dairy counter unable to decide between
butter and margarine she knew that once again it was time to get
out. Anna and her second husband, who were living in Tampa, drove to
Seattle, helped Jola and her sons escape in the middle of the night,
and returned with them to Florida. And there the axis of her world shifted
weeks after the move, Jola and her mother were on the beach one day
with her sons, when Jolas ex-husband suddenly appeared with his
new girlfriend in the car. He sprayed mace in Annas face, grabbed
the two boys, and headed back to Seattle. When the police detective
told Jola he had 95 cases just like hers: I just said, no,
youve never had a case like mine. Ill get you anything you
need to get my sons back. And I did. I called my friends in Seattle
and they helped me collect all kinds of information about my ex-husband
even his girlfriends social security number. Five
days later, the ex-husband was in jail and Dominick and Louis were on
their way back to their mother.
was a definitive turning point for Jola: I learned more about
myself in that one week than I had in all of my life up to then
that I was strong and self-sufficient, and cool under pressure
and, most important, I got my identity back.
the next few months Jolas hairdressing career shifted into high
gear. The opportunity to work on photo shoots with a Vogue photographer
led to her selection as Toni and Guy Hairdresser of the Year for the
east coast. When the owner of the salon where she worked refused to
let her publicize the award or even post any photos of her shoots, she
began to look around for new opportunities.
a new-found confidence, Jola began practicing visualization, picturing
a new reality for herself and her children. She sent letters to seven
prestigious names in the salon business and then visualized them opening
the letters and calling her. Six of them did just that and she chose
the best offer from Matrix, a division of Bristol-Meyers.
was preparing to launch its beauty products in Eastern Europe and hired
Jola to handle the market analysis (her first) and product introduction
to the salons there. She sold all her belongs in the U.S., moved her
sons to Poland, hired a nanny, and completed the venture so successfully
that Matrix offered her a permanent job. But Jola had developed her
own idea of what a salon should be and wanted to give it a try.
was six years ago. Today there are twelve employees in her Opole salon
and five in the Asheville salon she opened in 2001. She had come to
Western North Carolina to see Anna who had moved here following the
death of her second husband. Although she was looking for work, she
had no intention of opening another salon. And then she saw a for
rent sign on a Hendersonville Rd. shop she had visited and it
seemed like destiny.
still lives a bicultural life, traveling between the salons she owns
on two continents, but Western North Carolina is home now. She lives
with Anna and Dominick and Louis, all of whom help in the salon from
time to time, and they have put down roots here. Jola was recently nominated
from among salon owners in 20 countries for a global award as Beauty
Entrepreneur of the Year in a contest being run by the Price Center
for Entrepreneurial Studies at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of
been a long, bumpy journey -- from frightened child abandoned by her
mother, to confident young businesswoman and international entrepreneur.
But Jolanta DeLegge no longer lives coiled against the next dislocation
in the center of her world. Rather, you sense an energy and desire that
draws her toward the world and the future whatever it brings.
And you know she can handle it.
U.S.salon is at 1089 Hendersonville Rd., Asheville 28803, telephone
828-277-2008. Her website is www.deleggesalon.com
moved to Asheville from Westchester County, New York, in late 2000.
In 1989 she had left a 15-year IBM corporate communications career to
venture into the world of freelance, handling writing and other corporate
assignments in the U.S., the Far East, Europe, and South America. In
March 2003 she and a partner established Carolina Image Builders, a
public relations agency based in Asheville. [ 828-687-0077 ]
DeLegge hasnt forgotten where she came from, and she wants to
make sure her sons dont either. What began in Poland five years
ago as a way to put Dominick and Louis in touch with less fortunate
children, became an international event this past holiday season. On
the day after Thanksgiving, Jola and her staff in the salons she owns
in Opole, Poland, and Asheville, donated all proceeds from services
and a percentage of retail sales to childrens homes in both locations.
As a result, the young residents of Ashevilles Eliada Home for
Children and Polands Turawa Orphanage had a merrier Christmas.
the past five years, DeLegge has staged similar holiday events in her
native country, contributing thousands of dollars to help support the
Turawa home. This holiday season, the two salons contributed a combined
total of more than $4,000 to the Turawa Orphanage and the Eliada Home.
Activities in both salons were broadcast through DeLegges recently-established
direct satellite link that allows real-time viewing of either salon
by the other.
began with a Christmas party she staged in 1998. That year, she, her
children, her father, and a family friend collected gifts and food,
and delivered them to the Turawa home on Christmas Eve. Jola believes
the experience changed her sons lives. When 13-year-old Dominick
was offered the chance to earn some money the weekend of the 2003 event
by helping a family friend clean up a flooded basement, he agreed to
be paid only on condition that his earnings go to the children.