Even though Brian Mitchell co-owns Bellissima Salon, 10325 N. La Canada Dr., he said he doesn't know a thing about styling hair, massages or facials.

But his fiancee and business partner, Mara Ratinoff, knows plenty, which is why Mitchell calls Bellissima her "baby."

"I just handle the business end and that's it," Mitchell said. "Mara handles the rest."

"The rest" covers a variety of salon and spa services, including hair styling and coloring, manicures, pedicures, facials, skin treatments, massages and hair removal.

"This opens up a whole new world for me, Ratinoff said. "Since I own the salon, and with all of the business aspects of it, I feel like I'm out of my element even though I'm in my element. But once I get behind the chair, I feel like I'm home again."

Mitchell and Ratinoff, who has been a hair stylist for nine years, became engaged in February. Ratinoff knew she wanted to move from her home in Phoenix to Tucson to be closer to Mitchell, but still wanted to continue her career as a stylist.

"It was my destiny," Ratinoff said when asked how she came to be a hair stylist. "My mom went into labor with me while she was in a salon, and then she dragged me into salons all over the world."

But continuing her career in Tucson didn't prove to be as easy as she thought.

She began looking at salons in town, but couldn't find one that met the high-end standards she had been used to in the salons she worked at in Phoenix, including Rolf's, one of the most exclusive salons in the Phoenix area.

"I told Brian that the only way I would work down here was if I owned my own salon and could do things the way I wanted," she said.

As fate would have it, one day a few months ago Brian was looking through the newspaper and saw a 'for sale' ad for an Oro Valley hair salon, the Village of Camelot.

Mara quickly made arrangements to pack up her things in Phoenix and move to Tucson.

"We just packed my world up and talked to the owner the same day," Ratinoff said.

Then came the difficult process of negotiations, but everything came together on July 2 when the salon officially became Bellissima, which means "beautiful" in Italian.

"I've always loved that name," Ratinoff said. "I've had that name in the back of my mind for years. Brian said I should name it something like 'Mara's Place' or something that had my name in it, but so many people have come into the salon and said they just love the name. I just think it's very classy."

Knowing that there weren't any upscale salons in the Oro Valley area, Mitchell said he knew the location was perfect, not to mention that it would finally bring Ratinoff to Tucson.

"I bought the salon out of love," he said and glanced at Ratinoff who rolled her eyes.

"You bought it because it was a really good business opportunity," Ratinoff said.

That has indeed proved true for the couple, who said in just the one month that it has been open, Bellissima has increased its business by about 400 percent.

Ratinoff estimated the salon already has a couple hundred clients, including several newscasters from Channel 13, whose hair Ratinoff does for their broadcasts.

"The phone is just ringing off the hook and we haven't even really started yet" said Ratinoff, who will be styling hair as well as managing the salon, which is undergoing some major renovations.

Mitchell said in order to provide the upscale services, the look of the salon must fit the part.

"The previous owner left us a really nice canvas," Ratinoff said, including all of the salon's Italian-style furniture and equipment, but she said some smaller details need to be taken care of.

Some of the major improvements will be removing the fluorescent lighting and replacing it with recessed lighting, painting, adding a sound system, creating arched doorways, a new front counter and soundproofing the massage and aesthetician's rooms.

"We really want it to be a total experience for people," Mitchell said. "We bought a dishwasher so that our clients can drink out of nice glasses, and they'll even be able to have a glass of wine while they're here."

Mitchell said the improvements will be finished in August and the salon is still maintaining its regular business hours, Tuesday and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Evening hours are also available by appointment.

Mitchell said his 20-year background in wireless communication sales might seem like a big contradiction to owning a hair salon, but not so.

"Business is business," he said. "A lot of things (in the wireless business) we've been able to encompass into Bellissima."

For example, Mitchell said people in the Oro Valley area should be getting a direct mailer within the next few months that details the services Bellissima has to offer. There will also be two open houses at the salon, one for V.I.P.'s in September or October, and one after that for the public.

Mitchell and Ratinoff said what makes Bellissima unique from other upscale Tucson salons is the smaller, more personalized atmosphere and the 14 employees that work there, including six hair stylists, two nail technicians, two massage therapists, two aestheticians and one pedicurist.

"You're only as good as your people," Mitchell said. "We want it to be a fun place where people can be proud to come to work."

Ratinoff added that employees will be constantly educated about new techniques and styles to make sure everyone knows what is "fresh and new."

In the future, Mitchell said they might consider opening two or three more salons in Oro Valley.

Mitchell, who had been a district manager for AT&T until his position was recently eliminated, said he might consider getting back into the wireless business with his best friend and best man, Joe Christiani, who owns several wireless stores in Tucson.

"But we just want to get this place up and running first, and get some positive cash flow in here," Mitchell said.

For more information about services and prices, or to schedule an appointment, call 877-7916. Ratinoff recommends clients schedule appointments at least two weeks in advance.

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