These days he is a household name and sometimes even mistaken for a local celebrity, but before he found fame and fortune, Hussain Rahal (also known as Hasoon Rahal) suffered loneliness, cried himself to sleep many times and sometimes had no place to sleep. Yet despite the hardships and setbacks, Rahal built himself into one of Alberta’s most well-known businessmen. While not an actor, his journey can certainly be told through a documentary worthy of being the next Netflix binge. But as local businessman that worked hard to change the face of Edmonton’s beauty and spa industry, and as a noted philanthropist that has donated millions in time, in-kind gifts and volunteer hours to the city, Rahal is happy to share his story here in Business in Edmonton magazine.
The story began when his father decided to sell the family farm in Lebanon and move his family across the ocean to make a better life for all his children in Canada. Rahal was 15 years old when he stepped off the plane at Montreal International Airport and discovered Canadian winters for the first time. He also discovered French, even though he could (at the time) barely speak English.
The family immediately began to question their decision, packed up and left… but not Rahal. He stayed because he was determined to build a better future for himself in Canada. With the type of dogged determination he would become known for, he sold newspapers, chocolates and t-shirts door to door to finance his dream of becoming a lawyer.
For a very long time money was tight. His brother gave him $50. Apart from that, nobody else gave Rahal support. Since he could not afford more than $3 for a haircut, his hair began to resemble a tumbleweed. His friends had enough of his bad hair days and suggested that he visit Marvel College for a cheap haircut by a practicing student. Rahal took the bus to Marvel College and waited patiently for his turn. As locks of his thick black hair started falling to the ground, he thought about changing directions. He was mesmerized by the relaxing atmosphere and decided that becoming a barber was better than becoming a lawyer. “A barber is like a lawyer because you tell your barber everything,” he thought. Plus, “nobody knows any good barber jokes!”
The very next week, Rahal enrolled at Marvel College. He continued to sell goods door to door during the early morning hours, attended class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and then went home and fell asleep, only to rise and do it all again next day.
After graduating, his first job was at a hair salon in Fort Chipewyan, an Indigenous community with a population under 1,000 people and located seven hours North of Edmonton. Rahal’s first customer wanted a perm. Rahal prepared the client’s hair but when it came time to rinse it, the water tap broke and blasted the client’s head with hot water. The client screamed and ran out into the street. Rahal was immediately fired. So, then he made his way to another salon and spent nights between shifts sleeping under a tree. He got pinecones in his hair, but this wasn’t a trend yet, so he had to brush them out each morning.
One day, around 4 a.m., a voice cried out and startled Rahal. An Indigenous man named Sam “the Man” was out hunting beavers. He took the fledging hairdresser in for about a year. Now Rahal had a place to live while he cut hair.
Eventually, Rahal had an opportunity to work at the Vidal Sasoon chain. He became one of Sasoon’s top educators and barbers. He was instrumental in developing Sasoon’s educational program and assisted the chain to grow into one of Canada’s largest salons, employing over 700 people at its peak. Rahal cut hair for members of the Edmonton Oilers, gave celebrities style advice and styled Air Canada’s stewardesses.
Although the “pinecones in your hair trend” didn’t pan out, Rahal thought that opening a Roman bath would be a good idea. He used some of his earnings from Sasoon’s to start the new venture, but it quickly fell flat. Edmonton was not ready for such a revolutionary idea. However, Rahal had a vision and he knew it would eventually become a reality. He told the Edmonton Journal to watch out for the rise of the spa/wellness industry in Alberta. He was right – spas of varying styles began to trend 15 years after his Roman bath concept failed.
Once again, Rahal was eager to lead the trend. He opened the first Spasation in 1995. Spasation was not just a hair salon; it was a complete spa, inspired by the wellness trends of Europe and the Middle East. Ten more locations soon followed, employing over 480 people. The largest location employed over 50 trained professionals. Rahal’s businesses expanded. Next, he opened the Hot Shears barbershop, which provides men with a haircut and a hot shave.
While Rahal is quick to say “thanks, God” every time he talks about his success, he addresses his challenges with the same level of pragmatism. Every venture that failed to take off, every door that closed, was a learning experience.
Rahal’s latest venture was to invest heavily in new technology. Spasation spent over a million dollars on advanced equipment to provide cryolipolysis, microneedling, vampire facials and many more high-level med-spa services. Once again, he hit the med-spa trend just ahead of when it was taking off in North America. While COVID impacted the takeoff of the med-spa division, Spasation is (now that restrictions are on the wane) storming up the ranks as the place to go for all your med-spa needs. Rahal has positioned these services to take place in the luxury environment that Spasation is known for, but at prices affordable to whomever wants to indulge in these beneficial, anti-aging treatments. To Rahal, both luxury and confidence should not be unattainable.
Rahal took COVID-19 personally because of its effect on his extended family – the nearly 500 employees of Spasation. The pandemic fallout permanently closed six Spasation locations since the spas went through the open/closed/capacity restrictions cycles during the height of the pandemic. Each restriction left the expensive, advanced and mostly imported-from-Europe equipment sitting idle.
Does this stop the entrepreneur? No. COVID is temporary. Rahal’s vision is eternal. He will continue to invest in new technology because it’s the way of the future. Spasation is setting the trends, not following them, and the entrepreneur knows that med-spa concept is the next wave in health and wellness. The specialists that were brought in or trained on the equipment speak to how it is a growing industry in North America. His team follows up this confirmation with praise for being able to work their trade at Spasation.
“Our employees are happy and loyal,” Rahal smiles. “We have a good working environment and Spasation has an excellent reputation. COVID-19 closed us down four times and cost us millions of dollars, but we ultimately survived because of our outstanding reputation.”
“Spasation,” he continues, “is trustworthy, honest and has affordable luxury services. Here, you can afford to treat yourself as we use the highest quality organic products on the market and we practice excellent hygiene.”
He’s pleased he was able to build the brand in the capital city. Having lived in Vancouver, Calgary and even Mexico, Rahal knows that he could have expanded his brand into Montreal, Vancouver and maybe even taught in the fine salons of Europe. However, “Edmonton has the ideal combination of lifestyle advantages, business services and fair taxes,” he says. For the record Rahal has not taken a penny for himself from the Canadian Government. “Not one penny,” he emphasises, while being proud of the fact that he contributes to the economy by creating jobs and paying taxes on his multiple business locations.
Humbly, Rahal is grateful for the opportunities that his community provides, and he makes great efforts to pay it forward locally and abroad. He has helped hundreds of new Canadian immigrants get settled in Edmonton so that they do not have to bear the hardships that he endured as a teen. He also contributes hundreds of volunteer hours to various local charities here at home and abroad. Rahal has had a hand in the upcoming “Edmonton Gibran Khalil Gibran Park,” in the WIN House women’s shelter where every Christmas he pampers over 50 ladies, and in the Hair Massacure where he has worked 24-hours non-stop to help raise over a million dollar for cancer research. Rahal has lent his time, money and talent to the Fallen Heroes: The Journey Home documentary, while also working with the local police and fire department through Neighborhood Watch. Despite all this he still makes time to work with the Canadian government and the United Nations.
As a testament to his reputation, the government of Lebanon appointed him as Honorary Consul, a five-year position he has just concluded. This is not the only way Rahal serves the multicultural communities in Edmonton – his service as a notary public has seen him process more than 14,000 documents, mainly for new Canadians from the Caribbean, Middle East and Europe. He is happy to donate his time as a power of attorney while helping new immigrants settle into the city. “As a notary I’m happy to serve anyone from anywhere!”
His giving back extends far beyond local borders. When the large explosion rocked Beirut in 2020, Rahal was instrumental in the fundraising and supply drive, which garnered him interviews on national television.
“We procured ambulances, fire trucks and equipment to help the needy people,” he says of collaborating with community partners, banks and officials locally and abroad. “We collected around $850,000 in donations.”
Rahal’s journey to success has not been without setbacks and rough times but success takes hard work. For years he worked six days a week, from dawn to dusk. Nowadays, he takes more time off – as a self made man, he has more than earned the right to slow down and enjoy the fruits of his labour.
Sitting back, he can fill in the details of his next vision. He plans a countryside farm-like retreat where hardworking parents, worn-out entrepreneurs and those living with chronic conditions or recovering from illness can rest, surrounded by nature while being pampered by wellness staff. It’s inspired by the European spa concept, but in an environment more familiar to Albertans.
Rahal’s message to the community – especially young entrepreneurs – is that long hours, hard work and focus are the keys to achieving your goals, no matter how big they are. We can all relate to his journey in some way; he is an inspiration to all of those around him. If you have benefited from a charity he has worked on or have enjoyed a day of pampering in one of his salons, now you know the story, the determination and the man behind the brand.