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March 29, 2024

Hard Work and the American Dream

Hair Saloon News
Janna as a child
Janna as a child in Russia.

Picture this. It’s October 26, 2001, just a month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. You’ve landed at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago with your husband and 3-year-old son from your motherland of Russia. All the worldly possessions you could bring with you are packed in seven pieces of luggage, one of which you’ve just discovered has been stolen. The only three English words you know are “Hi,” “Bye,” and “Restroom.” It’s the first day of the rest of your life in your new home- the United States of America.

If you’re a guest who has ever visited Hair Saloon in Ellisville, you probably know Janna Melkumova. But you may not know how her story of life in America began. Janna loved her life in Russia. At the time, there was no political or religious discrimination to flee. Despite how Americans may perceive the country, it was a melting pot not unlike the United States with people of all nationalities and faiths. She had a loving family and friends and always thought it was where she would live for the rest of her life. So how did she end up in St. Louis?

It started with a brief conversation:

“Janna, congratulations!”

“For what?”

“We’re moving to America!”

Janna's husband and son in the family business.
Janna’s husband and son at work.

Janna’s husband’s lifelong dream had come true. He’d applied for and been approved to receive a Green Card to move to the United States. In his hands, he was holding a large white envelope with the word “Congratulations” on it. Inside was the paperwork and instructions they’d need to follow to take the next steps. Janna and her husband knew people who had been trying to get a green card for as many as fifteen years with no luck. To receive one on their first application felt like winning the lottery. She was filled with mixed emotions- sad to leave her extended family, yet excited for this new opportunity.

Janna’s sister-in-law had previously moved to the United States, married a man from Missouri, and made it her home. So, when Janna and her husband were deciding where to put down roots, they chose suburban St. Louis. A Moscow-native, Janna first had trouble adjusting to the laid-back vibe of life in the American suburbs. But this move was about creating a better life for their family, and finding an excellent school district for her son was a priority.


They had a strong desire to assimilate to life in America- to feel like a “dolphin in the ocean” instead of a fish out of water. To accomplish that, the family knew they needed to do three things:

  • Respect the people and customs of their new American neighbors.
  • Work hard – the American Dream was earned, not given.
  • Learn the language- the “key to everything.”
Janna at Cosmetology School graduation.
Janna at Cosmetology School graduation.

Janna’s husband got his first job in an auto repair shop, while Janna worked preparing the salad bar at her local Schnuck’s grocery store. They both began learning English. A singer in her free time, Janna won her coworkers over and earned the nickname “Salad Bar Cinderella.” Eventually, her husband completed coursework, earned his commercial driver’s license and was able to start his own trucking company. After a year and a half, Janna left her job to attend cosmetology school full-time, all while still learning the language.

For nine months, she got by on three hours of sleep per night while raising her son and studying new concepts in a foreign language. It was an exhausting endeavor, but she was able to pass her state board exams on the first try.

While she was in school, Janna still remembers the day a Hair Saloon manager came and spoke to her class about the opportunity to work for the company. She liked what she heard and a lightbulb went off.  She decided then and there that she was going to start her career at Hair Saloon upon graduation. Her career began in our original Manchester location, but she transferred to Ellisville soon after. This year, she’ll celebrate 20 years of service to Hair Saloon guests.

Literally thousands of guests have passed through Janna’s chair through the years, many of them becoming lifelong loyal guests. Janna says her large guest roster is a reflection of the attitude she takes to her job each day:

“If you decide to come work here, you have to make people happy. Regardless.”

Asked why she thinks her guests enjoy receiving services from her, Janna says the secret is pretty simple:

“I really care about them. I care about their family, their feelings, their life. I pay attention to their stories and try to remember the names of the people and the events that are important to them- the things that excite them, or even the sad things. I care about all the pieces of their lives.”

Janna and Rob Ramage
Janna with St. Louis Blues legend and client Rob Ramage.

Guests expect you to have remarkable skills in your trade. So that of course comes first. But social skills are just as important. Guests all come through the door with their own sets of responsibilities, priorities, and anxieties. This might be their one chance all day to just feel comfortable. With that in mind, Janna says it’s her goal to make them all feel like a king getting the royal treatment while they’re in her chair.

Through the years, Janna’s also enjoyed a front row seat to watching her son’s American dream develop. As a child, when he brought home a B on his report card he was sometimes disheartened that his mom wasn’t happy with the grade. She would tell him “Bs are good grades for someone else. But I am working hard to get you the best of everything. That’s my job. So it’s your job to work hard to earn it.” That work ethic has served him well. He received a full ride scholarship to Truman State University where he graduated in three years. This Spring, he’s set to graduate from the University of Missouri- Kansas City School of Dentistry and pursue his passion as a dentist.

Nearly 23 years have passed since Janna’s family touched down to start a new life in America. It wasn’t without struggle, sacrifice, and pain, but their story is a reminder of how fortunate we all are to call this great land of opportunity home, and how a better life is out there for anyone who is willing to work hard to earn it.