Two years ago, Karen Sheppard opened Ciao Bella Salon and was one of the very first advertisers Venice Lifestyle was proud to launch this magazine with. We featured Karen’s grand opening in our very first issue in January2019, have checked in with her regularly, and are proud to feature her again in this issue, our 24th, two full years of hard work success for Karen and Venice Lifestyle both!
Karen and Ciao Bella have truly thrived since we first featured her. Starting with four people on her staff, today, Karen’s Ciao Bella boasts nine team members, plus Karen herself, who works in the salon daily. Featuring full hair service and styling, eyelash extensions, eyelash lifts, micro-blading, permanent makeup, and in partnership once a month with Simply Renew Medspa, Botox, fillers, facials and much more, Ciao Bella can offer its clients absolutely everything. Karen and her staff are highly experienced and love what they do. Karen has made Ciao Bella a welcoming home-away-from-home for her clients, where they feel like part of the Ciao Bella family.
“I like to say, ‘All I do is stand around and talk all day,’” Karen laughs and says. “But this is all I ever wanted to do. I love doing hair, making my clients feel beautiful, and getting to know them. We have a fun environment here and everyone gets along. I like to think of what we do here at Ciao Bella as ‘Casual Elegance.’ We are upscale, but also very affordable.”
Karen’s story began in Bangor, Maine, where she grew up. After finishing beauty school there, she opened her first salon, ‘Cutting Loose’. But the harsh Maine winters took their toll.
“I remember standing in a bank one day and it was so dark and miserable outside,” Karen recalls. “I thought, ‘I have to get out of here. I have to see palm trees.’”
Her mother had retired to Englewood. So in 1993 Karen packed up her children, Nicki, then 11 and now 38, and Blaine, then just three months old and now 27 and working himself at Ciao Bella, and she headed to Venice, where she started a new life. She worked in Sarasota at first, quickly tired of the commute, then took her first job on Venice Island, doing hair at Shear Class downtown. After three years there, she opened her first Venice salon, Aspire, right on the first block of Venice Avenue. A marriage took her away from doing hair for a time. Then she had to battle both melanoma and colon cancer.
“I was young and I was lucky,” Karen says now. “They discovered the cancers very early and I was able to overcome both.”
Karen’s next move was to buy a salon on Venice Avenue—Cameo—when she was still dealing with medical bills and her financial foundation was shaky.
“I was single with two kids and I had just been sick,” she explains. “I didn’t think I could buy anything. But the owner was older and she believed in me. I bought the business and everything worked out on a hope and a prayer.”
Karen renamed that salon Ciao Bella, in keeping with Venice’s Italian theme. Always offering more services, Karen’s success and loyal following eventually saw her set up shop in her current location.
“It’s been a nice transition from the island,” Karen says. “We have tons of parking, we’re closer to the West Villages, and its excellent in terms of traffic. We are doing great and we just seem to keep growing. All of my staff has been in the industry for years, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. We make our clients feel beautiful, and we treat them like family. And we’re always happy to welcome someone new and give them a salon to call home.”