By Masa and Renan Escamilla
When we brought Massage Addict to Edmonton with our first franchise in 2014, we never dreamed it would become the nation’s top-performing location within the first two years of operation. Our early success laid the foundation for our current phase of expansion, with our second and third clinics set to open before the end of 2016, possibly followed by a fourth in 2017.
I was born in Zagreb, Croatia, and lived there with my mom and my younger brother until I was 17. We had family friends in Edmonton who invited me over, first to visit and then to study in the Canadian post-secondary school system. It was a chance not everyone gets and I took it. My family hadn’t been planning to move to Canada and it was really hard for my mom, but with a heavy heart, she let me go.
Studying in Canada was a big struggle at the time, as I wasn’t fluent in English yet. After many hours spent translating back and forth, I managed to complete Grade 12, enrol in college and complete English as a Second Language (ESL).
For my first year or so in Edmonton, I lived with our family friends. Then I moved out on my own. My student loans covered my school tuition, but I had to earn money for everyday life, so I took part-time jobs in retail stores and restaurants.
I was born in El Salvador but raised in Edmonton from the age of three. I’m the middle child, between two sisters, and we have lots of cousins.
As immigrants, my parents struggled arriving in Canada. I can remember they always had two to three jobs—and I was dragged along to a lot of them! On many nights, for example, I helped them clean restaurants.
When I was a child, I enjoyed playing video games, riding my bike and playing street hockey, even when it was -25 C outside. My favourite classes at high school were gym, history and political science (poli-sci). I attended the University of Alberta (U of A) and earned a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree, with a major in social studies and a minor in Spanish.
Masa and I met through a mutual friend in 1996, when she was in her first year of university and I was working for the municipal government monitoring parking meters. One thing we had in common was working full-time through our university studies. Money was tight—I think I lived on Kraft Dinner (KD) for four years!
Having grown up in Europe with a father who is an artist, I had attended lots of exhibitions across the continent and became interested in art and design myself. I also loved the idea of working with people. So, I thought about getting into interior design at U of A.
To my disappointment, the university didn’t offer an interior design course, but they did offer art history. I ended up taking that as my major and Italian as my minor. My dream was to complete a Master’s degree in Florence, Italy, but I met Renan in the process and decided I didn’t want to move back to Europe after all. I graduated in 1999 and became a curator, but soon realized the art world in Canada is very different from the scene in Europe and it was not my cup of tea.
You could say meeting Renan was love at first sight. Among his other characteristics, I quickly recognized and admired his strong work ethic. I had a lot of my own goals and he was the rare person who could keep right up with me. We didn’t party every night like most others our age. I was still pushing through struggles and he had the same drive. And we always had the sense we could work well together.