Small Business

Act II: From Wall Street to Beverly Hills nail salon

"This is a Morgan Stanley-funded operation."

Sarah Gibson Tuttle made that declaration standing inside her airy, modern nail salon, Olive & June, located in the heart of Beverly Hills. The salon is named after Tuttle's grandmother and great-grandmother, and on a Tuesday afternoon, all the chairs were filled with women getting manicures and pedicures.

Sarah Gibson Tuttle
Source: Olive & June

What does Morgan Stanley have to do with mani-pedis? Tuttle funded the salon with money she saved working in finance for a decade.

The 33-year-old went to work on Wall Street right out of college, eventually becoming an equity sales trader at JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley. "I grew up in finance, I loved clients, but I did not have a fundamental passion for the market. ... I wanted to move to LA."

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Tuttle would often visit Los Angeles, and while here, she'd have her nails done. "Every place was terrible," she said.

Then she went to Drybar, a hugely popular chain of blow-drying salons that doesn't offer haircuts or color services, just blow outs. "I loved, loved, loved it," she said. The idea hit her. "Why not do this for nails?"

She moved to LA and began researching and planning her new venture. Last August, she opened Olive & June with the goal of creating a better nail experience, offering online booking, 10 different brands of polish in dozens of colors, and manicurists who talk to customers about nail health. (They do so in English—the only language spoken in the salon.)

Tuttle makes of a point of saying she does more than sanitize instruments. "We sterilize them."

In essence, Tuttle hoped to create a salon where the customer saw nail maintenance less as a tedious chore and more as a fun and esteem-building pampering, the model that has turned Drybar into a hot-air empire.

Olive & June Nail Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Source: Olive & June

Her biggest challenge is finding enough staff to meet demand. "Customer service is something I really enjoy. ... I take your nail experience very seriously," she said.

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Did she know anything about running a nail salon? "Nothing. I was a client for 15 years." Tuttle said she loved having her nails done because "it's the least expensive thing you can do to change your look."

She admits some friends thought she was taking a step down in starting Olive & June, ("Nails? Really?"), until they saw the concept in action and the publicity she was able to generate.

Tuttle credits her parents, both entrepreneurs, with giving her the courage to pursue a new career, even if her father didn't quite "get it" at first.

"I told him, 'I'm going to do the Drybar for nails.' He didn't know what that meant, and he thought I was crazy," she said.

Now, he thinks she nailed it. "He's always asking, 'It's not just going to be one (store), is it?"

In fact, Tuttle is looking for a second location, as Olive & June is cash-flow positive. She hopes to recoup her initial investment of a few hundred thousand dollars in a couple years.

'Wolf of Wall Street' sells 'ethical persuasion'
'Wolf of Wall Street' sells 'ethical persuasion'

As for Wall Street, "I miss the paycheck of course," she said. "There are days money just goes out the door."

She sometimes also misses the people she worked with who share her warp-speed personality, but watching customers relax as their feet were scrubbed, Tuttle sighed, "The emotional reward is worth so much."

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Finally, Sarah Gibson Tuttle said her experience working for big banks was the best training anyone could have in starting a business.

"You have such a great work ethic there, you can do anything," she said. "You can outwork almost anyone."

—By CNBC's Jane Wells. Follow her on Twitter @janewells.