Joe Studer, 41, co-owns the Coyote Moon Health Resort and Spa with his life partner, Todd Martin, and Keith Bradkowski. The gorgeous northwest side resort has 11 employees, 16 guest rooms and boasts a full range of resort services, and is said to be the first health spa specifically targeting the gay community. Studer is a Chicago native who was living in Boston five years ago when he accompanied family members on a spring training trip. He fell in love with both Tucson and Todd, and the rest is history. A former critical-care nurse who moved into hospital administration, he worked at University Medical Center for four years before dedicating his efforts to Coyote Moon, which opened Nov. 15. Its day spa opened New Year's Day. For more information, call (877) 784-7430 or visit www.coyotemoonresort.com.
Tell me about the resort.
I think creating Coyote Moon really parallels what's going on in the gay community: Many people are seeking balance in their lives. For 30 years, we've been fighting for acceptance, and it's taking a toll on people, and it's time. One of the tag lines on our ads is, "Now's the time." ... The other tag line is: "Balance in an unbalanced world." ... Every year, there's a survey of 20,000 gay and lesbian travelers. ... They rank 10 items in importance, about what they're looking for in travel. Last year, the thing that rose to the No. 1 position is intellectual stimulation. Out there in gay travel, there's so much below-the-belt stimulation, but, boy, when you stimulate at the soul level, that's powerful.
How has the response been so far?
Unanimously floored. Everyone who steps in the front door is looking for healing and renewal, but they're all at different places. Other than two guests, every guest who has been here has said the same thing: "I feel so renewed." ... The staff really supports these people. They're very professional; we even sent everyone to etiquette training, and they always keep a professional boundary with all the guests. But the experience is all about the guests, to indulge them to have the experience they need to have.
What possessed you give up a career to open this?
Sept. 11. It shook me to my inner core; there was all this destruction and fear in the world, and I felt I needed to create something beautiful. ... Keith's boyfriend, Jeff, was killed by hijackers on one of the planes. ... I'd not been feeling great about working in health care. Hospitals are great places, but they're not about holistic health. I understand why; it's reality. If someone has cancer, you have to treat the cancer and move on. But healing is for the mind, the body and the spirit.
As nice as the resort, the spa, the lectures, the health food, the relaxation--everything-- can be, how does it actually heal?
We're not healers. We're simply creating a space for healing and renewal to take place. We're simply creating a space ... and allowing people to be stimulated from a soulful experience. It's really the space we've created, the energy we've created.
Starting any business is tough. How's it going so far?
I am a believer that things turn out the way they're supposed to turn out. We'd love to have to have a full staff every day. But sometimes we're full, and sometimes we have three guests, total. Are we having an impact on them? Absolutely; we're a success. People are leaving here, and they are different. We have the same (issues) that all new businesses do, with staff development, protocol and money. That's a big challenge, meeting payroll, etc. The renovations have been more than we thought they would be. But of all the things that could have gone wrong, we dodged a million bullets. The city (of Marana) has been great. We did not have a single county or city problem. Just one of those could paralyze a business.
What are your goals for the resort?
I'd like to keep (the number of rooms) less than 28, but we'd like to add more, and enhance the programs and services as we grow. Those possibilities include having pre-retirement time-shares or retirement-living here as well. ... (I'd like to add) medi-spa services, and get a health care designation.
I understand you're also trying to be environmentally friendly.
We want to become an eco-resort. We're not now, other than having solar tubes on the ramada (for heating the pool) and recycling. We try to avoid all toxic materials, but we have a way to go. One thing we've been focused on from the beginning is that our spa products are all-natural ingredients. The food is all-natural.
Anything else you'd like to add?
In terms of Tucson, there's our day spa. It's more of a day experience; people attend lectures, they eat lunch. ... We focus on them coming out for a day of renewal.