Q: Tell us how you got started with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
I was going into my senior year at George Mason, and I was getting a degree in Psychology, and I decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist.
I grew up in England, and spent a lot of my childhood riding horses, so I took a lot of falls. After a lot of that, I started getting headaches almost on a daily basis. We moved back to the States when I was a Freshman in high school, and I started seeing a chiropractor, mainly because I didn’t want to take pills all the time. After two weeks of seeing him, I had a day where I didn’t have a headache for the first time in years.
Aside from fixing my headache problems, the chiropractor turned out to be a bit of a mentor. Eight years later, when I was graduating from George Mason with a degree in Psychology, I explained to him that I was interested in alternative therapies, and he suggested acupuncture. At first I thought he was crazy, because acupuncture uses needles, and needles scare everybody. But I started looking into it, and I started learning about what a positive form of treatment it is, and it all started to make sense. I applied to a school in Arizona, got accepted, and I was off.
Q: Where you were working before you founded Pekoe?
I was working an administrative job, and I was doing acupuncture on the side. I had a townhouse with a treatment room, and I would see patients as often as I could. But after a year at a desk, I realized that I wasn’t happy, and that I wasn’t doing what I was supposed to do. And the idea of working at a clinic or even opening one seemed really far away. But eventually I got hired at a clinic that I really liked in DC, and after a year of working in that clinic, the prospect of having my own clinic didn’t seem that daunting to me. I decided to open up my own shop, and I did. Pekoe was born on March 5th, 2009, and is a very active 6 year old.
Q: What’s the mission statement of Pekoe Wellness?
The purpose of Pekoe is to have a safe and comfortable environment for practitioners. If a practitioner is in an environment that doesn’t make them happy, they probably won’t give people the best care that they can. I can’t imagine that anybody wants to go to a place where there is a lot of turnover of personnel, and I wanted to create a place where practitioners could be happy and patients could feel secure in knowing that the practitioner that they like would be there for them.
I also wanted to create a place where people could come and be healed, however they want to be healed. Some people come in with minor issues that need to be addressed, and some people come in and want to completely revamp their lives, and that means exercise, diet, functional medicine, the works. Pekoe has a way of making people bring out what they need from us.
Q: It seems like Pekoe is becoming a bit of a community hub rather than just a clinic. You are putting on concerts, more and more classes are being offered, and you are partnering with other local businesses. Was that the plan when you started?
No, it really just took off on its own. A lot of things just crossed my path, and I would inevitably say “Sure, I’ll try that,” and more often than not it ended up working. It really feels like it’s not even me anymore. I think it’s this space. Pekoe feels like it’s a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger as it goes. I sometimes have trouble calling myself its “owner.”
Tell me about the yoga rope wall.
I met my first yoga wall at a retreat in Winchester, and it was an amazing feeling, and I thought that it would be great to make one available for people. When we moved into Shaw we knew the space would be perfect for it, so we contracted it out and had it built. I love it. Sometimes people just come in to hang on it.
How has the reaction been with DC? Has the city welcomed you?
Both the city and the neighborhood have been great. Shaw has been working really hard on reinventing itself over the years, and they’ve been amazing. Also, we applied for a grant last year, and it was an incredible amount of paperwork, and research, and projections, and we got it, and so did some other new businesses in Shaw. And there are a lot of things that we were able to do with that grant that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. It helped us set up the yoga wall, it helped us make our facilities ADA compliant, it helped pay for the chair lift down to our basement treatment rooms. And Jeff Kuykendall, one of our massage therapists, has a lot of experience working with people with disabilities, so that grant made it easier for his patients to get his services. The city and Shaw want us to be here, and they want us to do well.
What other local businesses have you been partnering with?
We have a partnership with Reformation Fitness. They have their monthly raffles for awesome clients, and one of the prizes is a free massage, and we give away passes to some of their classes to our clients. And there’s a lot of cross-marketing with the restaurants around here. We frequent them, and send people there, so they know us, and a lot of times they are happy to offer discounts for receipts and things like that. It’s nice to be surrounded by small businesses, because we are all in the same boat, and they are more invested in the neighborhood. We’re also good friends with the folks at DC Brau. They’re such a great model of a small business, they collaborate regularly with “competitors”, donate in creative ways to local charities, and really have a great product.
It seems strange for a wellness clinic to be associated with a brewery.
Not at all! Coming here for treatment does not mean that you have to be a zealot about every aspect of your health. That isn’t really living, you know? It’s ok to indulge on occasion. And aside from that, beer is considered to be medicinal in Chinese Medicine, so don’t sass us.
What are you planning next?
I’d really like to change some of the laws in DC.
What I specifically want to change is the regulation that says this one minor ear acupuncture procedure can only be done by licensed acupuncturists. It’s a really simple procedure, its only five points on each ear, and it’s really easy to train people on how to do it. You could easily train a massage therapist to do it, or even the person at the reception desk, and it would be an inexpensive and affordable way to help people. We could easily set up community clinics in interested areas and offer this service to anyone who wants it.
What does the procedure do for the patient?
It helps alleviate anxiety, and puts the patient in a relaxed and introspective place. It’s worked wonders on people suffering from PTSD or dealing with addiction problems. And believe it or not, Maryland and Virginia allow non-licensed acupuncturists to do this treatment, while DC doesn’t. So that means that if someone wants this really easy and really helpful treatment, they have to wait for and pay for a licensed acupuncturist, which takes longer and is more expensive. We could be helping people right now. Virginia and Maryland are helping people right now. And I want to be able to treat everyone in this neighborhood. Not everyone here can has the budget for a lot of the services that we offer, and it breaks my heart that I can’t treat everyone, but this is something that helps and can be easily affordable, if only the city will change the regulations.
What do you think it would take to change the city regulations?
It’s just a matter of presenting the information to the City Council, and pointing out that many other states have allowed this to happen, and that Maryland and Virginia are benefiting from allowing this to happen, both in an increase in better patient outcomes and an increase in customers patronizing businesses. And I will probably need more than a few signatures. But we have a lot of customers and friends, so we’ll probably get those.