St. Armands Circle is the Rodeo Drive of Sarasota. The stores are flanked by palm trees and filled with designer labels. With the Gulf of Mexico serving as a backdrop, it’s a dream location for a business or a set. So Sonia and Serge Gauthier are sharing their dream come true on camera.
Last November, the couple changed the sign on 369 John Ringling Blvd. to read Gauthier. On Sunday, a television crew shot footage of the Gauthiers in their salon for a reality show called “Le Grand Move” or “The Big Move”.
The French Canadian series follows people moving from the province of Quebec to places all over the world. The first season followed families moving from the city to the countryside. Now in its third season, the series is following families making the big move to the United States.
“We have a main family that we’re following, and Sonia and Serge are the family that is already established,” producer Annie Beauchemin said. “For each episode, we always go to meet another family that did the big move before them, so they can tell them things about their move to help them.”
The Gauthiers both grew up in Quebec, Sonia, 38, in the city, and Serge, 42, in Nominingue, a small village in the province. They moved to Florida in October 2021 and spent time in Venice, Tampa and Clearwater before falling in love with Sarasota.
At the start, the Gauthiers only knew Florida was their destination. While they’d never visited, Sonia called it paradise and said a mentor planted a seed in their hearts that they could be entrepreneurs in Florida and live the life they truly wanted.
A trip to a spa in Mexico transformed their dream into a plan. Sonia saw the spa and said, “This is what I want in Florida.”
“People call me Sonia Sunshine,” she said. “With 12 months of sunshine, no matter who you are, you can make it in Florida. You just have to have a lot of courage and a lot of determination. Everything is mindset. You have to believe you can make it.”
A little luck and a Facebook account can also help. When “Le Grand Move” was looking for families in Southwest Florida, a friend shared the show’s Facebook post with Sonia and encouraged her to apply.
Facebook is also where Sonia saw the salon’s real estate listing for the first time last May. It was posted by a real estate agent she’d worked with in Tampa and titled “out-of-market listing.” The Gauthiers jumped on the opportunity and opened their salon six months later.
Just after signing the paperwork, the sun took a respite and paradise got boarded up as Hurricane Ian made its way to land. With no damage done to their new business bet, the experience only watered the couple's freshly planted roots.
“If we can go through a hurricane, we’re good.” Sonia said with her signature smile.
Locals may remember the now Gauthier Salon & Wellness Spa as either Karma Luna or the long beloved Green Ginger Hair Salon. Both brought with them a good amount of French clientele, who can rest easy knowing the salon remains bilingual.
For now, the salon offers the basics of hair, nails, makeup and massage. It also offers permanent makeup and has an esthetician and mascot on staff. The mascot is the Gauthier’s 8-year-old, 70-pound Australian shepherd who loves nothing more than to greet and sit with customers. Services yet to come are reiki and breath work.
“We’re little French Canadians who moved here with a big dream, put all of our life into this, sold everything, and sometimes it’s hard,” Sonia said. “But we find that people here are very welcoming. They’ve taken us in their arms. They’re so nice. They want us to succeed.”
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.