Ambra’s Vision of Beauty


The tale of an inspiring entrepreneur’s dream come true.

The American Dream is often just a dream. Then, there are those that become reality. Mother/daughter team Marie Bartkova (right) and Sharka Bartek (left), both Czech Republic natives and owners of Ambra Salon and European Spa, are an outstanding example of women working hard to make their dream come true.

After 20 years of being in a dysfunctional marriage, Marie packed up and moved to America with her daughter in 1991. She had a million-dollar dream but scant resources and money to start a new life for her family; yet, that didn’t deter her. “Without dreams, we lose the excitement of possibilities,” says Marie. “Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” With the same credentials as an American dermatologist and a strong work ethic, she was employed as an esthetician at a Chicago-based spa, saved money and opened her own salon. Now happily divorced, Marie continues her journey of personal and professional growth and is pursuing the life of her dreams.

As her business grew, Marie moved Ambra Salon and European Spa, to the second floor of a building located blocks off Michigan Avenue at 1 West Superior Street. Catering to both women and men, the spacious 8,000-square-foot unit offers a variety of spa services, a multitude of skincare and nail services, body massage and specialized treatments, waxing, sunless spray tan, laser hair removal and a full service hair salon.

Under the resilient leadership of Marie, Ambra’s team is composed of some of the most vigorously trained estheticians in the beauty business. “They have an undying passion for skincare,” notes Sharka, who oversees spa operations. “More importantly, we’re all in tune with our inner beauty and we work hard to instill that into our clients by practicing what we preach at all times.”

To that end, Ambra’s owners and highly skilled estheticians never stop learning. Marie and Sharka bring them to Baden-Baden, Germany, yearly for extensive skincare training. “Mastering the technique is no easy task,” says Marie. “We want to make sure they’re thoroughly trained to hit the ground running before we release them, especially with laser hair removal.” Consultations are recommended for most extensive beauty services and can be booked online or over the phone.

Twice a year, the salon offers permanent makeup services by a trained specialist who travels from Europe to work exclusively at Ambra. She artfully enhances eyebrows, eyes and lips, with natural and long-lasting results. During her stay, she also performs corrective work on women who have had the procedure performed elsewhere with less than perfect results. Permanent makeup is perfect for those sensitive to cosmetic ingredients. It’s also ideal for people with allergies or over-plucked/sparse eyebrows or those who don’t have time to properly apply their makeup.

The mother/daughter team emphasize that those who work in the beauty business at any level, including the owner, must have a passion for their profession. “There are so many different specialties, but the bottom line is that you have to love what you’re doing or you won’t be successful,” reiterates Sharka. “The biggest difference between European and American estheticians is the level of training. We (Europeans) have the credentials that are equivalent to that of a doctor, such as a dermatologist. The schools in Europe are specialized and we learn how to use our hands effectively. By no means am I saying that we’re doctors, but the high level of training is definitely there.”

After realizing their American Dream, what’s next for Ambra? Sharka responds, saying, “The sky’s the limit. My mom and I are like an old married couple, so we always come up with fresh ideas. We’re working on offering in-depth classes for anyone who has an interest in skincare. We utilize the Biodroga biological skincare line, which is exclusive to our salon. So for those who are interested in learning more about the products, we’re always here to help. A skincare line might be in the works for the near future and we’re super excited for what’s to come.”

Adrian Orozco Photograph


About Nicole L. Townsend

A freelance beauty writer, Nicole L. Townsend knows anyone who’s anyone on the Chicago beauty scene and contributes to a weekly beauty column for called “Beauty School.” She also spends her days as a social media strategist for the hair care company Strength of Nature – MegaGrowth, where she manages all content for Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Learn more at Pretty in the Windy City on Facebook!