Salon Owner Who Exposed Pelosi’s Maskless Visit Fights for Small Businesses

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Erica Kious could hardly believe it when she saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walking through her San Francisco hair salon without a mask last summer. For Kious, it was the epitome of hypocrisy. 

While small businesses still were shut down all over California because of COVID-19, Kious received a message from a stylist who rented a chair in her salon, called eSalon. 

“He was going to do Pelosi's hair, which was fine,” recalls Kious, who no longer owns the salon. “And in my mind, I really thought he probably was going to her house.” 

Kious was traveling last Aug. 31, the day of Pelosi’s appointment, but looked at her security camera when she received an alert about movement in the salon.

The salon owner watched as Pelosi “walked through my reception area with no mask on,” adding that in the moment all she could think of was “the past six months [and everything] that had happened with the shutdown, not being able to reopen, losing my staff, everyone literally on the verge of losing everything.”  

Kious says she ultimately decided to release the video footage of the incident to the news media “because I felt that her hypocrisy just needed to be exposed.” 

Kious joins the “Problematic Women” podcast to explain what happened after she leaked the Pelosi video. She also shares why she chose to get involved with Heritage Action for America’s “Save Our Paychecks National Tour,” and how Americans can push back against the government’s reckless spending. 

Heritage Action is the grassroots partner of The Heritage Foundation, parent organization of The Daily Signal.

Also on today’s show, Gloria Taylor, communications manager for national security and foreign policy at The Heritage Foundation, discusses what you should know about the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan and what the future may hold for Afghan women and girls.

And as always, we will crown our Problematic Women of the Week.

Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript. 

Virginia Allen: I am so excited to welcome to the show Erica Kious. Erica, welcome.

Erica Kious: Thank you for having me.

Allen: Many of our listeners probably remember that about a year ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went to a hair salon in San Francisco to get her hair done, and video footage showing Pelosi walking through the salon without a mask on was leaked. And this was during a time when masks were required and most small businesses, especially in California, were closed. Now the owner of that salon was Erica.

So, Erica, you also recently spoke at a Heritage Action for America “Save Our Paychecks” event. Those events are taking place all over the country this month. We're going to talk about that a little bit more in a few minutes. But first, Erica, let's go back to last August and the situation at the hair salon with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and just explain what exactly happened at your salon. How did all of these events unfold?

Kious: We're coming up on a year now, which is crazy. And I almost feel like we're kind of still in that situation in California, we're actually still working on pins and needles, thinking, “Are we going to shut down tomorrow?” …

She had actually been a client for about five years previous to the incident. And again, a lot of people, I got backlash over politics: “Oh, you're exposing her because she's Nancy Pelosi, because she's a Democrat,” which was absolutely false. When she had come in, I completely respected her privacy. I never put on social media that she was a client. I literally knew, we always knew ahead of time before she was coming. because the Secret Service would come in and check the place out.

Before she'd come in, I made sure that everything was clean, everything was in place. And her room was empty and nobody was in there to bother her, completely respected her. And again, that was what I did when she came in as a client, because I wanted people to know that, that she didn't just come in and I just exposed her.

So to fast forward, to let's say March, it was the beginning of March [2020], obviously, when the pandemic began and we were told to shut down. With all respect we did, because all of us had no idea what we were dealing with with this disease. So little by little, we started to learn, obviously, how we would be able to reopen with COVID.

In June, I believe, pretty much almost the whole country started [to] reopen, [including] beauty services. I know my sister lives in Potomac, Maryland, and she was started to get her hair done and her nails at that time, so we were preparing for the same thing. June goes by, July goes by. We were then told by our mayor in California, in San Francisco, London Breed, that we were going to finally open July 13. So I was given a three-page letter from OSHA for the COVID compliance, of what we needed to do to reopen. And we met all the requirements and we were ready to open July 13. I just, I'll never forget that day.

Allen: It's a big day. It's really important.

Kious: It was, it was. I mean, I had started out with a crew of 12, I was literally down to four stylists who were actually self-employed, they rented from me. But we huddled together and got everything ready. And two days before our reopening, the mayor came out and said that we cannot reopen because COVID had spiked again.

And at that time I just started to think that something wasn't right. Because I knew, especially in San Francisco, everybody did their part, everybody stayed in, everybody wore masks and really did a great job of trying to contain COVID. And I then, being a stylist, a hairstylist, we know almost everybody in every kind of working position.

And I had reached out to one of my clients who was head ER nurse at one of the hospitals in San Francisco and asked her, “Can you let me know what's going on in the hospital with COVID?” And I told her we couldn't reopen. And she was not happy because she wanted to get her hair done.

So she got back to me and said, literally they had, I don't know, hundreds of beds ready for COVID, they were ready for COVID patients at this time. And there was, I think maybe like, I don't know, seven to eight people in the hospital at this time. And that's when I literally knew something wasn't right. I'm like, “We should have been reopened.”

Again, my salon was 2,000 square feet. The stations were 10 feet apart. We were going to partition our sinks with plexiglass. I mean, you wouldn't be able to catch COVID if you tried in our salon. Meaning while everything else, big box stores, were open. And I still just couldn't understand why Target, Costco, all these big box stores were open. And literally there was four of us in this huge salon, COVID-compliant, [but] could not reopen.

So another month goes by and literally my co-workers are calling me. Some of them are afraid they're going to lose their apartment. They literally are starting to have trouble to buy food. I mean, that's how bad it was getting for us. I had reached out to the mayor. I had reached out to the local supervisor about when we were supposed to reopen. Nothing. I don't know if you guys remember that every couple of weeks they'd come out and update us. We were in purple tier, red tier, they literally stopped doing that. And I felt like we were shut down indefinitely.

Allen: So [it's] really just such a dire situation where you're looking at your bank accounts and co-workers are struggling. So then at what point did you learn that that Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to come and have her hair done at the salon?

Kious: Again, I owned a huge salon and I literally had to hold it together for my co-workers. They're the ones that confided in me for answers, and I didn't have answers. And I started to get very upset and very angry and frustrated at this time, as everyone else did. And seeing everybody else be open and working, and we couldn't understand that. So again, we were shut down, not realizing what's going on.

Then I had gotten a message from one of the renters—it was Sunday because [Pelosi] came in on a Monday—that he was going to do Pelosi's hair, which was fine. And in my mind, I really thought he probably was going to her house. I mean, I really didn't think she'd come in. And I was on a flight on Monday to Nashville. And I have cameras in there, by the way. And I've had them—I don't know if you guys remember she said at that press conference that I had set her up, which is a complete lie. I had cameras in there. I've had them in there since I've opened.

I was on a flight, I landed, and I got notification that there was movement in the salon. In the back of my mind I thought there's no way that they went in there, or did she go there? And sure enough … there was about an hour and 20 minutes of movement in the salon. And I clicked on the exact moment of when she walked through my reception area with no mask on.

And for me it was everything in the past six months that had happened with the shutdown, not being able to reopen, losing my staff, everyone literally on the verge of losing everything, just had gone through my mind. And things might've been different if she was there to support us and be there for her community, but she wasn't. And I was thankful enough and I didn't get paid for the footage, by the way. A lot of people think, “Oh, you turned in a tape and you got paid.” I didn't.

I am very lucky that I have a couple of friends that are in politics and they are people that I really trust. And I handed it over to them … They're a husband and wife, amazing people. And they said, this is all up to you. They couldn't believe it, what they were seeing. I remember my girlfriend, she was just in like almost having a panic attack, and she couldn't believe it. And they said your life is going to change. And for me at that time, I'm like, “No, I've known her for five years.”

You know what I mean? Nothing's going to happen, but people need to know that this isn't right. And that's just how I felt, it wasn't right of her to tell the country to wear masks, put us out of work for so long and go in and gets done what she wanted to get done.

Allen: Erica, I can hear it in your voice, such a time of frustration where you're struggling, you're watching your colleagues struggle through the pandemic, struggle financially. You talk to these folks and ultimately decide, OK, this is information that the public needs to have. They need to know what is going on. So you decide, OK, I'm going to leak this footage. You're kind of warned a little bit about what's going to happen. So take us back to that time in your life, what started happening once you made the choice of OK, yes, this footage is going to be released to the public.

Kious: Sure. At that time, again, it's just the past six months had just raced through my mind. And I just knew regardless, again, being a single mom with two small children, having a boyfriend who's a lawyer and trying to talk sense into me, again, I just knew it was the right thing to do.

Again, I had tried to explain to people that I had lived in San Francisco and worked [there] for over 15 years. This was nothing to do with politics. It had nothing to do with Republican or Democrat. Again, I grew up in the Central Valley. … I was raised more of a Republican, but we never talked about that at my salon. So that wasn't the issue. The issue was, again, this woman is a huge, I mean, she's speaker of the House. And for her to do what she did, turn her back on her community and come in and get a service done when she told everyone else not to, was why I did it. And obviously, being put out of work for so long.

The backlash of it, I would say a lot of it was positive because a lot of people were in my situation. Again, when livelihood comes in effect, politics, being a Republican or Democrat, goes out the door. It's literally people's livelihood that you're messing with. And when I say again, the negativity of it are people that just didn't understand and said to me, “You exposed Nancy Pelosi, you did it because you're a Trump supporter and you're a Republican,” which was completely false.

Again, I did it because I felt that her hypocrisy just needed to be exposed. And I did, I got some death threats, they were going to burn my salon down. They sent me my home address. “You have beautiful children.” To be honest, I was pretty nervous in the beginning. But after a while—thank God I have thick skin, and I just pushed forward and it's almost like a tunnel. You got to go straight through and see … the light and just ignore all the noise and get the truth out.

Allen: That's bold and well said. Because that is scary. I imagine that's got to be scary when you have people making threats against you and your family. So where do things stand now? What is the latest on your salon? Are you choosing to stay in California? Are you relocating?

Kious: So I shut down my locations. I had two locations in San Francisco. I shut those down and I am renting a chair at a friend's salon in Fresno, California part time. And I also, right now I'm in Nashville. I rent a space in Brentwood, Tennessee. And again, we're working, but in the back of our minds, we don't know if we're going to get shut down again. And to go to work every day with that feeling is terrible.

I'm in Tennessee working because I'm safe here. I know they're not going to shut me down. I know people are here to support me and it's crazy that I literally had to leave [California]. Well, again, I didn't leave permanently because I am there 50% of the time in California. But I had to leave a state because I don't feel safe there. I don't feel safe that my job is secure. And it's still going on today.

Allen: Was that decision a combination of—the decision to leave California at least, and be in Tennessee part time—was that because restrictions were still so tight and you worried about things shutting down, or was it also in part because of those threats that you had received?

Kious: Both. I would say both. I mean, again, I'm at the point, I'm thinking like, do I sell my home? I don't want to talk for everybody, but a lot of us—again, we have a foot out the door because we just don't know what's going to happen.

Allen: As a small business owner you, of course, as you've talked about, you really felt those effects of COVID-19. And right now there's a lot of other concerns regarding the economy. We're seeing that Congress is in the middle of debating both a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and another $3.5 trillion spending package. Two bills that would throw America into more debt and cause inflation. And to pay for those bills, the Biden administration wants to raise taxes.

Kious: Unbelievable.

Allen: So you have joined up with Heritage Action for America to support the “Save Our Paychecks” national tour. And as you've talked about, this is such, it's a critical time for small businesses in America. So many are still recovering from the pandemic, and that's something that we can all get behind, the idea of “Save Our Paychecks.” We want our full paychecks in our pockets. So tell us a little bit about the “Save Our Paychecks” initiative.

Kious: They're amazing and I'm so happy to be part of that tour. I'm actually considering going to Georgia, I'm trying to work my schedule and rewrap, move clients. It's so important to keep this momentum going and continue talking about what's going on and the awareness of small businesses.

I mean, California alone just last year, 40,000 small businesses closed down. And again, with Biden trying to … raise taxes, I mean, I can't even, I'm at the point that so many of us are just like we can't believe what's happening before our eyes. I mean, it's literally crazy.

And then San Francisco and New York are trying to pass the vaccine passports [and] put that on small businesses again. And that's something that I think—I've reached out to a couple of people in San Francisco, they don't even know what to do. If someone comes into a small business, how do I, what am I, no one even knows what to do with that. So that's another challenge that they're putting up against small businesses.

Not only are we just coming back from COVID and to rebuild, [but] yeah, the Biden-flation is coming, coming now, the taxes, the stimulus. I mean, it's unbelievable. I almost feel like they just want to shut us all down at this point.

Allen: Well, we're certainly so glad for people like yourself who are just being open. You're telling your personal story. You're telling how things like the pandemic, how inflation is personally affecting you as a small business owner. And so you spoke, as you mentioned, you spoke at the Heritage Action for America event in Fresno, California.

So all throughout August and September … they're hosting these “Save Our Paychecks” events to communicate to Americans [that] you have a voice here and you need to be just aware of what's actually going on and also advocating for ourselves, for our communities to be actually receiving the support that we need to be receiving. But, really, to be pushing back against these big government programs and these large bills, like the $3.5 trillion spending bill, that are going to only cause inflation to go up more. So talk a little bit about your experience of speaking at the event in Fresno, California.

Kious: And the nice thing about it too is I'm not the only one speaking, I'm actually listening to other small businesses. And Fresno was my first event and literally to see another salon owner up there, talking about everything that she's going through. And she actually started crying, I felt so bad for her, just to see the pain and what this is causing other business owners. It's just unbelievable that this is, it's almost like we're kind of in disbelief that this is still happening, that there's almost no light at the end of the tunnel. Where's the relief?

Something else I wanted to talk about … is there really isn't that many relief programs for small businesses that I'm aware of as well. So again, we kind of feel that we're just left out there to fend for ourselves. And again, the “Save Our Paychecks” program is amazing because again, now I don't feel as alone as I did. Because I was able to hear other small businesses speak and talk about what's going on with them as well.

Allen: Erica, thank you for sharing that. I think it's so critical to recognize just that importance of supporting other small business owners and other individuals who are struggling right now. For anyone listening who's a small business owner, I really encourage you to check out SaveOurPaychecks.com. You can learn about the other tour stops coming up. There's actually one in Orlando today. Then there is one in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Aug. 21. There's going to be one in Richmond a little later at this month. And then there's a final stop in Atlanta, Georgia on Sept. 13.

Erica, for you as a mom, as a small business owner, and as an American, why is it so important to you to be speaking out and pushing back on excessive government spending right now?

Kious: First of all, I wanted to tell you something that I didn't say, I haven't mentioned very much. I'm actually a first generation American. My mother came here from the Middle East. I mean, with everything going on right now on the news, it's very sad to see. My mom came here in the early '70s to become an American and be here for freedom and to work and start a business herself as a woman, which she was not allowed to do in the Middle East.

And why I talk about that and mentioned that now is because again, [she came] here for freedom and to start a business as a single mom, woman. Right now, our freedom is being taken away. And also with just not only freedom [but] making an income, a living as a single mother for my family, is literally—I don't feel secure at all.

Allen: Such a critical time in our nation's history. And Erica, we certainly appreciate your sharing your story with us today. One final question, before we let you go. We love to ask all of our [guests] on the show this question: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? Yes or no? Why or why not?

Kious: A feminist? Oh gosh, that's a good question. How many minutes do I have?

Allen: We'll give you two.

Kious: OK. So that question again, with my upbringing as again, coming from [an] immigrant mother from the Middle East that had no women's rights at all, I consider myself a feminist in a certain way. I'm not crazy and into certain hardcore feminist groups or anything. But I do believe in supporting women, absolutely 100%, supporting women in small business, because again, [I'm] a single mom struggling. And again … I grew up as well from a single mom from another country, immigrant, [and] we had no money. …

I worked my way through restaurants and saved my money and opened my own hair salon. And my mom's work ethic is what made me who I am today. And so with that, I believe as a woman nowadays, especially in this country, we have opportunity to become whoever we want, as long as we work hard and we have the support—especially support from other women.

Allen: That's critical. Erica, thank you. I so, so appreciate your coming on and really, really appreciate your time.

Kious: Thank you so much for having me.

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