Best friends in the bug business
Tami Levy and Angie Donenberg are best friends who started Lice Detectives four years ago, when they realized there was an untapped market for lice removal services on the North Shore. | Jackie Pilossoph~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 9:20AM
RIVERWOODS — It’s every mother’s worst nightmare. You get a call from the school nurse informing you that your child has head lice. Unfortunately, those pesky little insects are more common than most people think, with dozens of cases in elementary schools all over Lake County.
But two Riverwoods moms, who just so happen to be best friends are in the business of getting rid of those contagious, annoying and downright disgusting bugs.
Tami Levy and Angie Donenberg, who have both experienced the lice nightmare with their own children started Lice Detectives four years ago, when they realized there was an untapped market for lice removal services on the North Shore.
“Our goal was to have a business that empathized with moms like us, and talk people off the ledge when they are panicked,” said Levy, who is originally from South Africa, and who has lived in Riverwoods with her husband and three children for 11 years. “It’s natural to be traumatized when your child gets lice. We see that all the time and we understand that.”
Donenberg, whose husband is first cousins with Levy’s husband, is also from South Africa. She and her husband have lived in Riverwoods with their three children for 14 years.
“There is a perception about lice that only dirty kids get it, and that’s not true,” Donenberg said. “Lice doesn’t discriminate between dirty or clean or rich or poor. I’ve gone to homes to treat lice where the client can barely afford us, and I’ve been to fancy mansions on the lake.”
Lice Detectives doesn’t have an answering service or a receptionist. Every call is answered by either Donenberg or Levy personally, because they both feel they need to be available to be “lice therapists,” who need to calm most clients down.
Upon receiving a call, they then set up an appointment to go to the home, where they manually comb the hair of everyone in the family--not just the lice infected person--with a professional metal nit removal comb.
They then give the client a checklist of things to do to make sure the lice doesn’t come back or spread to anyone else in the household. The list includes vacuuming all high traffic areas, washing the sheets of the infected person, washing all coats, hats, and towels, and putting the infected person’s pillow in the dryer for 15 minutes.
“You arrive at their house and they have this deer in headlights look,” said Donenberg, who learned how to treat lice at a salon in Chicago. “And when you leave, they look so relieved and they are incredibly grateful.”
Denise Warady is a Deerfield mom of three, who called Lice Detectives when one of her children got lice.
“It throws you for a loop and you feel the stigma instantly,” said Warady. “Angie and Tami were amazing. They came in and took charge, showed me what to do, and made it all okay.”
Warady said they also made her children feel comfortable, made them laugh, and made them unafraid to return to school.
Lice Detectives charges $100 per hour for their services, and a family usually needs two to four treatments, making the total cost for lice removal typically $500-600.
Donenberg said most weeks they have up to 40 appointments. Lice Detectives also does head checks for camps and schools.
Levy and Donenberg, who both attended college and who both had successful careers before becoming stay-at-home moms also developed their own product line. They sell a complete lice removal kit, and lice prevention products such as a repellent shampoo, conditioner and spray. The products can be purchased at local kid salons and on their website.
When asked if it’s ever difficult to be business partners with her best friend, Levy said, “Never. She’s my angel and she’s taught me so much about life.”
“We’re so much alike,” Donenberg said. “We both love helping people, and we love having our children see our success.”