10 Under 30: New York’s Youngest Fitness and Yoga Entrepreneurs
There’s no more expensive, all-around challenging place to open a business than New York City. High rents. Crazy amounts of bureaucracy. And lots of competition.
Try doing it before you hit thirty—and in an industry like fitness and yoga, which is better known for making customers feel good rather than providing a living wage for business owners.
These 10 young entrepreneurs used their energy, courage, and professional prowess to open businesses that make the city a healthier place—from barre studios to boxing gyms.
What did it take? “Passion with a side of crazy,” says Alexandra Perez, the owner of Bari, one of the 10 under 30.
Read more to meet the others, listed in our story by their youthful age.
—Lisa Elaine Held
Perez opened Bari—a Tribeca fitness studio—in 2011, at age 25. Clearly, a strong business brain offset her lack of years.
She studied finance at U. Penn and was a corporate consultant right out of school. The travel she did while consulting provided an education in exercise studios across the country.
Still, she’s constantly being told how young she is.
“It’s hard reaching beyond what I’m comfortable with to achieve our business goals…and still feeling like a kid while I do it,” says Perez. A feather in her cap: New York Magazine’s recent accolade of Best Hybrid Workout.
Work Train Fight
Ortiz opened Work in 2009, on his 25th birthday.
After working as a personal trainer—at Crunch and independently—he wanted to create a space for independent trainers to bring their clients that had all the bells and whistles of a corporate gym.
Since it opened, Work has expanded its space four times. But success, Ortiz cautions, can be just as challenging as failure.
“The hardest thing I’ve had to manage is being young, full of energy, and over confident,” he says. “Due to the quick success of Work, I constantly have to tell myself ‘Slow the hell down!’”
The Refine Method
Jinnett, a professional ballet dancer and fitness instructor, didn’t just open a studio, she created an entire new workout when she launched the Refine Method in 2010.
Since then, Jinnett says she’s had to function as teacher, manager, receptionist—and even cleaning lady—as she builds her brand on a limited budget.
“I opened Refine Method to bring honest, cutting-edge answers based in exercise science to the average exerciser, so they could train both harder and smarter,” she says.
Her hard work paid off. Refine is set to open its second location, which is four times the original studio’s size, in mid-March.
Patton left his career as a Wall Street futures broker to open Yoga Vida in January of 2010.
Since then, the studio has become the go-to spot for NYU students (and the cast of Gossip Girl), and Patton opened a second, larger location last summer.
Evidence he’s shed his Wall Street ethos? Patton says that “feeling responsible for the well-being of the people I work with” has been one of the hardest parts of being a business owner.
Plus, his prices are still some of the lowest in the city ($12 for a drop-in, $6 for college students).
Dubus opened Brooklyn Strength in December of 2010 after struggling to make enough money as a full-time Pilates instructor and still have time for what she loves—dance and choreography.
Becoming a business person has made her grow up fast: Dubus says she had to quickly learn to be more self-assertive to be taken seriously.
Work-life balance remains a challenge. “There aren't any rules about how to be the best business owner, or the best human being,” says Dubus, “so it’s a constant conversation to see if the balance is working or even possible at this early stage.”
Simply Fit Astoria
Before opening Simply Fit in 2011, an Astoria studio that offers Zumba, dance workouts, and Piloxing (a Pilates-boxing hybrid), Lisa Ezkenazi worked in product development and sourcing in the Garment District and taught fitness and dance classes at night.
“All I wanted was to get to my classes, so I could share my passion for health and fitness with others,” she says.
She made it happen. Simply Fit is now thriving—and the Queens Courier named it the “best Zumba classes in Queens” in its 2011 Best of the Boro issue.
Sacred Sounds Yoga
When Tang left a career in finance to open a yoga studio in 2011, she expected her numbers background would serve her well.
But she couldn’t have imagined the many other roles she would play.
“As a business owner, I handle marketing, legal, finance, human resources, facilities, and more!” says Tang.
Thankfully, she feels supported by the community she’s built.
“The kind, amazing people I’ve met, the strong relationships I’ve developed, and how yoga has already started to change our students lives make every single day a great day!”
Less than 4 months after it opened, we named Bija Yoga one of the most beautiful studios in New York City.
The yogi behind this cozy Union Square oasis is Veronica Perretti, who hopped around between different professional pursuits (publishing, commercial real estate, contemporary art, etc.) before honing in on her passion: yoga.
“I wanted to create a space that honored my teachers and the lineage that I am so proud to be a part of, “ says Peretti.
To that end, she’s recruited top teachers for Saturday workshops and hosts classes in astrology and goddess spirituality to compete in the city’s busiest, booming yoga neighborhood.
Wallace has a history of challenging the odds—she’d already battled and beaten metastatic bone cancer at the age of 16
So starting a foundation for children with cancer, called Running With Walls, then a fitness studio was right up her alley.
Wallace opened her Upper West Side boutique spin-and-more studio with her husband in 2009, after a year-plus of market research, planning, and raising capital.
“The most surprising thing I’ve found is that my master plan—to open a gym and work out all the time—was not the plan that running a business had for me, she says. “I have to schedule my workouts just like everyone else!”
In 2008, when she was 27, Morgasen started her innovative yoga-barre-Pilates studio out of her Bushwick loft.
Soon, she had no space to sleep, so the architect and interior designer moved to a new studio in East Williamsburg.
Morgasen says she’s been amazed at the progress her clients have made and how much they’re learning. Like the rest of us, she just wishes money wasn’t an issue.
“I’ve been able to cope with the 90–120 hour work weeks, but the hardest thing I have had to deal with is my constant tie to the monetary success of the studio,” says Morgasen.
Did we miss any young guns of yoga and fitness for our story? Tell us in the Comments, below.
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