Call them the new coffee shops: Venues that offer mind-body workouts, a steady Internet connection, and “healthy” food (usually vegan, raw, and gluten-free) are popping up along the coasts, drawing health-conscious consumers who want to meet other people like them. Writer Sheila Marikar got to know five new establishments to figure out what’s making wellness centers so hot right now.
“Shot!” called out Katie Coriell. “Another one, it’s healthy for you!”
It was just after 5 p.m. on a recent Tuesday, and Ms. Coriell, one of half a dozen denim-clad servers at The Springs in downtown Los Angeles (pictured, above), was getting a little rowdy. She leaned over the bar and beamed at a patron—me—who eyed the opaque, gray liquid in the glass with the kind of skepticism normally reserved for tequila and tasting menu items with foam on top.
She was trying to convince me to drink clay. “It’s a live, living thing,” Ms. Coriell said. “It has positively charged ions and it pushes out the negative ones. It’ll make you go to the bathroom— not now, but in a couple of hours.”
This is the kind of thing that happens at The Springs, a vegan restaurant, juice bar, yoga studio, spa, and wifi-enabled workspace that opened in the arts district of L.A. last October. Bartenders banter with regulars—famous ones include Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, and Elizabeth Banks—who answer emails between massages and mantra-chanting.
Advice flows like the cold pressed juice: “Ice water’s not good, as soon as you put it in your body, your body’s like, what the hell is this,” I overheard one denim-clad server say. Strange substitutions appear on the menu: instead of pork in the Banh Mi, there’s Brazil nut pate. People tend to leave with a disposition as sunny as the afternoon light that streams across the blonde wood tables. “There’s so much to look forward to in life,” a sundress-clad girl said to her friends as they shrugged on backpacks and headed out the door.
It’s like someone took the caffeine out of Starbucks and replaced it with Kombucha.
“People have created that culture around coffee shops where you meet, you hang, you get some work done, and while that wasn’t necessarily the main focal point, there was an element where I wanted to create that hang space and community,” said Jared Stein, who founded The Springs with his life and business partner, Kimberly Helms. “They’re hanging because it’s a cool environment and we offer free wifi, but they’re sort of, by proxy I guess, making themselves healthier just by being in the space.”
This is the wellness center post-YMCA; post-dreamcatchers and crystals. Places like The Springs have been popping up on both coasts, combining mind and body betterment practices with high-end health foods and the perks many professionals desire, like online class signup and device charging stations.
“We found that a lot of people like to get present and then they want to get on their phones,” said Sonia Jones, a founder of the Sonima Wellness Center in Encinitas, Calif.
Making Meditation Mainstream
If The Springs feels like the intersection of Bushwick and Hilaria Baldwin, Sonima is The Real Housewives of Orange County meets Deepak Chopra. (In fact, Mr. Chopra attended and worked the meditation room at Sonima’s opening party in February.) The center (pictured, below) courts the kind of crowd that appears more comfortable with canapes than colonics (one of the more offbeat offerings at The Springs).
To that end, Ms. Jones and her co-founder, Salima Ruffin (“Sonima” melds their names) hired three “wellness guides” who sit at a desk near the juice bar and offer information to those who may be unfamiliar with turmeric infusions and guided meditation.
“We want people to be able to come no matter where they are in their fitness regime,” said Ms. Ruffin. “Just come in and have a juice or a healthy meal and meet one of our guides who can say, ‘Why don’t you come in and have an alignment class? It’s kind of like yoga but it’s totally different.’”
These wellness centers strive for approachability and familiarity. Take the clean, white, lavender-scented lobby of Unplug Meditation in Brentwood, Calif. With a preternaturally happy receptionist and a wall of stuff to buy—Unplug t-shirts, journals with cover inscriptions like “Take Epic Chances”—it could easily pass for a boutique fitness studio.
“Other places can seem kind of mystical,” said Dan Gardenswartz, who works in finance and wore a dry-fit zip-up to a recent Friday morning mindfulness session. “This feels more professional.”
Indeed, the place also boasts practitioners with the zeal of SoulCycle regulars. One woman, wide-eyed after stepping out of the purple-hued meditation room (pictured, below), claimed to have been to Unplug 51 days in a row. “I’m kind of afraid to stop,” she said.
Stores Get In on the Action
Corporations have caught on too. Lorna Jane, a women’s activewear brand based in Australia, has begun rolling out Active Living Rooms in its stores in the U.S. and abroad, where the legging-wearing masses can grab a healthy snack (acai bowl, anyone?) and take low-cost group fitness classes “without feeling pressured to purchase something,” Lorna Jane Clarkson, the company’s founder, said.
“The idea of it is that they come in the morning or the afternoon, they do a class, they go through the store, and they get a coffee or juice and sit down with their friends and have a social experience without feeling guilty,” she said. (It fits, in many ways, her description of a perfect Friday night: “I want to have a massage and meditate and meet my friends and drink a mocktail and not feel pressured to do something unhealthy.”)
While wellness centers have thrived in the laid back, less-bundled-up culture of the west coast, east coasters also are taking part in the trend. In Connecticut, Kaia Yoga has been cultivating health-forward hangouts for more than eight years. At its Westport, Conn., location, a water wall separates the juice bar and social area (yes, there’s wifi too) from the “more serene, meditative space,” said co-founder Gina Norman.
“I went to Disney World last week, God help me, and just that throwing off my personal factors, not having the food available, not having the juice available, it made me realize, how important it is to have these places in our lives,” Ms. Norman said.
Expansion is inevitable. Unplug Meditation plans to open its first New York location before January (“probably near Union Square, somewhere where a lot of the subway lines meet,” said founder Suze Yalof Schwartz). The Springs has become more than a daytime destination, with live music three nights a week and a last call (they do serve wine and beer in addition to the healthier stuff) of 10 or 11 p.m. on the weekends.
Mr. Stein and Ms. Helms, who met in New York while working on Broadway productions, have been asked about “Springs 2.0” and where they will open a location next. But a wellness center empire isn’t exactly what they have in mind.
“It’s hard to put one term on the space, you know?” Mr. Stein said. “We’ve just come to call it an urban oasis because it is multifaceted. The whole space certainly has that wellness aspect to it, but again, some people are just coming to eat.”
He glanced at the table next to him, where two women were digging into oversize bowls of kale: “They maybe don’t even realize that we’re vegan.”
Where to Get Your Meditation with a Side of Wifi
Hip downtown Los Angeles warehouse for yoga, meditation, filled-to-the-brim bowls of salad, and for the more adventurous, treatments like colon hydrotherapy. 608 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, Calif. 213-223-6226
Sonima Wellness Center
An Encinitas, Calif. haven for both Deepak Chopra devotees and those just wading into mind-body practices. 575 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, Calif. 760-230-2560
The first of what could become a SoulCycle-like chain of meditation centers is located in Brentwood, Calif. Soon to come: New York City. 12401 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 101, Los Angeles, Calif. 310-826-8899
The oldest institution of the bunch, their two locations cater to yoga and cold pressed juice fans in Westport, Greenwich, and Darien, Connecticut. 203-532-0660 (ext. 1 for Greenwich; ext. 2 for Westport; ext. 3 for Darien)