There will be a different kind of warming hut at The Forks this winter.
Sauna Winnipeg, a new pop-up business started by a pair of local entrepreneurs, is bringing a classic spa experience to the banks of the Assiniboine River. The venture is expected to open next month and will include two six-seat barrel saunas and a change room, located at the site of the former Muddy Waters near The Forks’ historic port.
Unsurprisingly, the business idea came to Mark Buchholz and Jeff Lomas while they were in a sauna.
"We've got a sauna out at our cottage in Victoria Beach and Jeff and I were sitting out there (talking about) how Winnipeg just needs a sauna," Buchholz said.
Thermëa introduced Winnipeggers to the Nordic spa experience when it opened in 2015 and Sauna Winnipeg is capitalizing on its popularity, albeit with a simpler approach.
"We both love Thermëa and we think it’s amazing, but you don’t really need everything else that’s associated with it — it’s really just the benefit of the sauna, physically and mentally, that you get," Buchholz said.
There will be space for both walk-ins and people who book in advance online. Groups of six or fewer people can book a private sauna at $150 for 90 minutes and singles can reserve a spot for $25, also for 90 minutes. Towels will be provided and robes available for rent.
Cycling between 10 minutes in the heat and 10 minutes in the cold is recommended and there will be an outdoor fire pit and seating within the change rooms for cooling off. Customers can also grab a beverage while they schvitz since the business is covered by The Forks’ liquor licence.
“We’re just excited to be able to support local entrepreneurs wanting to bring something new to our city.” - Larissa Peck, manager of marketing and communications at The Forks
The barrel saunas are manufactured in Ontario and the 340-sq.-ft. A-frame changehouse was designed by Winnipeg’s 5468796 Architecture. The business will open as soon as the structures are completed; updates will be posted at @saunawinnipeg on Instagram.
Buchholz and Lomas are longtime friends and starting a business from the ground up is a first for both of them.
"It’s very exciting, it’s also very stressful," says Buchholz, who has a business and finance background.
"We think this is so cool and we’re hoping Winnipeg will too, but it’s not really been done before so we’re breaking a little bit of new ground and there’s a lot of uncertainty."
The Forks has signed on to have the saunas on the grounds for the next two winters. If the idea proves popular, the business owners are considering year-round operations at different locations.
"We’re just excited to be able to support local entrepreneurs wanting to bring something new to our city," said Larissa Peck, manager of marketing and communications at The Forks.
"We’re becoming more and more known as a winter city and a winter destination and we’re really excited to add this to the list of things to do here in the winter."
Eva Wasney reports on arts, culture and life for the Winnipeg Free Press.