“For several years I have dreamed of opening a space that is truly inclusive and offers the opportunity for people to meet in community.”
When you think about the institutions responsible for building community – real, non-digital communities – there are classic examples like schools, places of worship, and literal community centers. But our new generation is increasingly seeking new spaces and formats for meeting and bonding with different people.
The fitness realm has filled a gap for those seeking a place to belong – be it a running club, biking club, crossfit gym, or in the case of Revolution Studios + Wellness, yoga classes and massage complemented by a wellness bar with smoothies and bowls, coffee, tea and kombucha.
Revolution, having just opened in mid January in Rochester, has created a welcoming space by putting together a diverse team on their staff, and breaking down the barriers that can intimidate people away from yoga, including its cost.
We spoke with Melissa Griffo, Revolution’s owner, to hear about the mission and vision for the space, but also the nuts and bolts of staffing, the economics of Pay What You Can in a for profit business, and more:
How did you put this team together? How did their backgrounds help define the mission for Revolution? What impact does a diverse staff have on attracting new clientele?
For several years I have dreamed of opening a space that is truly inclusive and offers the opportunity for people to meet in community. Diversity starts from the inside out. It was never going to be enough for me to say my space is inclusive, I needed to embody that mission in the way that I chose to staff my business. Our team is small yet each individual is not only highly skilled at what they do but they represent many backgrounds and walks of life. Revolution has been in the works for quite some time. As the idea evolved and as I spoke about my vision out loud, the people who were meant to be a part of it found their way into my life. If you have a team that truly believes in what they are doing, that shines through in every interaction. Their passion creates connection and who doesn’t love to spend time in a space where the people working actually love what they are doing?
I have participated in several yoga trainings as both a student and a facilitator and in each experience the ratio of white woman to woman of color or white woman to any male is alarming. The words I would hear over and over again from the one woman of color or the one male in the room were that “I have a hard time finding a studio where I feel like I belong because nobody looks like me.” It’s got to stop, not just in yoga studios but in establishments all together. We need to be vigilant about creating spaces that represent diverse faces, and the only way to do that is to have diversity on our teams. One of our first “slogans” was It Starts With You. It starts with one person deciding that the way things are isn’t the way things need to stay.
Yoga is growing in popularity, and people seem to be understanding its health benefits, but there is still stigma and intimidation. How do you create an outward facing message that breaks down barriers and gets people in the door in the first place?
It’s funny because in my vision for this space, the yoga classes were actually secondary. Community space kept ringing in my ears and it took me a long time to get clear on what that meant. There are 8 limbs of yoga and only one of those limbs is the physical practice or asana. For the most part in this country the Asana limb is the only yoga people know. It’s the one we know that makes us flexible, that helps us break a sweat, that gives us a workout, but it’s 1/8 of Yoga. I have been inspired by all of the limbs as a guide to establishing my business. When you walk through our doors, you have several opportunities to do yoga without ever needing to take downward facing dog. Whether you support our business by fueling your body with something healthy, having kind conversations with people around you, participating in one of our seated meditations, it’s all the yoga.
Once inside, what’s different about Revolution that keeps people coming back? What kind of community are you trying to build?
One of our fundamental human needs is connection; the need to love and be loved. Part of creating community is supporting community. I have felt driven since day one to figure out how to use this space as a way to elevate and support other people in our community to do what they love too. There are so many amazing people in our community who are trying to start a business, who make amazing products, who offer a service or who create art.
I knew I wanted a bar, a place where many people could meet and sit together and I knew I didn’t want to serve alcohol. Kombucha on tap seemed like a perfect opportunity to have something on tap by the glass and to carry something locally brewed that has so many natural health benefits. I feel like there are people wanting options to sit with friends in a bar like setting without alcohol and this gives them that option. I currently offer three flavors on tap all by local brewers and my goal is to rotate these regularly.
We also have two massage therapists and will have a reiki practitioner in the next few weeks that share a treatment room on a rotating basis. They are all amazing at what they do and the space gives them a chance to share their service with others. We carry a small curated collection of locally made retail merchandise from woman-owned businesses. I love having space to share the unique products that local female makers have to offer! It’s powerful working together to build each other up so that everyone is successful.
We just started an art gallery in our hallway on March 1st. He have a very long hallway outside of our space that had older stock photos that had been there for years. I knew I wanted local art in my space and when I tried to figure out where to put things I felt a little limited. One day i was walking down the hallway and thought, what if I ask the landlord if I can use all of this amazing wall space to display local art. So I did, he said yes and we put out a call to action for local artists. We hosted our first !st Friday event on March 1st and it was a really well received event. The art is for sale and will stay on display until the end of the month. We now have artists and photographers lined up for the gallery through fall.
What does Revolution get involved in outside of its four walls? Any community partnerships or work?
Our first event was a Galentine’s Day event that benefited the local chapter of I Support The Girls, an organization that provides menstrual products and gently used bras to women and girls experiencing homelessness. These are events I would like to continue to have to raise awareness of organizations in the community doing important work. We are only two months old and I’m hopeful for the possibilities to develop more partnerships in the community.
How did you decide to run the Pay What You Can model? What motivates it? How has it been received – are people utilizing it? And how do you make it sustainable for your business?
I knew that if I ever had a yoga studio, a pay what you can option was a non-negotiable. There is magic in the physical practice of yoga and I don’t feel like that magic should be limited to a certain income bracket. My business is also for profit so when I would share this idea with people, most said there was no way this would ever work. Banks looked at me like I had 3 heads. As much as I heard all of the reasons why nobody thought it would work, I could never get rid of this internal gut hit that kept leading me back to my first instinct; I have to offer an economically accessible option for yoga.
What works for us is that pay what you can is only one pricing option. We offer a 5 class pass for $60, a 10 class pass for $110 and a monthly unlimited membership called the Pay It Forward Membership for $88 per month. This allows practitioners who have the financial means to not only pay one rate for unlimited classes but to make the Pay What You Can drop in pricing option possible to those who need it. I truly believe that when given the opportunity to support others, we rise to the occasion. I had a student come to one of our first yoga classes and when he checked in with me for class, I asked how much he could contribute. He said that he had a rough start to the New Year and was unable to give anything. I told him that I was happy to have him and that the intention of our space was for people to have a chance to practice when they needed it most. That student came back three days later and as I tried to check him into class he said that he wasn’t there to take class, he was there to contribute for the class he had already taken. He proceeded to tell me how happy he was that we were there and he believed in our mission and wanted to make sure he was supporting us. That was everything. It was when everything I had believed and hoped for this space to be, in an instant became a tangible reality.
I’m really thrilled for how well received all of our pricing options have been. When people choose the Pay What You Can drop in option, they are all so thoughtful as to what they contribute and I can see that they understand that their contribution matters. I love the accountability of this option. It holds us all accountable to look at what we have and truly pay what is accessible at the time. Each person that contributes something is giving the opportunity for someone to take class that may at one time or another have nothing. It goes back the first limb of yoga, Yama. Treat others as you want to be treated. Support others as you would hope to be supported.
Can you talk about the role yoga plays in your own life?
Oh boy! Well, yoga was a serious game changer in my life. My dad was a yoga practitioner in his younger years and would teach me postures when I was little. As my brother and I got older and busy with school and activities, my dad’s practice took a back seat and so did my learning from him. Yoga resurfaced for me after my second child was born. I was a working mom with a 3 year old and 1 year old and I was seriously depleted. I wasn’t taking any time for myself and I knew something needed to change so one day I googled “yoga studios near me.” I found that there was a studio right around the corner from my house and told my husband he was in charge of the kids for an hour so I could try a class. I wish I could say I had an amazing experience but I didn’t. I actually hated it. I had no idea what I was doing and I felt totally out of place. About a month passed and I couldn’t stop thinking about that experience and so I gave it another try and had a completely different experience second time around. I took class with a wonderful instructor who made eye contact with me and called me by name. She saw me and made me feel so welcomed and at ease. I continued to take class several times a week until my next pull was towards a yoga teacher training. From there it was this snowball progression. I continued to practice, I continued to train and I continued to see how the practice shifted not only my body but the way I show up in my day to day life. While my practice started with asana, the other limbs of self care and self inquiry infiltrated my life and shifted the way I walk in the world.
When I made the decision to participate in a yoga teacher training, my intention was to learn how to share this practice with others as a way to pay forward what this practice has given me. That was six years ago and has led to this Revolution of others having the opportunity to pay it forward in their own way.