Building a Wellness Business in a Pandemic

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We’re here right now amidst a global pandemic, and the world is more full of stress than ever. We began Cedar and Stone, with the sole goal of helping people relieve stress. We’re doing that through this centuries-old practice of sauna. 

You can watch our story here, or read on below.

Growing Up with Sauna Culture

It began simply by growing up in the sauna. My family, and other folks who immigrated over and from Scandinavia, they had a cultural treasure with them—the sauna. 

Early on, when I was about three, I remember installing the first sauna in my dad’s basement. It was like the smell of cedarwood locked that memory in my mind. So, along the way this has always been a part of my life. That was the practice of sauna – not just the hot room in the back of the gym that you can barely breathe in sometimes. No, what I knew could relieve stress was a really high quality sauna. The sauna that I’ve grown up with, the kind I’ve built in almost every home I’ve lived in.

So, our story here actually doesn’t begin here in Duluth. Our story begins in Finland.

A hundred years ago these practices came across the Atlantic with my family as they emigrated to the US. Then, ten years ago, my wife and I went to Finland. When we were there, we went to all these different community saunas, and one of them was on a raft on the Baltic. It was unbelievable. We got there, and we got into this row boat, and a Finnish man rowed us out and left us on this raft to sauna, swim, sauna, swim. It was magical. 

On that day, ten years ago, I told my wife, “If there’s a city in the US that can do this, it’s Duluth, Minnesota,” the city that we were about to move back to. 

For the last decade I’ve sat with that vision, that seed of an idea in my mind. Then, we built a company around it.

Starting a Sauna Business

Our company began with a community sauna right on the shores of Lake Superior. We opened it up, and people were coming. It was the middle of winter in Duluth, MN, and if you know a little bit about Duluth, you probably know that it’s cold here a lot of the time. That is one great fact about Duluth, of course, but it’s also this beautiful entrepreneurial city built on one of my favorite lakes in the world, Lake Superior. It’s full of arts and culture and energy.

So, we moved back, and when we got here, we found this city that we grew up in, but we rediscovered it. It was like, “Oh, my gosh, we get to live here. And we get to live here now.” 

Fast forward a little bit, we opened this business. We built this beautiful community sauna that people come in. Just like you would a massage or a spa, you buy a session. And in the heart of winter, that was great. In the late stages of winter, that was even better. And then spring hit. 

Then Came the Pandemic

In spring of 2020, our world got flipped upside down, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if we were going to make it. We had to shut down the community sauna for four months. 

Yet, during the pause, people saw what we created. Some even had started to experience high quality sauna.

Not this little dark box.
Not this little musty thing in the back of their gym.
When they saw how beautiful we had created and built it…

They would ask, “Do you build these? Do you make them? I have a cabin. I’ve got a backyard. I’m learning to love this thing, or I’ve always loved this thing.”

We knew building would be a part of the business at some point, but when the pandemic hit, it just accelerated. It shifted our gears into this moment of saying, “Well, we can’t provide the thing that we’re trying to do in the community space.”

The goal and the mission was to help relieve people’s stress. And it felt like the pandemic tied our hands. Until we got creative.

The goal and the mission was to help relieve people’s stress. And it felt like the pandemic tied our hands. Until we got creative.

I said to myself, “I’m here, and I’m in this city, and coronavirus has just shut down everything. How do we carry out the mission?”

Our community sauna was in the tourist section and we watched every restaurant lay off all their staff. We watched every hotel have to cut back their staff, and it was a ghost town…in the time when it was supposed to be coming alive. 

And we were sitting there saying “What’s going to happen? How are we going to do this?

How are we going to keep surviving and thriving?” 

And then we had a few folks say, “I love what you’re doing. I want it at my house, I want it in my backyard. I want you to bring it to the cabin. I want you to take it down to the Twin Cities for me.” 

Building Again

So, we began building, and month after month, we built and built and built and built. And it began to feel like this sense of gratefulness in me. I felt a calling to do this thing, I felt a desire to be in this city, and serve the city, and help it flourish, and help get rid of the stress that we’re all carrying…and we weren’t able to do it for all the people anymore, but we were able to do it for a few folks, at their homes.

We were able to give them that thing that they could use every single day, every single week. Now a handful of months later, we’re here in our new space. We had an opportunity to work with a few companies and to grow out of building these in the backyard and in the driveway of Joel, our good friend, our head of fabrication. 

We had the chance to say, “Hey, let’s invest, and let’s take a chance…let’s build this company right.”

And now we’re here in our new building. This is right in West Duluth, the heart of Duluth, looking over the city. You see the bay and the St. Louis River. 

Again, it’s like it’s coming up in me the emotion of gratefulness, we get to be here now. We get to serve people now. We get to serve people and provide them this thing that my family’s always known. My family has always put time into, investing in thousands of dollars to have a good quality sauna experience in our home and accessible. What we’re doing is we’re trying to get that to more people. 

My hope is to say there’s a story being told here amidst a crazy pandemic about this wellness experience of sauna. That it’s happening and people are discovering it. People are continuing to discover it, even when the gyms close, even when the YMCA is closed, even when the places

where you usually go to are closed, we are finding ways to get wellness to people. 

Cedar & Stone Nordic Sauna HQ – Our Design Studio and Manufacturing space.

Firing on all Cylinders 

Luckily, after four months of being shut down, we were actually able to open our community sauna in Canal Park. We totally flipped the business model from these community spaces to

private sessions. We were small enough, unlike the gym, that we’re going to sanitize the whole

space top to bottom between each group of people coming in there. It’s been safe and it’s been providing people this respite that we were hoping for the whole time.

As a business we were firing on all cylinders—from sauna experiences to sauna builds we were growing. Even in the pandemic.

And it was becuase we were giving people the chance to experience something that helps them.

You know that weight that’s on your shoulders this week, no matter what it is, come visit us. Let us melt away the stress. Let us teach you about this wellness practice that you maybe only know a little bit about. 

We’re going to be continuing to communicate with you about that. We’re going to talk about how we build these beautiful spaces. We’re going to talk about the value of sauna, if you have a sauna in your house, or if you have a sauna at the gym. We will be teaching how to use your sauna to get the most wellness benefits from it. 

And lastly, we will be telling you the story of our community. A story of the people that are discovering and their lives are being transformed by this experience of sauna.

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