We tend to think the best decisions in life are made over pizza. Case in point: One frigid January night last year at Pequod’s, sisters Natalie and Andrea Pavela got to talking about Chicago’s extracurricular strengths (eating and drinking) and weaknesses (activities other than eating and drinking). Although Andrea worked full-time as a sales analyst, she yearned to put her yoga-teaching certification to use. Meanwhile, Natalie’s experience as an event coordinator exposed her to small businesses in the city’s creative community. By the final bites of their sausage-and-green-pepper deep-dish pie, the girls had dreamed up Yoga+, an interactive series of yoga workshops. They started small in friends' apartments, deciding to expand if and when interest grew. And did it ever. In just a single year, Yoga+ has hosted 19 events that combine yoga with hands-on workshops that range from styling at Anthropologie to pasta-making at Sepia. At this point, hundreds of participants have warrior-posed their way through the weekend while picking up a new skill on the side. Here, the ladies share what it took to get started, the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and the dreamy weekend retreats they hope to host down the road.
Name: Andrea Pavela Age: 25 How long have you been practicing yoga, and why do you love it? "I started my practice seven years ago, and I’ve been certified to teach Vinyāsa Yoga for three years. We grew up in the suburbs, and I danced and did gymnastics when I was younger. My background was more structured, so yoga has been exploratory for me. It’s about self-discovery and building a relationship with yourself, which I’m still learning to do. But I’m still motivated by a group’s collective energy. I feel energized because of the people around me." What did it take to actually start the business? “As soon as we came up with a name at Pequod’s, Natalie immediately reserved social media handles and a website. We never envisioned having a space, so that made the whole thing less scary. And we figured as long as we’re breaking even and making a little profit, we’re good. A few photographer friends took photos for us, and we established an LLC.” So how’d your first real event go? “We did floral arranging with Larkspur at Workshop. We had 35 people, which honestly made it hard for me to interact with everyone while teaching. Now we plan events for a smaller number of people, with as little as seven and no more than 15–20.”
Was there one event you're most proud of? “The watercolor one we did with Tiffany Wong was really successful. People just didn’t stop smiling. Tiffany was really engaging, the participants got to work their hands, and then they all walked home with their own painting. We also just did a wine tasting — my boyfriend is a sommelier — and a percentage of the tickets went to the Lynn Sage Cancer Research Foundation. At the end of the night, when you’re hugging people when they leave, it’s just a great feeling. We form real, genuine connections.” What would be your dream event? “We’d love to host yoga retreats in different cities across the U.S. For instance, we have a friend in Dallas who’s connected to a great community and lives a very similar lifestyle as us. We’d also love to curate city guides and host retreats where we’d plan one dinner and one workshop each day, so that people have plenty of time to explore.” What advice would you give to someone like you who wants to start her own business? “It’s crucial to take things one step at a time. This has been our passion project, and as it gains momentum, we learn things along the way. We’ve let it grow organically, and we’re lucky that we didn’t have to leave everything else in our lives behind to do this. I’d really recommend tapping into your local network, because you can receive such genuine support like we have.”
Name: Natalie Age: 27 What need did you hope to meet when you came up with the idea of Yoga+? “I found that I would spend $20 on a yoga class, and then go in and not talk to anyone. I really wanted more of a sense of community. When we started doing this in friends' apartments, we’d move the couch out of the way and have a class in a casual, relaxing setting. We’d laugh when people fall over, and it was approachable and playful. And then one of our friends would teach the group something. Since the beginning, we’ve really valued learning new things and giving people a platform to share what they know.” How do you come up with such a wide range of events? “We thought about the categories we wanted to cover: wellness, decorating, plants and flowers, fashion, etc. When I’m out doing event work for South Social and Home and Greenhouse Loft, I just am always having my Yoga+ lens on. And I find a ton of great people through Instagram. Some people reach out to us, which feels really great, or people who’ve attended past events share ideas. We draw on all the people we met and the community we’ve built, and partner with people that share our vision and treat us well. And for a lot of them, it’s their passion project, too.” What impact does Yoga+ have on these businesses? “We love exposing participants to the small businesses that we love. And then, when they encounter them again, it’s familiar and they have a story they tell their friends. It gives them a platform to share. When you have an emotional connection to a brand, you have way more brand loyalty. For instance, after our silk-scarf event, the maker told us that one participant bought 20 scarves from her over the holidays as gifts.” What important lesson have you learned along the way? “We’ve learned the importance of quality control. We like to get the chance to know the host and talk about the takeaway for participants. The person leading the workshop needs to be able to field questions and feel confident in front of groups. We now have a better grasp of what’s interesting to us and can be interactive. We’re also still working on pricing. We’re trying to figure out who our audience is and what events are resonating most, and offer options that attract people no matter how much they have to spend.”
How has working with your sister affected your relationship? “One of the biggest joys we've had in Yoga+ has been the opportunity to collaborate as sisters. Even though we're from the same family, Andrea and I bring diverse strengths to the table, and it's been so fun to work together and get to know each other as adults even better.” Were you surprised by how much support you received in such a short amount of time? “Completely. Now we have less people we know coming to the events and more strangers — including repeat people. We have one participant who’s been to, like, 16 of 19 events! We have everyone from beginners to more advanced yogis, and Andrea caters to all of them in the most welcoming way.” What events do you have coming down the pipeline? “We’re doing a brandy distillery tour and cocktails at Rhine Hall on July 8, as well as terrarium-building at Sprout Home and Japanese paper-marbling. And we’re planning a big holiday series throughout November and December. But what we’re most excited about right now is the big first-birthday party we’re throwing on June 28 in Palmer Square Park. It’s free to attend, and we’ll have park games and picnic food for everyone to enjoy. Come join us!”