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Jeff & Nicole Katz on Bringing Yoga to the Industry Set

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Daniel Krieger

Nicole Katz left her job as the general manager of Torrisi Italian Specialties to open a yoga studio with her husband, Jeff. When he's not at the studio, Jeff spends most of his time leading Del Posto's James Beard Award-winning service program. A lot of their clients at Yoga 216 are chefs and servers who put in time on the yoga mats before heading off to work. Eater recently chatted with the duo about the physical demands of restaurant life, and how their work at the studio has caught on with the industry crowd.

How did you transition from the restaurant world to the yoga world?
Nicole Katz: When it came time to leave Torrisi, I knew that I wanted to go back to yoga — this is kind of my passion. So I called up some of my old clients, and I started teaching privately again and really, just because that kind of operation side of my brain was so used to all of that work, I just started putting together a business plan for the yoga studio, for this concept. I was not thinking that it would happen immediately. We saw a couple of spaces, but I wanted to make sure that the rent number in my business plan was right. I was really just occupying my type-A brain by putting this business plan together. I knew we'd do it someday, but we thought maybe when we moved to the suburbs or something like that.

I had drawn an outline of the space that I wanted in my business plan, and when we walked into this was the exact outline that I had drawn in my business plan. Really crazy. It was one of those things where Jeff and I are both very strong personalities, and we rarely just agree on something right away. But we looked at each other and were like, "Let's do it now."

Jeff Katz: We live right down the street, on 20th at Ninth, so it's like home. It's good for us.

When you were opening, did you plan to provide a service for restaurant people? Was that part of the business plan?
Nicole: It kind of just evolved. I worked in restaurants for almost 15 years, so my schedule was that I'd go to yoga at two o'clock, and then I would go for my shift. I could sleep late, I could have coffee at my home, and if there was a two o'clock class at the studio, I'd take that so that I could just do yoga, change, and go to work. Being that our name is Yoga 216, we have a 2:16 p.m. class almost every day, and we have a decent amount of restaurant people. But I definitely think it's an area we want to expand, just because we have experience.

[Daniel Krieger]

Jeff: I think the restaurant industry — for those that are on the service side of things or on the cooking side of things — it's abusive to the body. You're on your feet a lot, and you do a lot of repetitive motions. I know this and she knows this, as well. This is just a way to work out some of those kinks, not just from the physical perspective, but also kind of like mental clarity when dealing with difficult people, difficult managers, and difficult employees. There are just a lot of healthy benefits that go along with it. The middle of the day works out well for the industry.

Nicole: And also, some of my first clients were chefs. There was a surprising amount of chefs, obviously, because it was the kind of industry that I was in. My background is in something which is called "structural yoga therapy," which is a very diagnostic type of yoga. So, working with a lot of chefs' shoulders and the general restaurant body is very similar across the board. You're either always down at the table, or you're leaning down. There's this whole kind of thing that happens to the spine, that's kind of general for the whole restaurant world. Of course, staying on your feet all day causes circulation issues and things like that. So, we get to address all those things. When I know we have restaurant people in that two o'clock class, because the classes are so small, I gear stuff towards that. We'll spend time with circulation and really opening up the thoracic and stuff like that.

A lot of people in the industry party after work. Does this help offset that?
Nicole: Yoga is another coping mechanism that is not staying out super late drinking — which is totally part of the culture, and understandably so. You're on a real high at the end of the night and you need a way to come down. But it's another great way to combat the stress and the anxiety and the life stuff that is specific to a restaurant. It worked for me, and I know a lot of my friends do yoga.

Jeff: We've got all the stuff you need, too, like the showers and towels. So you can really just come in and go where you need to be without having to go home or worry about, "Am I gonna be sweaty or need to shower?" We've got all of the stuff you might need.

What, physically, does a restaurant employee have to worry about the most. Stress on the knees? Stress on the back?
Nicole: I would say it's the thoracic spine — the area right behind the heart — and the vertical spine, right above that where the neck is. You're either looking down at the table, or looking down at the computer screen, or you're chopping. It's a bad thing to be on your feet, but that's almost an easier thing to counterbalance. All you have to really do is be mindful about putting your legs up on the wall at the end of a shift. To actually open that heart area back up and make sure that you're strengthening muscles in the back side of the body instead of just weakening them and tightening muscles on the front body. In my experience, that is, across the board, the place that has taken the brunt of it.

You guys have both worked at some modern, progressive restaurants in management positions. Do you apply any of that restaurant spirit to running the studio?
Nicole: I'm not sure if you've been to many other studios, but it's way different than what they offer at other yoga studios. And I think that having a service background 100 percent allowed me to draw service into this business where I don't think it really exists, yet. Training manuals — I didn't know how to do that until I did it for a restaurant. Training staff — I didn't know how to do that until I did it for a restaurant. The whole operation side — I didn't know how to do that until I did it for a restaurant. So, all of those skills are here.

Jeff: It's also very tailored. The experience and the classroom here is six people. So, it's you and the chef, right? And if you look at it like that, they're kind of cooking for you. Like at Del Posto, we serve a lot of people every single night and if you compare us to Brooklyn Fare, they're cooking for 12 or however many people there is at the counter. It's a different model in that respect.

The difference is that although the teacher teaches the class and it has a cycle, and kind of a program, not every single person in that room has to do the exact same thing all the way. There are modifications to each pose as they go. So that would be the counterpoint. Whereas if you go to a tasting menu or food counter-type of restaurant, you're all getting the same stuff all night long- that's how it goes. If you don't eat something maybe they can work around you. Here we work around them. If you're like, "I have a back injury," well, she's gonna give you a modification to a pose, but it's not like you have to force yourself to do everything. The other nice thing is that, if you've never done yoga, in a class of six, when the teacher knows that, they can help you find your way into it and get some of the basics down. Whereas, if you're in a room of 30 or 40, you can get lost, and it's not as safe.

Nicole: We're a "yes" yoga studio.

· Yoga 216 [Official Site]

Yoga 216

511 W 20 St., New York, NY

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