TWO COLUMBUS BUSINESSES PROFIT FROM PROMOTING CLEAN LIVING
BY MICHELLE MOORE
PHOTOGRAPHY BY TRAVIS NELSON, BRAD FEINKNOPF AND NICOLAS HINSCH
People want to be inspired, whether it’s accomplished through ideas, philosophies or even companies. As we surface from an economic downturn, one noticeable result is the emergence of a wiser, more careful, more responsible consumer – one for whom green is as much about voting with one’s dollars as it is engaging in Earth-friendly consumption. While factors other than the economy come into play when defining today’s consumers, this group is the one really calling the shots. They are more socially connected and demand authenticity and transparency out of a business they support.
For companies that deliver on the public’s reluctantly given trust, the reward is substantial, organic growth. The Tracey Gardner Method™ and Northstar Café are currently reaping those rewards. Appropriately, neither business takes the responsibility it has to its customers lightly, and both credit success to their supporters and fans. How could two relative newcomers manage to grow in a dire economy? The answer is that they purposefully pursued their fondest passions and people took notice. Both the Tracey Gardner Method and Northstar Café started with the same philosophy of seeking to matter to themselves, their patrons and employees. Now, both are expanding.
Tracey Gardner is opening a new studio in August for hot core endurance fitness. Describing her workout as “a hot, one-hour fusion of body resistance, core, endurance and strength-building that works every muscle in the entire body,” she discusses her growing business as a hobby she never thought would reach this level of success so quickly. “I get teary-eyed [knowing] that so many people’s lives have changed through what we’re doing,” she says, adding that she can’t wait for her clients to experience her new studio because “It has everything I love poured into it.” Along with classes, Gardner is creating a video and will house retail at her new studio by selling Manduka Mats (integral to the development of the Tracey Gardner Method) and her own line of tank tops, scarves and branded wear.
Gardner makes for a most unlikely fitness instructor. While her method is loosely based on yoga and Pilates, it combines endurance building, body leveraging and muscle opposition with high-energy music in a steam room heated to 105 degrees. There’s no chanting and no communing – just physical results that actually work. But if someone had asked Gardner in college if she thought she’d become the symbol of ultimate fitness for many followers, she says that her answer would have been no. Let’s just say that she wasn’t the healthiest person back then. By her own admission, she ate junk food, smoked, drank way too much and never exercised. Then, her boyfriend (now husband) turned her onto the wonders of fitness. She began lifting, hired a personal trainer and started training for marathons but was often frustrated by numerous joint and tendon injuries. Out of this frustration and the challenges of healing broken bones came the seeds for what is today the Tracey Gardner Method.
The Tracey Gardner Method is entirely innovative. Her workouts can burn 900 calories an hour while easing joint and tendon tension, eliminating the potential for injury and often resulting in the sort of arms Madonna sports. It’s an intense regimen with a Gardner-style twist, and she has the body to prove it. Her muscle definition is that of a professional fitness competitor, but she attests that she hasn’t lifted a traditional weight in over two years.
Currently working out of the New Albany Ballet Company, she teaches eight classes a week. Though she is creating a certification system for her method, she still teaches every class herself, doing all the moves alongside her students. “I do the class to know what the class is feeling. My classes offer a strong connection to the body. It’s all about using muscles and not overworking joints,” says Gardner. “People say it’s the most addictive thing they’ve ever done. They experience a runner’s high and sweat like they’ve never sweat before.”
While Gardner engages in some traditional advertising, she notably writes a popular blog. That’s a big part of what she does as she is not just selling an exercise method but also a philosophy. “This was never about a business to me. It was about pouring what I love into something and people got it,” she says. “I am being true to me and giving everyone a safe, happy place to go do a crazy workout.”
Shifting from exercising the body to fueling it, Northstar Café serves as an excellent subject. The first Northstar was opened in the Short North in 2004. Born out of a desire to craft careers that would feel meaningful and improve the lives of their community, Kevin and Katy Malhame – both just 26 at the time – opened what has grown into a string of popular restaurants in Columbus. There are two Northstar Café locations in the Short North and Clintonville with a third opening this fall at Easton and a new concept called Third and Hollywood that promises a more upscale dining experience. However, Kevin is quick to say that their success (swelling at a rate of 40 percent a year) is not just about a young couple that started a restaurant. It’s about the Northstar team – something that is thriving thanks to a near-religious adherence to an overarching value that defines the Northstar culture: serving and celebrating a healthy world. Rather than being only a mantra, it’s a way of life that every employee embraces. Customers embrace it too, evidenced by the restaurants’ loyal devotees. It’s rare that a restaurant has hundreds of positive reviews online, but locals and people from around the country proudly and loudly rave about Northstar.
The management team responsible for Northstar’s success is a formidable one made up of former bankers, lawyers and other interesting individuals. Of course, some team members are graduates of the best culinary schools in the world. “My brother Darren joined us. He is a key member of our management team and it is a real honor to have him participate,” says Kevin. An attorney by trade, Darren Malhame currently serves as president of the board of trustees for the Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association, a grassroots coalition of food producers and consumers. Formed in 1979, the group promotes nourishing, ecological, accountable and permanent agriculture in Ohio and elsewhere.
“We feel good about the quality of our leadership. Everything is possible because of the great, great people on our team,” says Kevin Malhame. “In fact, we are a management-owned company. Our managers believe in what we are doing and choose to invest in the business. We try to be a great place to work and take care of our staff.” For example, he says that for the last six years, every employee has had the option of being on the same health insurance plan as the company’s founders while keeping the same rate as them.
Just like the Tracey Gardner Method, Northstar Café champions a philosophy that people clamor for and subsequently embrace. Northstar feels strongly that every decision it makes affects the health of their community and environment on a local and global scale. Whether it’s the cotton they select for their uniforms, where they place their restaurants or the containers and supplies they use, all decisions are made consciously. Appropriately, the food also reflects this decision-making process. Northstar’s menu is chock full of nourishing items that can soundly fuel customers’ bodies. “We keep close track of ingredients,” Malhame explains. “They fall into two categories: responsibly produced and conventionally produced.” The former includes ingredients that are local, organic or artisan-produced while the second is “not locally sourced or organic, but it’s still better than you’ll find in most restaurants.” In keeping with their homegrown approach, the eatery utilizes responsibly produced food. “The health benefits are apparent, but more than that, doing business this way protects the environment and supports producers whose values are aligned with Northstar,” notes Kevin Malhame.
If the success of Northstar Café and the Tracey Gardner Method prove anything, it is that the best business is personal. These two companies pour their convictions, values and energy into helping those in their communities lead healthier, more vibrant lives. When headlines and anecdotes alike depict companies excusing bad behavior and unconscionable acts as “business as usual,” it’s refreshing to see passion with a conscience – showing that purpose matters more than ever. It matters to both employees and customers, and for both of these healthy businesses, the result happens to lie in the bottom line.
For more information on these healthy businesses, visit their websites: