Last week, The Bodhi Spa co-founders and sisters Cedar Hwang and Harmony Oschefski opened the doors of a new location at 186 Broadway in Providence. In the midst of a pandemic, the path to launching the hydrotherapy spa – known for its unique Water Journey – in historic Federal Hill was long, hard-fought, and put them close to bankruptcy.

What’s Up Newp had a chance to chat with the sisters about their new venture and the challenges they faced to stay open in Newport and launch in Providence this year. Read on for the full interview.

Cedar Hwang and Harmony Oschefski, co-founders and Managing Partners of The Bodhi Spa. Photo credit: Maaike Bernstrom

When did your Providence location officially open and what are your current hours?

We did a ribbon cutting on Wednesday, October 21st. Mayor Elorza was there as well as a representative from Senator Jack Reed’s office. We’ve fallen in love with the local community. We’re very grateful to have had really great partners and to have received such a warm welcome from the community.

We’ve started with decreased hours we will eventually ramp up to match our Newport hours (8 am – 9 pm) as we get more bookings and are able to hire more.

Tell us about how the pandemic impacted your business and the opening of your new location.

We were visiting a ski resort to talk about expanding Bodhi Spa to one of their locations, and it was on the car on the drive back that we made the call to shut down. That was on March 16th. We didn’t officially reopen until July 5th.  We estimate we lost about $600,000 in revenue during that time.

We wouldn’t have been able to get our doors open if not for Jack Reed advocating for us. Getting our Newport location re-opened was no small miracle. We petitioned for months. We reached out to every government official that was willing to hear us. No one knew what to do with us because we were so unique. We petitioned the Department of Business Regulations, CommerceRI, Congressman Cicilline, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, and Senator Jack Reed. Through the National Hot Springs Business & Trade Association, we had a contact at the Alaska Governor’s office. We had them contact Governor Raimondo’s office to open up communication between us there.  Everyone was great at getting back to us, but no one really knew what to do with us because we’re such a unique business.

After we re-opened in Newport, no new pool applications were being looked at by the Department of Health because they were so overwhelmed managing COVID. So, we had to take a breather for a bit and just enjoy being open in Newport again.  Then, we had to hit the ground running in August and start petitioning again. We were not getting approved for the pool plan – which our whole business is based around. We only got our licenses as of 12pm on Friday (October 22nd) and we opened up on Saturday, the very next day.  The only reason we got them was because we had the power of Senator Jack Reed’s petitioning for us, making phone calls, and the governor’s office coming to check us out. It was a very arduous journey to get here and we came very close to going bankrupt. Our loans were coming to fruition and our banks were not extending any more time to us.

Photo credit: Maaike Bernstrom

What safety precautions and considerations have you made?

We want people to know that we’re not being unsafe by opening; we do things differently. We have a hygiene hostess dedicated to making sure people are social distancing, wearing their masks, and sweeping and cleaning every 15 minutes. We submitted a 16-17 page re-opening plan with many protocols to explain how we were going to re-open safely and in the right way. We worked with companies from all over North America as well as the Global Wellness Institute and National Hot Springs Business & Trade Association, to pick up different ideas on how to re-open. Because we’re the only ones like us in New England, we needed to learn from these other businesses how to safely open large bodies of water. From our collection of ideas, we were able to assemble and submit our comprehensive plan.  Because we did so much research and tweaking of our protocols, we’ve been able to safely re-open.

What’s different between the new Providence location and the Newport location?

The Providence location is an evolvement. In Providence, we realized we needed more space, so it’s twice as big as the Newport location. It feels like it’s been designed a bit more thoughtfully because we had the space, and we were able to take a lot of guest feedback into consideration. We created a relaxation area that’s separate from the Water Journey, and a direct entrance from the locker room to the Water Journey space, so you don’t have to go into a public area in your towel or bathing suit on your way there. The pool at this location also a waterfall that you can rinse off in.

Eventually, we are going to have a float with a relaxing, sensory deprivation experience. It’s a very dark, quiet room where you don’t see or hear anything. You float on 8-12 inches of water that has 200 lbs of dead sea salt dissolved in it, so you’re extremely buoyant. It gives you the feeling of weightlessness, combined with no light or sound, gives you a deep, extremely relaxing experience. 

Otherwise, the spa treatment menu in Providence is the same as Newport.

Are you currently hiring?

We’ve been hiring and training for the past month. It’s amazing to be able to offer new jobs during this time. We needed staff and be able to open and ready immediately and we were able to do that because we were able to support the process with our Newport location. We needed a month to hire and train properly – it’s such an important part of our business and to keep people safe. Our 16-17 page list of protocols is a lot of training and takes a while to get through.

Any plans for further expansion?

We’re still in talks with the ski resort, which we’ll be visiting again hopefully this winter as long as coronavirus allows for us to visit safely. There is still a strong interest on both sides, but will probably be a while before we can plan anything.  We’ve also talked about potentially expanding to Connecticut or Massachusetts.

The Bodhi Spa is now booking appointments at their Providence location 11am-6pm. Street parking and as well as a public paid parking lot are available nearby.