'People Welcomed Us With Open Arms'

Tammeca Rochester, founder of Harlem Cycle, kickstarted the growth of health and wellness businesses in the neighborhood

28 Oct 2019 | 12:26

When Tammeca Rochester moved to Harlem 10 years ago, the wellness industry had not yet planted a flag in the upper Manhattan neighborhood. Above 92nd Street at that time, you would have been hard-pressed to find a juice bar or boutique fitness studios. Rochester, who earned an MBA from New York University, saw a market for health and wellness in the neighborhood and wondered, "Why hadn’t anyone tried this before?"

The question drove her to open her own boutique cycling studio, Harlem Cycle, on 125th St. in 2016. In effect, Rochester, 38, kick-started the growth of small businesses that focus on health and fitness in Harlem. She also created a strong community of clients by offering a different environment than what she saw at downtown studios, as well as special events such as hiking excursions upstate or an upcoming “glamping” retreat on Governor’s Island in May.

Recently, Rochester spoke with Straus News about her business being the flagship wellness enterprise in Harlem and what sets the studio apart from the rest:

What was the catalyst for Harlem Cycle?

I just kind of love cycling. This was the workout I had finally chosen that was for me. It was about the music, the kind of atmosphere, the crowd and the energy of people around you. I just wasn't in love with the options. I didn’t love the downtown options. I didn't love kind of the atmosphere that it created. I always felt like I was the outsider in every class. And it didn't matter how in shape I was in. I didn't look like the people in front of me, and I didn’t look like the typical person in class. But I loved their facilities. I loved the customer service. I love how nice the studio spaces were. And we didn't have a studio in Harlem.

One day I was just out for a run and I saw a vacant storefront and I thought, "Wow, would be great if there was a studio in Harlem." You know how you just get this idea in implanted, and you can’t stop thinking about it? I started putting together my business plan did the numbers and I was like, wait a minute, I could do this. And then we opened our doors like five months later.

Do you feel like you have to compete with like a Soul Cycle or others?

In my mind, we're completely different. I think it's just kind of the atmosphere that we've created. That community aspect of just being at ease and being comfortable being who you are, being comfortable at your fitness level, not feeling out of place, no matter who else is in the class with you. That's one. And two is our music. Our music is very true to Harlem. We have a Spanish Harlem class. We have a hip-hop class. We have a soulful Sunday class. Three is really just kind of the community. We bring in a lot of the wellness businesses from Harlem. We do a healthy food option night so you can discover what those healthy options are when you go to Red Rooster or Melbas and those great Harlem restaurants, and that I think helps solidifies how much we're here for the community. We give a holistic approach to health and wellness. I think that really has made a difference for us. I mean, that's the reason why we're here is to make an impact in the community.

Do you lead some of the classes?

Yeah, I teach a few classes as well.

Is that one of your favorite parts of the business?

Yes, absolutely. I love watching someone develop over time. You've seen when they first come in: just barely holding on; just trying to make it through the class; head down trying to make it through. Then to where they graduated. So you know the form is improved, they're pushing through and their resistance levels are higher. It's like watching a baby take the first step, that progression as they go on. To me that's the most like satisfying part of it, just really watching how clients develop over this whole process.

Have there been any challenges being the flagship wellness business in the neighborhood?

First we’ve had to educate people on the boutique aspect of studio spaces where you have to pay per class versus "I just come in whenever I want to." That's part of why we're here: to continue to educate and continue to educate people on wellness and their different options. If you say, "Well, I want to just come in and lift some weights," we’ll say we're not the space for you, but here's a good place to go. But I would say people welcomed us with open arms. When we got here, people were excited about the idea of having a cycling studio. And people were more excited about having a cycling studio that they could resonate with.

What would you say your mission is as a business owner?

I'm trying to make change across generations within this community. Generationally, because this is a community that hasn't had a lot of health and wellness options. Like none of this existed. It's great to see juice bars coming in, health and wellness coming in, those boutique spaces coming in. We're impacting this generation, but now I want to make sure that every generation from this state, going forward, knows health and wellness is a lifestyle and is part of your everyday life, not just something you do every now and then when you feel bored. That's always been my goal coming in: generationally uplifting my community that I'm in and leaving that footprint.