By Juergen Kneifel Herald Columnist
When Ukrainian immigrant Aleksey Dudnik moved to the United States, he immediately began saving to start a small business.
Five years ago, he opened Banya in downtown Everett.
So what’s a banya? It’s a spa experience common in the Russian culture based on an aggressive exposure to extreme heat, chilling cool-downs and perhaps massage, facial or body scrubs and, at Banya, a nice selection of Russian cuisine.
In the spirit of capturing how immigrants view our economy and the opportunity to start a business, I interviewed Dudnik about opening his company.
Dudnik started out in the construction industry when he arrived here, earning startup capital for his dream.
“I love the idea that I can own a business and invest in the business and earn a good living,” Dudnik said.
I found out about the Banya experience when I purchased a massage certificate through Living Social which included a free pass to the spa facility.
The storefront at 2814 Colby is nothing more than a reception desk at the top landing to the stairwell leading to the basement level. In the basement, you’ll find quite a spread. There are men’s and women’s dressing rooms, a hot tub and cold tub. There is a dry sauna and wet (eucalyptus sauna) along with massage treatment rooms. And there is a deli and game room for relaxation.
The facility provides slippers, towels and robes while attending to the needs of their guests. It’s a first-class experience, no question.
The business concept was easy for Dudnik to identify. After comparing the health and well-being of folks in his homeland, Dudnik noted that there are far too many people here that are working in jobs where they fail to break a sweat.
When I stepped into the dry sauna, I was reminded to lay a towel on the cedar bench to protect my legs from a burn. Banya boasts the hottest dry sauna in the state according to Dudnik; with a toasty range from 200 to 220 degrees. Sweat happens!
After ten minutes of intense heat, the regimen shifts to a cool down. In Russian tradition, the banya participants would step into the snow and roll around. It makes the cold tub seem a bit lightweight in comparison.
I chatted with several guests before my scheduled massage. Visitors and guests typically purchase a day pass or a package of passes for their spa experience. But Dudnik hopes that more customers will join as “members” by making Banya a part of their daily routine. Memberships can run less than the cost of a typical fitness facility and may provide great health benefit.
Releasing toxins is one of the known therapeutic advantages of massage; it’s also a natural element of working up a sweat in the dry sauna. Apparently this has great appeal to some who prefer “relaxation sweat” over “workout sweat.”
Once guests are finished with their spa experience they can enjoy a great selection of Russian, Ukrainian and European cuisine.
Downtown Banya is a terrific small business concept that integrates Russian tradition with needs that many folks in Everett could truly enjoy. And Dudnik is poised to make this enterprise a solid, profitable venture.
Dudnik isn’t looking to expand anytime soon. But building his current clientele is high on the list. He’s also looking to hire more help as the business grows. Currently Banya employs three masseuses and three additional staff.
Here are some early observations in exploring attitudes of immigrants who open up shop when they come to the United States. Hard work and sacrifice are not something that will deter these newcomers. Education seems to be a high priority as these new business entrepreneurs soak in the ways in which they can build a profitable enterprise. Family typically embraces the business since it is the basis for supporting the family.
And doing business here is great in comparison with what they’ve experienced elsewhere. “This is the best place for someone to get a business going,” said Dudnik.
You can learn more about this small business and their services, gift certificates and hours of operation at www.downtownbanya.com.
Juergen Kneifel is a senior associate faculty member in Everett Community College’s business program. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.