Savannah’s leading health-focused entrepreneurs share what wellness means to them — and how to stay the course
Written by FEIFEI SUN
Photography by KATIE McGEE
ONCE FOCUSED ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY on diet and physicality, the wellness industry has evolved in the last decade to encompass a more holistic view of health. No one understands that evolution more than these local female founders whose own lived experiences have inspired them to create healthier, more mindful options in exercise, home products, nutrition and beauty — strengthening their businesses and inspiring others along the way.
Kate Doran, owner and teacher, Savannah Power Yoga
Before opening Savannah Power Yoga in 2011, Kate Doran worked in the software industry in California for many years. “While my bank account benefited, my physical health and personal relationships did not,” she says. “As a workaholic, I spent a lot of the money that I earned paying for visits to luxury spas to try and get a quick fix before diving back into 60-hour workweeks.”
When Doran moved to Savannah in 2004, being a remote employee gave her the time to practice yoga every morning before the workday started on the West Coast.
Today, the mission of her studio is to provide a welcoming space and community to share the consistent practice of yoga. “Wellness is about balance in mind, body and spirit,” she says. “When all three are aligned and given equal measure, I feel strong, grounded and compassionate.”
Raye Carr, founder of Raye Carr Hypnotherapy
Raye Carr had tried everything to quit smoking, from using a patch and meditating, to working one-on-one with a doctor. So when she heard a commercial about a local hypnotherapy class focused on smoking cessation, she thought, “Why not? I’ve tried everything else.”
On the drive home from that hypnotherapy class, Carr noticed something astounding: she didn’t feel the need to smoke. Nor did she later, when she went to dinner. “It was so surreal,” Carr says of the experience, which prompted her to open her practice in 2016.
“Ultimately, wellness is being in the position to choose, day to day, the things that make you feel whole and bring you closer to your ultimate goals,” she says. “I use hypnotherapy as a way to help people heal and feel better, so they can make that choice.”
Allison Falkenberry, owner of otium Savannah and otium Eastern Wharf
Allison Falkenberry’s career in crisis communications in the health and wellness space, which included working on books by actress Jessica Alba and former vice president Al Gore, meant keeping up on the latest trends and news in the industry. But she was also personally dedicated to wellness, including a longstanding yoga practice, as a way to stay centered and calm. In 2018, Falkenberry opened her first ?tium studio location on Liberty Street to provide others with the same opportunity to find their Zen.
“My career throughline was health and wellness, and I saw a need for more contemporary classes here — a place where fitness and wellness could be more lifestyle,” she says. Falkenberry recently added a second location at Eastern Wharf. Her studios are designed to be dedicated, intentional spaces where her clients can enjoy the benefits of physical movement and connectivity, as well as emotional and spiritual growth.
For Falkenberry, wellness increasingly means self-actualization.
“Wellness is as much emotional agency as it is moving mindfully,” she says. “There’s a real power in setting a better boundary, showing more empathy, changing a pattern or keeping all of your commitments. We’ve seen so many examples of how success doesn’t have to look the same for everyone, and that also applies to wellness. … It’s also being kind to yourself and to others.”
Kristin Russell, owner of Brighter Day Natural Foods Market and The Sentient Bean
“If I want to think that I am anything other than blobs of molecules hurtling about space, then I’m going to want some purpose for my life — and I’m going to want that purpose to feel good,” says Kristin Russell. “In the simplest terms, I want my life to add good into the world.”
She’s done just that as co-founder of The Sentient Bean, the beloved parkside coffee shop that offers fair trade and organic brew, which opened in 2001.
Nearly two decades later, in 2020, Russell also became the owner of longtime local favorite Brighter Day Natural Foods Market, located next door. For Russell, wellness means feeling good. “It’s not about how you look, and it’s certainly not about how other people perceive you,” she says. “It’s about having energy, clarity and confidence.”
Caroline Brennan, owner of Pure Barre Savannah and Pure Barre City Market
Pure Barre came into Caroline Brennan’s life in 2012 after the birth of her third child. She had always been physically active and even went on to study exercise and sports science in college before working as a physician assistant for 14 years. But there was something different about her Pure Barre experience.
“When class was over, I felt so great, recharged and truly felt capable of handling anything for the rest of my day,” she says. “I immediately rebooked my next class so I could feel that feeling again.”
Brennan became a Pure Barre owner five years ago, and she describes the studios as a “fitness family” that welcomes, encourages and celebrates one another.
“I wanted to make sure we not only continued to produce an excellent physical class experience, but were equally as supportive from a mental and emotional standpoint,” she says about her approach to becoming an owner. “Wellness is a practice, not a static state. Life is difficult, stressful and challenging, but it can also be fun, joyful and satisfying all at the same time.”
Kelsey Bucci, founder of Paris Laundry
The personal is professional for Kelsey Bucci, whose breast cancer diagnosis fueled her to create Paris Laundry, a brick-and-mortar and e-commerce health and beauty shop.
“It was truly born out of a need in my own lifelife,” Bucci says. “I started out wanting to create a place for other people that found themselves on the other side of hearing the words ‘you have cancer.’”
Bucci’s search for safe and clean personal care products throughout treatment led to endless hours of ingredient research. Now, she wants customers to be able to come into Paris Laundry or shop online and know that everything in the store has been vetted by her, each product personally tested and the ingredients carefully researched.
“I want to inspire wellness in every aspect of my customers’ lives, which is directly rooted in my personal wellness vision as well,” Bucci says. Beyond curating goods for her shop, Bucci also shares insights from her personal health journey, from workout routines to breast cancer education, on Instagram.
Betsy Hunter Hughes, founder of CORE Pilates and Health
What does wellness mean to Betsy Hunter Hughes? “In one word, it’s balance,” she says. “It’s the synchronization of mind, body and spirit — and also having the time to invest in self-care and self-love.”
Hughes, who opened CORE Pilates and Health in 2019 after a nearly two-decade career teaching Pilates, tries to help her clients achieve this balance through a series of private and small-group reformer and mat classes at her Starland studio.
Hughes also offers nutrition education and coaching, believing that it sets the foundation for total-body health. “Wellness is health from the inside out,” she says. “You can exercise every day and still struggle to feel good if you’re not looking at nutrition.”
Nicole Ware, founder of Heal Acupuncture
After studying medicine in college, Nicole Ware worked a high-paced job that quickly led to health challenges.
“My job was exciting, but I began to have severe neck, jaw and carpal tunnel syndromes,” says Ware.
Her dentist recommended a mouthguard, and also encouraged her to address the root cause: stress. Ware was already practicing yoga and exercising regularly, but her dentist suggested adding acupuncture into the mix.
“It was tremendously helpful, so I decided to go back to school and study acupuncture and herbs,” she says. “I’ve never looked back.”
Today, at her acupuncture practice, Ware works with patients to help them feel solid. “Like a four-legged stool that allows for stability, it’s important to sleep well, digest well, move physically and feel calm mentally,” she says. “If those four legs are stable, then we can withstand a lot of stressors or challenges that life throws at us.”
Chelsea Dye, founder of Blend + Press Wellness Bar
After years of providing freshly squeezed grab-and-go fruit and vegetable juices at Blend + Press Wellness Bar, founder Chelsea Dye recently made a pivot to focus on more tailored client work, from custom weekly juice subscriptions to one-on-one nutritional counseling.
“There’s been a real shift in the consumer mindset, in part because of COVID-19, to focus on autoimmune disorders and inflammation, and talk about those topics in a meaningful way,” she says. “It used to be somewhat taboo to talk about gut health, but we’re finally starting to understand that wellness is [holistic].”
Dye understands that well. When working with clients, she tries to remind them that holistic health also means habits that are enduring — and enjoyable. “I tell clients that the best plan is the one that works for their life and is fun.”
Christina Harley, founder of Christina’s Healing Hands
Before founding her massage practice, Christina’s Healing Hands, Christina Harley would practice on colleagues at her corporate brokerage job. “They always joked that massage was my true calling,” she says.
In 2016, she decided to take the leap to start her business after the devastating loss of her son. Harley found healing from his passing through massage and other holistic wellness practices, like meditation. And she aspires to bring this same healing to her clients.
“Wellness means healed — your mind, body and soul are healed,” she says. “It’s about the physical and mental. Whenever I start a massage, I always remind the client: ‘Relaxation starts with your mind.’”
Kelley J. Boyd, founder of Savannah Yoga Center
“Wellness to me is self-awareness and personal habits that incorporate physical, mental and spiritual well-being,” says Kelley J. Boyd, founder of Savannah Yoga Center and its adjacent store, Ordinary Magic. “Not all of these aspects are, or can be, in balance and harmony 100% of the time. I try my best to turn off the autopilot and be as present as I can in each moment and live life fully.”
Boyd brings this same ethos to her yoga center, which celebrated its 20th anniversary earlier this year and offers a number of different styles of practice, from Yin to Vinyasa, for all levels.
“The ripple effects of how we each live our lives reach far and wide, and this is what I strive to share with my yoga students and people that visit my shop,” says Boyd.