Montclair gym CRUfit adapts well to survive pandemic measures
By Lou Fancher
Long before Alameda County’s COVID-19 orders in March 2020 shuttered the doors at gyms and fitness facilities, CRUfit in Montclair Village had woven a durable, connective web.
Founded in 2013 by owners Mark Sutro and Mia Honore, the local club offered an anyone-is-welcome environment along with cycling, rowing and strength training programs designed for every level of fitness. With special attention paid to serving their multigenerational clients through state-of-the-art equipment and programs geared for mountain bike racers, youths, older adults and others, CRUfit featured not only cutting-edge equipment and personable, professional staff but access to physical therapy, bike fitting and kettledrum strength training, bootcamps, Zumba and outdoor cycling on local trails.
Even so, without disregarding the avid core membership that stuck with them during the pandemic and new members who joined CRUfit as COVID restrictions lingered on and on, Sutro and Honore said survival presented a monumental challenge. The virtual and outdoor classes launched during the pandemic have become integral to long-term plans and led to their latest initiative: expansion of the club’s back patio.
Working cooperatively with the property owner alongside Endeavors Oakland’s Assan Jethmal and Oakland-based artist Zoë Boston, the completed, in-progress or planned murals will eventually adorn all four walls. With the idea to hold not just fitness classes, but to host community events or rent the space to other organizations, the owners expect to add mural flood lighting and other features suitable for outdoor entertainment.
Sutro is a native of Oakland and rowed competitively at UC Berkeley. He is an endurance sports enthusiast who left an 18-career as an IT management consultant to become CEO of Performance Max, a multiweek cardiovascular training and nutrition programs that at the time operated in five Bay Area Club One locations.
Honore was born and raised in New Orleans and moved in 1999 to the Bay Area to work as a personal trainer for Club One. She is a professional chef who studied at the San Francisco Culinary Academy. Sutro and Honore are married, live in upper Rockridge, and have two children, Adam, age 15, and 13-year-old Danielle.
“I didn’t originally think of opening a business in Montclair, but I grew up in the area, so when I came back it had a feeling of coming back to my childhood,” said Sutro, about opening CRUfit in the village.
Honore didn’t grow up playing sports, but upon moving to the Bay Area to join Club One, she merged her growing interest in fitness with food knowledge — both enhanced by Deep South hospitality.
“I morphed,” she said. “My culinary background has people asking how I make gumbo healthier and for nutritional counseling. My upbringing in the South makes CRUfit to me about community and healthy connections. We have all different walks of life coming through the door, and we make them all feel at home.”
Honore said that in the days immediately after the lockdown began, they were “smart,” which meant continuing to issue an established newsletter, rapidly getting on Zoom with virtual classes and renting out bikes, rowing machines and weights. Most astute of all were the outdoor classes held on the top level of the Montclair Parking Garage.
“To get that started required working with the Montclair Village Association,” Sutro said. “We then had to invest in turf to put up there. Once the space was set, Mia drove the program.”
Because people still got up early, even to work remotely, early morning classes started at 5:30 a.m. and people showed up despite darkness and cold temperatures.
“I also had a 9 a.m. on the rooftop that was and still is well attended. We can have anywhere from 15 to 20 people,” Honore said.
The early class has now shifted to 6 a.m. and a six-week, women-only program that combines core training, Zoom classes, hike/run Sundays and conversations about sleep, nutrition, menopause and other women’s topics that have proven durable.
“The most sought-after things are rowing and the programs Mia runs on the parking garage,” said Sutro.
As life moves beyond COVID and begins to form the new normal, Sutro said he has realized and had reinforced that CRUfit’s core members have “ingrained in their minds and bodies” a connection to the club.
“It’s hard to find silver linings in the pandemic, but I’ll say we quickly learned how to use Zoom and that will probably always be part of our business. It ripples through personal and group training, so we’re better connected to our members. We survived because we learned to be nimble and had a landlord who worked with us. We also got (the federal pandemic-shutdown relief programs) PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) and Employee Retention Credit.”
Honore said creating a safe, scrupulously sanitized environment was crucial. Heightened communication, expanding and improving the outdoor space and realizing the profitability of renting out the gym when CRUfit activities were not being held maximized their success. Going “full-bore” with multigenerational programming has long been central to he business and continues.
“In Montclair, you cannot exclude middle-age and older adults and kids,” Sutro said. “In the winter months, December through early May, we’ve always had mountain bikers from all over Oakland who train at CRUfit. We’ll probably have over 150 kids on different days who’ll be training to get ready for their competitive season in the spring. The mix of organizations has changed because some schools developed their own programs, but it’s been steady since it began.”
Honore expects her recipe for sweet potato curry will continue to be requested and perhaps even could be served at an event held in the back patio. Artist Boston’s grand, 30-foot high mural on the patio’s west end showcases vivid California poppies and a hummingbird. On the east wall is a stream running through a forest that eventually will “spill” over a retaining wall and look as if it’s splashing onto the patio. The couple said the Montclair Village Association has brought forth lively holiday and anniversary events that add much-appreciated entertainment in the Village.
“Having more things local is fun, and it’s needed,” Sutro said.
Speaking not just of the patio’s potential to accommodate more fitness classes but also pro bono rentals to schools or charitable organizations and paid rentals for concerts, birthday parties, weddings, bar mitzvah celebrations and other events, Honore is optimistic.
“It’s early days, but all of this is coming to the Village, and CRUfit will be a part of it as it does,” she said.