When SoulCycle opened its first Texas location on Kirby in April, fans of the nation's popular indoor-cycling studio came out en masse.
Amy Krasner was one of them. She signed up for the first class on opening day.
"I'd been waiting patiently, but mostly impatiently, for it to open here," said the 47-year-old who tried SoulCycle for the first time in New York five years ago. "I love it. It's fast paced, challenging, and I can get my sweat on."
With its happy-yellow bikes and décor, SoulCycle has carved out a niche in the boutique fitness world where clients pay about $30 (plus shoe rental) for a 45-minute group class that sells out quickly. It's a mix of dance, cardio and therapy, as instructors empower and uplift participants with "feel-good" affirmations.
The classes are popular with celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Houston native Hilary Duff. The first lady even tweeted about it last year: "I love it when my girls join me for a little SoulCycle. We all are in the dark, moving to the beat on the bikes. We love it."
SoulCycle River Oaks
Address: 2549 Kirby
SoulCycle has revved its way to the top of the fitness game since it launched in New York in 2006. Former Los Angeles talent agent Julie Rice and real estate broker Elizabeth Cutler started the business. Equinox acquired a majority stake in the company in 2011, then upped its interest in 2015. Rice and Cutler each received a payout of nearly $90 million. In April, the women resigned from the company.
There are now 62 studios nationwide. A second Houston location, at 1407 S. Voss, will open in September.
The SoulCycle on Kirby features 56 bikes, men's and women's locker rooms and a boutique that sells SoulCycle's athleisure clothing collection. The classes, which can burn between 500-700 calories, are held in a dark room with SoulCycle's grapefruit-scented candles burning to evoke a spa or nightclub feel. An instructor leads the class from an elevated bike up front. Many cycling studios have duplicated the setup.
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Krasner, a former practicing attorney who now owns a legal recruiting company, takes classes twice a week, often with friends.
"We're all little addicts," she said. "It's the experience of having fun and working out together."
Gabby Etrog Cohen, the company's senior vice president of brand strategy, describes the class as "an experience that is joyful and makes you want to be the best version of yourself. It's a collective energy that is inspiring and gets you motivated."
When the company first launched, some questioned whether people would pay for an indoor cycling class - something they could get at their local gym. Of course, not everyone is sold on SoulCycle.
Marilyn Logan, a reality-show researcher who divides her time between Los Angeles and Houston, was disappointed.
"The music was so loud I couldn't hear the instructor, and the bikes were so close together I could feel sweat hitting me from people around me," Logan says. "I didn't enjoy it, and I'm not going to pay money to have strangers sweat on me. I'm over them."
But a decade later, SoulCycle has proved people will open their wallets for the experience.
Stay-at-home mom Jennifer Zach, 37, attends classes six days a week, usually at 9:45 a.m. She'll only miss a class if there's an issue with one of her three children.
"It's expensive, but they make it worth it to me," she said. "The class is a 45-minute sweaty throw-down. The instructors have a unique dialogue that encourages you to do the exercise, gets you out of thinking about all of the things you need to do in the day and focus on the energy. It's certainly the way I want to start my day."
Each month, she springs for a piece of SoulCycle gear.
"There's not a person in my class who isn't wearing some sort of SoulCycle gear," she said. "That's why I'm sometimes paying about $56 a class, because I leave with a new T-shirt. Every month is a new style."
One of the most touted differences between SoulCycle and other indoor cycling classes is the "soul" aspect. Senior instructor Angela Davis introduced Houston to that soul during Winfrey's "The Life You Want Tour" at the Toyota Center in 2014. She led the sold-out audience through a series of standing rhythmic exercises and stretches with a "you can do it" mantra.
"We're promoting joy through movement, combining the mind, body and soul," said Davis. "When you put people together, you are able to create movement and shift the fitness industry."
For Krasner, the combination of a good workout, music and a huge dose of positivity makes SoulCycle worth the price.
"Everyone is having fun. You leave class and you're on a high all day," she said.
And it speaks to her soul, in a way.
"If SoulCycle hadn't opened here," she said, "I be drinking rosé at Brasserie 19."