Tucked away in Abu Dhabi’s Al Zeina neighbourhood, the Hot House studio has undergone a cleanse, with some positive yoga energy reintroduced into the space. Smiling faces at the reception and bright walls have replaced the previous grumpy welcome and flakes of peeling paint. Pem Fassa, a 46-year-old Swiss national and the new co-owner of the Hot House, is the woman to whom this metamorphosis can be credited. A yoga practitioner since the age of 18, she has lived in Abu Dhabi for 12 years, teaching privately and as a resident instructor at Emirates Palace for six years.
“Give us a chance; there is new management and a new lease of life,” says Fassa, who undertook the double challenge of not only building a business, but also winning back the trust of the community.
“A studio of my own always seemed like a natural progression in my yoga journey,” she says, although she expected to start from scratch and not buy an existing business.
With her children all grown up, she had started looking for a property to work with, before a friend tipped her off about the struggling Hot House, which was looking for a buyer. Negotiations began in April and after much back and forth, Fassa became the studio’s new owner in June. But she made a rookie business mistake by trusting the previous owner, who was a fellow yogi, blindly, and not inspecting the condition of the place one last time before the handover. When she walked into the studio on June 16 as the new owner, instead of feeling the thrill of accomplishment, she says: “I wanted to double take and walk back out. It broke my heart.”
Then came an onslaught of inherited troubles, from dirty premises to unpaid bills and unhappy customers. She did inherit one good thing in the deal – her local silent partner. “He had the option of liquidating the business but he trusted my vision,” she says.
Fassa spent the summer budgeting and co-ordinating. “While I was settling my son into university in the United States, I would still work on the phone from there. There was an electrician to find, sometimes, or a plumber. I lost track of day and night,” she says. Her original plan was to rebrand, since the studio would not just offer Bikram yoga. Fassa started her new operation under the same name, despite challenges. “Once you say no to a brand, it is really hard to pull that person back in,” she says, but the idea is to let everyone know that things have changed.
Juggling the schedule to fit in renovations, Fassa kept the studio running through the summer. Finally, last month, the refreshed Hot House became fully operational, with a redone space and new timetable.
The studio now offers hatha, vinyasa, ashtanga, yin, swing, kundalini and Bikram yoga classes, as well as Tibetan singing bowl meditation, mum-and-baby yoga and gymnastics for children. For those adventurous enough to suspend themselves mid-air, air barre and anti-gravity classes are worth a try. Fassa herself teaches anti-gravity and was trained by its founder, Christopher Harrison. Anti-gravity is gentler, with silk hammocks for support, while air barre is intense cardio. Fassa is also attracting new teachers. “They are not necessarily Insta-famous, but I personally know them to have solid integrity and passion for yoga,” she says.