By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent
How did a Vietnamese restaurant save an indoor spin studio?
By making it an outdoor spin studio, Steph and Andrew Chapel prevented pandemic lockdowns from crushing the business they purchased in early 2018. The unique generosity displayed by Another Kind Vietnamese Café, also a family business, rescued the Chapels’ enterprise.
“Thinh and Vy Nguyen picked us up from a fall we didn’t think we would recover from,” Steph said. “They saved our business – and continue to.”
When the Chapels purchased Rhythm Ride from owner Shelley Arends-Cornwell, they anticipated building a fitness business that could accommodate a schedule centered on their growing family. With two young daughters and a third on the way, Steph described it as a dream come true, equal parts terrifying and exciting. They leaped in, building a new website, hiring and training new employees, and adding retail items in the modest second-floor suite in the Village Faire Shoppes. Rhythm Ride attracted dozens of new students and became popular among a broad swath of health-minded locals.
Then came March 2020 with its strange news of a pandemic. Steph emailed her clientele to outline COVID-19 protocols. She halved class capacity from 30 to 15 and used separate entrance and exit doors. But the virus danger grew, and less than a week later, she closed the studio and rented out the stationary bikes, delivering each with the family SUV towing a rented U-Haul trailer. She and her team painstakingly filmed, edited, and converted to online files “Rhythm Ride from Home.” A pandemic honeymoon in June raised hopes that the worst was over, and the studio reopened at 50% capacity with numerous safety precautions in place. But as Orange County inched back into red-tier infection rates, state mandates again put the brakes on holding classes. Steph and her instructors hung up their bike shoes, anxious about what would come next.
Then came a seemingly miraculous phone call from restaurateur Thinh Nguyen, who operated Another Kind Café at The Hive on Laguna Canyon Road. He and wife Vy offered the use of their concrete outdoor patio during off hours, with no strings attached. The Chapels gratefully seized this magnanimous lifeline. In July, Rhythm Ride began holding classes outside, socially distanced, with participants wearing masks upon arrival and departure.
The schedule grew. Now, seven mornings a week at 7 a.m., Andrew muscles up to a dozen stationary bikes out of a borrowed cargo trailer and moves them into place on the patio. He and the Rhythm Ride team, which includes longtime instructors Abbey Lam and Julia Hanna, sanitize every bike after each class. Before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m., Andrew moves everything back into the trailer. On school mornings, the little girls’ grandparents squire them to El Morro Elementary.
In their latest effort to be good neighbors at The Hive, Rhythm Riders now wear glowing, over-the-ear digital headsets like those used for silent disco. The new gear aurally connects riders to the instructor’s voice and music rather than sharing the exuberance of the classes’ hard-driving music and gleeful shouts.
Even at one-third the capacity of regular indoor classes, riders are back in the saddle on the café patio and the wheels continue to turn.
“The last 18 months have been a roller coaster, but our family business has survived, thanks to the kindness of Another Kind,” said Steph.