You could say Michael and Erin Vara have had a long string of bad luck.
After years of working as fitness instructors at various boutique gyms, the couple, then living in Austin, moved back to Dallas to start a gym of their own almost three years ago. Fit Social Club opened on June 29, 2019, in Uptown. It was Michael’s birthday.
Everything was going well at first. The studio wasn’t super fancy, but the Varas managed to grow a strong group of regulars. Then came the pandemic. Fit Social Club closed its doors on March 16, 2020, and, like most gyms across the country, they figured out new ways to reach their clients. Michael, who went to film school, uploaded a 30-part virtual class curriculum online and the gym rented out bikes.
“We went virtual ASAP,” Erin says. “Mike and I drove around 40 bikes and dropped them off at our clients’ houses.”
After months, Fit Social Club finally reopened in-person in September 2020 with classes at limited capacity. Then in February 2021, their landlord sold the building, and the Varas closed their Uptown gym for good, packing up everything during Winter Storm Uri with their staff.
“None of us had gloves or anything,” Erin jokes. “None of us thought it was going to be as bad as it was in the snow. We were like, ‘who was four-wheel drive?’”
But closing in Uptown was actually a blessing, they say. They had been wanting to move to a more central location. Soon, they found an open spot at Mockingbird Station and grabbed it.
“We feel very lucky to have been able to make the switch,” Michael says. “The stars aligned a little bit for us in order to do it.”
But it was not all smooth sailing after that. Erin says they knew there’d be supply-chain issues, but they thought they could open their new gym by September 2021 at the latest. Then it took almost five months just to get a new HVAC system. Then labor shortages pushed opening even later.
Throughout the fall, Fit Social Club held pop-up classes around town for their regulars, and Erin had a baby. Finally, they soft-opened the Mockingbird Station gym in December 2021—only to shut down again after four days when half of their instructors got COVID-19.
After quarantining, the Varas officially re-opened Fit Social Club earlier this month. The space isn’t massive—but the two studio spaces have everything needed for the gym’s three class types.
In Studio A, 37 Stages bikes, which Michael calls the “gold standard,” are lined up in front of a mirror and a simple stage where the instructor rides during the indoor cycling classes.
Across the hall in Studio B, 10 weight racks line the wall, loaded with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, plates, and benches. Clients book one the “personal gyms” for Fit Social Club’s Intensity and Ignite classes.
During the Intensity strength-training classes, you’re given a set of exercise sets and reps to complete at your own pace during a specific time block. Then you switch to a new exercise. “It’s like the barbecue class, low and slow,” Erin says. All the while, the coach is walking around, adjusting form and giving tips.
“We originally came up with the concept of this because we wanted to bridge the gap between personal training and group fitness,” Michael says.
In the Ignite class, unlike Intensity, you aren’t given any sets or reps to complete. The instructor will give you an exercise and you keep doing it until they tell you stop. It’s “little bit more of the burn, a little bit more of your high intensity class,” Michael says.
Fit Social Club packages start at $25 for a one-off class and memberships range $150–$275. Each of the instructors teaches programming planned by Erin, which she says helps keeps clients’ experiences uniform throughout the week.
While the Varas say they had big dreams when they opened Fit Social Club back in 2019, right now their goal is to “coach great classes, mentor our instructors to do the same, and make our clients super happy,” Erin says, and to enjoy the business that took so long to build.