Bryan Timko wanted to create a space for the yoga-loving, green juice-drinking public in Boston — and so he did.
Early this month, Timko’s Life Alive Cafes opened a hybrid vegetarian cafe and yoga studio in Harvard Square. It sells açaí bowls and algae smoothies on John F. Kennedy Street. But behind and below the kitchen are two yoga studios, equipped with heated hardwood floors, touch screen televisions, and teachers from the Down Under School of Yoga. In May, a second location will open in the South End.
Timko, whose company also operates five dining-only locations in Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, Lowell, and Salem, said the new spot is a “one-stop shop.” It’s ideal for locals, he said, looking to stretch in the early hours and have breakfast waiting for them immediately after — leafy greens and all.
“People are looking for a wellness ally,” Timko added. “Generationally, and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen how wellness has expanded from just movement and exercise to include food, eating, and mental well-being. Here, you can put that all together.”
The Life Alive Organic Cafe menu is “plant-forward,” rather than plant-based, according to culinary director Leah Dubois. That means the cafe avoids meat alternatives like Beyond beef and Impossible burgers in favor of seasonal vegetables, like — in springtime — peas and asparagus. (Timko dubbed the practice “positive eating.”)
Dubois crafted the menu with organic greens and grains, including a “Forbidden Kale” salad and “Rainbow Harvest” bowl with flaxseed brown rice and whipped sweet potato. There are also soups — cashew cauliflower and chickpea miso, for example — dairy-free coffees, and liquid alternatives like spicy green cold-pressed juice or wheatgrass shots.
The attached yoga studios — one for 50 students, the other for 28 — host regular classes in a variety of techniques: hot yoga, restorative movement, and Iyengar, which focuses on physical alignment. Both rooms are stocked with rope hooks for suspended exercises, weights, blocks, and blankets, said Kate Heffernan, an instructor. Since the pandemic started, sessions operate both in-person and virtually.
It’s all encompassed by a “comforting and community-building environment,” Timko said. The Harvard Square spot has exposed brick walls around a collection of wicker chairs, fluffed couches, and wooden tables handmade in northern Vermont. Downstairs, there’s a calming blue-toned seating room, a massage space, showers, and five bathrooms — each themed after a different geode, like calcite and opal. An abstract mural by Destiny Palmer, an assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, covers one wall, while a shortened version of the menu decorates another. Near the entrance, the founders sprawled the collaboration’s “higher purpose:” “to energize the vitality of all living beings and the planet.”
Timko sees the location as something in between a bustling coffee shop and a sit-down restaurant.
“In so many places today, it’s about how quickly you can come in, get your meal, and get out,” he said.
The pandemic boosted interest in delivery services and grab-and-go dining, so Life Alive customers can preorder or get takeout through DoorDash. But Timko intends for people to lounge by the juice bar and take meetings at two-person tables.
“Being in a physical space contributes to how you feel mentally, how you move through the world,” he said.
For Down Under, partnering with Life Alive feels like a “natural progression,” said Heffernan, a longtime instructor at the studio. “Because really, Down Under was born here.”
Its owner, Justine Cohen, hatched the idea for the business in 2004 when dining at a Life Alive cafe after a yoga session, and Down Under has since expanded into three independent locations in Brookline, Newton, and Cambridge’s Porter Square.
The upcoming South End collaboration at 505 Tremont St. will look similar to the Harvard Square spot, though slightly smaller. Timko said it’ll also have up to 60 outdoor seats from April to November.
He’s betting that this partnership “is the future of self-care, of wellness, and of health.”