Sweating at The Yard

The Yard’s launch party
Patrons gathered for The Yard’s launch party on Sept. 22. Submitted photo

On the corner of 47th & Nicollet stands an old brick building surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. Walk through a door in the fence and you’re suddenly stepping on sand.

Tiki torches line a path to a gathering area with Adirondack chairs, tables, a fire pit, an ice bath and a bucket shower. Beyond the seating area, three mobile sauna units sit in the lot, with sweating patrons milling in and out.

The Yard, as it’s known, is the newly opened physical home of Stokeyard Outfitters, a Minneapolis company seeking to spread the gospel on thermotherapy. The company, which hosts events and builds mobile saunas in trailers and tents, received an “innovative and emerging small business” pilot permit from the city to operate a yearlong pop-up installation at 47th & Nicollet. Part sauna spa, part showroom and part event venue, The Yard is a unique space dedicated to sauna culture in Southwest.

“I don’t really know anywhere around here that’s like this,” said Rodney Buhrsmith, a Stokeyard co-founder who lives in Tangletown.

Stokeyard Outfitters was founded in 2017 by Buhrsmith and John Pederson. Pederson became obsessed with sauna culture on a trip to Finland. In 2014, he built a mobile sauna and started hosting small sweat gatherings around the Twin Cities. Ultimately, he and Buhrsmith launched the 612 Sauna Society, the United States’ first sauna cooperative.

When 612 became self-sustaining, the pair set their sights on a new company, Stokeyard. The idea came after Surly Brewing owner Omar Ansari asked Pederson to build him a mobile sauna — kind of like an icehouse that can be hitched to a trailer, only with a very large stove. He and Buhrsmith, who had extensive sauna building experience, got to it. They realized building mobile saunas could be a business.

But building mobile saunas is only part of the company’s work. Stokeyard Outfitters rents their saunas for weekends or special events, and the company also tries to offer sauna experiences, both at The Yard and at the Hewing Hotel in Downtown, where twice a week they lead experience classes to help people understand the health and social benefits of sauna. The Yard has a Friday night and Sunday afternoon public sauna time. People can register and buy passes online. A five-pass package is $125; locals in Kingfield and Tangletown get a discount.

“We’re trying to develop our own authentic thermaculture,” Pederson said.

At The Yard, they’re collaborating with Shakopee-based Custom Mobile Saunas and Saunatimes.com, a sauna lifestyle website run by Kenny resident and lifelong sauna enthusiast Glenn Auerbach. Auerbach has a sauna in his backyard but likes coming to The Yard for the social aspect and to talk shop. He just returned from a 12-day trip to Finland, where he hit 50 saunas.

“I’m fueled by it even more now, because there’s so many bad saunas,” Auerbach said.

To build a good sauna requires the right knowledge and the right equipment. It’s more than just making a room that can get as hot as possible; it’s managing air flow and moisture. Stokeyard uses wood stoves that produce a more oxygenated heat than their electric counterparts common in many gyms.

“It’s not just about temperature; it’s about the type of heat,” Pederson said.

Across the world, heat therapies are part of health traditions, Pederson said. Stokeyard wants to help make sauna part of the weekly wellness routine of Minneapolis residents, and it tries to help people get the most of their experiences through seasoned advice and proper techniques.

The Yard
4700 Nicollet Ave.