Homegrown Business: Aleya Velshi and Melissa Donato of Alter

Alter, a sauna and ice bath studio located in Toronto, is revolutionizing the approach to hot and cold exposure for physical and mental well-being. Co-founders Aleya Velshi and Melissa Donato, along with two other partners, established Alter after their own experiences with burnout and a passion for bringing therapeutic practices to the city. With a mission to make hot and cold exposure more accessible and routine, Alter offers drop-in sessions and guided classes led by experienced instructors. The studio caters to a diverse clientele seeking social interaction, meditation, and physiological benefits. Velshi and Donato’s vision for Alter is to create a warm, community-oriented space where individuals can establish a practice that enhances their overall well-being.

Alter

What is your business called and what does it do?

Alter is a sauna and ice bath studio, located in the heart of downtown Toronto. We opened in December 2023 and our mission is to make hot and cold exposure an approachable and routine practice. At Alter, we aim to create a warm, community-oriented atmosphere, and the experience pays homage to the centuries-old practice of hot and cold exposure.

Alter offers flexible drop-in sessions that allow guests to experience our space (four-person ice baths with two temperature options, spacious electric sauna, lounge spaces, and other amenities) at their own pace. The drop-ins are self-led and there is always an expert Facilitator present to provide guidance, if needed. We also offer classes, where guests are guided through breathwork, movement, and the hot and cold by some of Toronto’s most experienced meditation, breathwork, and yoga instructors, all of whom have been honing their practices for 10+ years.

What made you want to do this work?

It’s me and three close friends that started Alter. All four of us, burnt out from our corporate jobs, often went to spas in the GTA to unwind. And when we travelled, our experiences centred around wellness. In Turkey, we obsessed over the hammams. In Japan, it was all about the onsens. In Finland, we became fully immersed in sauna culture.

We wanted to bring to Toronto what we had experienced abroad: a hot and cold experience that was simple, approachable, and in a way, mindless. A way of life. A practice that can easily become a part of your routine vs. an occasional, luxurious spa-like experience.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

Like many start-ups, we wanted to solve a problem we were facing. I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life. My mind is constantly racing. It’s always been difficult for me to slow down and just relax. I know many people in Toronto feel something similar, especially with the hectic pace of the city. I’ve tried all types of practices: float tanks, meditation, gratitude journaling, and the list goes on. While these are wonderful practices (and effective for some), they didn’t work for me. Hot and cold was on my list of things to try and I’m so glad I did. It was the first time I was able to wholly focus my attention on my breath, clear my mind, and stabilize my emotions. Since then, it’s been a regular and important part of my wellness routine.

Through our research, it became clear that what I went through wasn’t uncommon. Almost all Canadians have experienced a mental health issue in the past 12 months and are craving new ways to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. At Alter, we believe hot and cold can help Torontonians feel better in their bodies, minds, and souls, and we’re so excited to introduce this practice to more people!

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Our guests are wellness-oriented customers, but “wellness” means something different to each of them. For some of our guests, it’s a way to decompress after work or recover after a workout. For others, it’s a way to catch up with a friend rather than just going to a bar or restaurant. Some of our guests even bring a book into the sauna, as an alternative to going to a coffee shop. Hot and cold exposure serves our guests in so many different ways!

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We sell single sessions, session packs, and monthly memberships on our website. Our price per session ranges from $30 to $45.

Where in the city can we find your profession?

We’re located near College & Ossington at 860 College Street.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services?

I think most people are curious (and nervous) about trying hot and cold exposure for the first time – How do I do this? What should I expect? That’s why we have expert Facilitators and experienced Instructors present in every session – drop-in or class – to support our guests through the experience and make it as encouraging and positive as possible.

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The best part: being in the studio, interacting with and learning from our guests. I get to see their faces after they wrap up a session – a look of pure bliss and a skip in their step! I love introducing new guests to hot and cold exposure for the first time.

The worst part: stressing over running a brick-and-mortar business! You have to wear a ton of hats, get used to failure and do things that you might not want to do (think: clean showers). I’m so grateful that – in these moments of stress – I’m able to lean on my incredible co-founders and also squeeze in a hot and cold session myself!

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

We stress ourselves out over a business that we created to reduce stress! But hey, that’s entrepreneurship!

Where can we follow you?

Online at our website and on Instagram.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another local business that you love?

We’re so glad to be a part of the College Promenade neighbourhood. It’s a gem, filled with fantastic local businesses, like Health Hut, The Candy Bar, and Anti Vice Juicery.

 

About Joel Levy 2550 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography