When Madie Jones moved to D.C. from Dallas four years ago, she wanted to find a community where she could feel at home in her new city. Jones went online and started searching for fitness studios in D.C. that had “rhythm ride type classes,” and discovered one with a local connection that she sensed was the right fit. She signed up to join Zengo Cycle, a boutique indoor cycling studio.
“Zengo was exactly what I was looking for,” Jones says. “It was the community that I felt like I needed to join in order to integrate into the city … I associate my beginning with Zengo with my beginning in D.C. as well.”
Most of the people she’s met in D.C. are connected to Zengo, and over the years she’s worked as an instructor at the studio in Logan Circle, teaching eight to 10 classes a week. More recently, she worked as the company’s community engagement lead.
That chapter of her life officially came to an end on Feb. 16, when Zengo Cycle announced it had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and that it would be closing all four of its locations.
“We want to thank all of our wonderful guests and employees for supporting us over these past 11 years,” reads the statement sent to guests on Feb. 16. “What began as a little fitness idea grew into a place that had welcomed tens of thousands of guests and employed almost a thousand people over the years.”
Zengo Cycle’s founder, Marc Caputo, first opened a studio in Bethesda in 2011, and expanded the company to five total locations in the D.C. area at its peak: Bethesda, Kentlands in Gaithersburg, Logan Circle, Mosaic District in Fairfax, and Cathedral Commons, which closed in 2019.
Caputo, who did not respond to a City Paper interview request, told Washingtonian in 2015 he dreamed of competing with companies like SoulCycle and Flywheel. A 2014 Washington Post article stated that Zengo had plans “to create 20 to 30 new cycling studios throughout the East Coast in the next three to five years.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on boutique fitness studios like Zengo, and major fitness chains have not been immune, either.
Flywheel Sports, headquartered in New York, also filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and will be permanently closing all 42 of its studios, including its locations in D.C. The Dallas-based Gold’s Gym filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last May and was later acquired by a German fitness company. YogaWorks, one of the world’s largest yoga chains, filed for bankruptcy in October and closed all of its studios.
Zengo Cycle has estimated assets of no more than $50,000 and estimated liabilities of between $100,001 to $500,000, according to documents filed with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia.
The company attempted to keep its doors open by offering in-person classes at a pop-up studio location inside the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda the past few months, and instructors also taught classes virtually.
At the time of its closure, Zengo had approximately 26 instructors, eight to 12 office staffers, and 60 front-desk hosts across its four studios, Jones says. While the announcement gives her a bit of closure, she wasn’t prepared for the social media response from guests telling her how much Zengo has meant to them. Jones spent hours reading everyone’s comments and messages.
She gets emotional at the thought of what the past four years has meant to her and what she has gotten out of her time at Zengo.
“I definitely got a community out of it. A lot of friendships,” Jones says. “I feel like I’ve gotten like a safe room, like a safe space out of it. Zengo was always the place that I would feel like I could sort of leave everything behind and just kind of escape while I was teaching, or taking a class. And I made so many friends working there, whether it was the front desk staff or the other instructors or people taking my class. I don’t think my experience moving to D.C. or living here for the last four years would have been as easy or as—it hasn’t been easy, necessarily. But like, it was easier because I had this in my life.”
Nas Ege, another former Zengo instructor, feels the same way.
She first attended a class at the Kentlands studio near her home after injuring her knee. Within two months, Ege auditioned to be an instructor, and she taught at Zengo until it shut down due to the pandemic.
Moving and riding to the music inside a dark room with others felt freeing. Not having that outlet has left a “really big void.” She first realized that the company might not make it when Zengo Cycle signage was removed from outside the Kentlands studio in November.
“It’s a big missing piece of my life,” Ege says.
But with change, she adds, “something always good comes from it.”
Just days after the announcement that Zengo would be permanently closing, Jones texted another instructor about sharing the cost of a Zoom account for instructors who want to teach virtually. That led to a discussion about finding a platform where former Zengo instructors and others looking to teach independently can support each other.
On Sunday, Jones and about a dozen other instructors, including Ege, helped launch the @dmvfitnesscollective Instagram account. One of their mottos is, “From the community. For the community.”
“Because it is really difficult as an independent instructor to compete with some of the national companies out there that are doing virtual classes,” Jones says. “There’s just a lot of bigger companies that have … survived through COVID. And like those of us that don’t have those platforms, but still want to continue teaching, we’re stronger together when we share resources.”