Ossington Business Profile #14: Academy of Lions

Academy of Lions Rowathon

The latest in our series of Ossington Business Profiles is for the crossfit gym/cafe/general store/charitable foundation Academy of Lions, which moved last year from Dundas Street West to 64 Ossington.

As you can tell from the multiple hyphens above, this is not just a gym.  Dhani Oks, the Director and Owner of Academy of Lions, answered our profile questions, explaining more about the business.

What’s your business?

Well, here’s the short story… Academy Of Lions does many unique things, but basically we exist to put good things into the community and celebrate toronto strength in various forms.   Our space at 64 Ossington is 10,000 square feet spread out over 4 levels devoted to physical culture, healthy foods and locally designed goods.  We are open everyday, weekdays from 6am to 9pm.

Here’s the longer story… We have an old-style gymnasium that features small group classes, personal training and bootcamps.   We practice traditional forms of fitness & sport and were one of the first CrossFit Affiliated gyms in Toronto.   We have KettleBells, Olympic Lifting, Gymnastics, Ropes, Truck Tires and many other primal fitness tools.   We put a premium on good quality group and personal coaching.  Our team includes a former Olympic medalist and world record holder, Kinesiologists, Massage Therapist, Med student and Strength Coaches.   Our gym is open to everyone in the community whether you have great fitness or have never been to a gym before.

The Academy Of Lions General Store is located at the front of the house, and caters to the active lifestyle of our members and hopes to provide some good food options for the neighbourhood.  We support a very very primal, local and gluten-free diet.  So we only sell foods that we believe in and would eat ourselves:  locally, organic, naturally raised beef, bison, game, chicken, eggs, pork, sausage and we even produce our own house-brand of beef jerky.   We carry lots of snacks and grocery items for primal, paleo and gluten free nutrition and cooking.  And, we have a great Electra espresso machine and offer some unique specialty drinks that are on the healthier side of things such as Almond Milk Lattes, Coconut Milk Cappuccinos and and “CMC” (Coconut-Maple-Chocolate) Drink served hot or on ice.  We are also building a great selection of coconut waters which are super healthy and a better option than most sports drinks or juices.

We carry athletic equipment like KettleBells, Jump Ropes, Gymnastic rings and some very hard to find lines of minimal shoes like the INOV8 line from the UK and New Balance Minimus.

And last but not least, everything in the Academy General Store is available to purchase, including the tables and chairs that you sit on.  We partnered with Tinsel & Sawdust Design Studio and have made the space a “Functional Gallery.”  Most of the furniture, fixtures, art and lighting have been submitted by local designers.  We have a great table made by our neighbour Victor from Delux and some absolutely incredible seats and lights from Fugitive Glue, who have been doing stuff with the Gladstone Hotel.  If you like what you see or are sitting on, you can buy it and support local design.

Finally, we have a not-for-profit called the Academy Of Lions Foundation that works to help youth help themselves to help others. We run after-school programs for at-risk, street and homeless youth where we show them how to be fit, healthy and build community.  We then make them a part of the Academy by offering internships, employment and helping them start their own projects/businesses.

How is your business unique?

We don’t really stick to any notion of what business is supposed to be or what a gym is supposed to be.  I think early on we identified that Academy Of Lions is really about a community of people who care a positive lifestyle for themselves and their neighbours.  So we tried to grow in ways that helped our members and friends improve their lives in very basic and important ways.   So we don’t get tied down by what a “gym” or “store” is supposed to be and just work to put things into our business that we would want to have ourselves.

We take a very community health approach to our operations and want to make our neighbourhood better directly and by osmosis.  We certainly do that by providing a very powerful style of fitness and nutrition.  And we tend to think community/opportunity first in our business practices by hiring youth from our after-school program.  Our belief is that support of the community will lead to the community supporting us.

How long have you been in business here?

We moved to Ossington just this past December.  But we’ve been in the neighbourhood for 4 years now with previous locations on Dundas and on Gladstone.

What drew you to be here on Ossington?

We have always wanted to be here and even when looking at new locations we never wanted to go anywhere else.   Ossington/Dundas has the right feel and most of our members and friends live here.   Academy Of Lions is about culture manifested in physical forms.  So, it makes sense to be on a street where food culture, design culture and artistic culture are so pronounced.

What changes have you seen on Ossington since your business has been here?

I’ve seen some great new and exciting businesses open that really add to the whole experience of this neighbourhood.  Town Moto is amazing and and will make a lot of local bikers very happy.   Hawker Bar and Bellwoods Brewery are something really special too.  It’s very important to have small/medium sized businesses and entrepreneurs here, because it gives people a reason to come down here;  it can only help the rest of us.

How do you see your business and Ossington five years from now?

That’s pretty exciting to think about.  We are already developing our third floor into a functional medicine/naturopathic clinic with chiropractic and massage.  That will open later this year.   We are also putting together planning for a huge green-roof and patio that we will use to offer programming for youth on urban agriculture.  Most of all, we want to really expand the reach of the Academy Of Lions Foundation and offer fitness and sport programming to local youth, schools and community organizations.

I hope Ossington continues to attract small business that are more creative and adaptive to the needs of the community.  The street and the reputation are growing so fast I hope we can all get together and make some good long-term decisions for business and culture.

What is your favorite spot on Ossington, other than your own? and why?

That is a tough one, so I am going to cheat a bit.   Union and Delux are a tie for restos.  Crafted is a fantastic coffee-shop and does a  great job all around.  And I don’t think I could make it 3 days without some BQM!