With a flick of a light switch, the world outside the tub pauses for an hour.
The darkness swallows up the shapes of the room, the edge of the tub. The water — kept at body temperature and infused with salt — keeps the person floating, just levitating there in a self-contained void.
While it may seem ripped from science fiction, the process is called floatation therapy and grants the user a meditative power nap, a recharge of sorts. It’s among the many offerings at Sonder Mind & Body in downtown Greensboro.
Co-owner Jessika Olsen opens the pod-shaped bath with a quick click, revealing an inviting, blue light that shimmers across the water’s surface.
“It’s based on the original design from the 1950s,” she says.
Jessika and her twin sister Veronika opened Sonder, and the Well Café & Juice Bar connected to it, almost a year ago on South Elm Street. The dual businesses combine de-stressing strategies and allergen-conscious food under one roof.
“We call ourselves a new kind of wellness center,” Veronika Olsen says.
Individual practitioners conduct many techniques from acupuncture to massage in Sonder’s back rooms. Along with the two floatation-therapy rooms and an infrared sauna, guests find freedom in picking out the exact type of treatment to try, regardless of health status.
“What this place offers, “Veronika Olsen says, “is stress reduction.”
The duo had often returned to the idea of a multi-purpose space that blended food with healing, but the draw towards floatation therapy came from their mother. She tried the pods decades ago but returned to them to reduce the stress of chemotherapy.
The goals of self-care and mindfulness bleed into the front lobby and the connected Well Café & Juice Bar. Natural sunlight saturates the café, bouncing between red exposed brick and the white and deep blue of the walls. The sound of blenders whirling and people chatting enlarge the intimate space, with couches and cushioned chairs encouraging passersby to stop and give their stomachs a little care too.
“Our focus in the café,” Jessika Olsen says, “is people with food allergies.”
The sisters’ own autoimmune issues and related dietary restrictions inspired the café’s creation. The menu avoids common allergens. While seasonal and almost always local, the ingredients never include what’s referred to as the “Big 8” which includes dairy, gluten, tree nuts, soy and peanuts.
“We just created a place we needed,” Veronika Olsen says.
On an early Monday afternoon, people pop in and out of the café, grabbing power bowls, Dutch-brewed coffee and muffins by the register. The new spring-and-summer menu sits on the counter, offering both breakfast and lunch items to pair with drinks from a full page of options.
The sunberry toast is one of the picks that the chefs build from gluten-free sourdough out of Burlington-based bakery Simple Kneads. A creamy sunbutter rests atop the toasted slice, underneath a carefully laid out layer of ripe strawberry slices, finished with hemp seeds. The fruity sweetness melds with the nutty spread for a melty, comforting taste with a fitting crunch from the seeds. The striking purple of a blueberry, honey and coconut milk smoothie pops beside the bright red berries, as satisfying to the eyes as they are for the taste buds.
Other brunch meals include caper and avocado toast and gluten-free vegan pancakes and waffles for the weekends. The Olsens say these dishes give a rare treat to people who may have adverse reactions to some common ingredients in many dishes at other restaurants.
For lunch, the small space whips up bowls containing a diverse assortment of fruits and vegetables, such as barbeque jackfruit.
A man sits on his laptop, taking quick bites from his rice. Two women stop their jog and each leave with a cup of coffee. A guest emerges from the back, refreshed, and grabs her tote bag from the wall as she thanks an employee. Jessika and Veronika Olsen both keep busy between the Well Café and Sonder Mind & Body.
“The definition of Sonder,” Jessika Olsen says, “is that everyone’s life is as vivid and complex as our own.”