By Adam R. Thomas, Editorial Intern
The line about following your ambition from the 1989 film classic, Field of Dreams, is ”If you build it, they will come.” But in Los Angeles, where novelty is key to getting an edge on entrepreneurial ventures, perhaps the line should be, “If you bring goats, they will come.”
On the chilly San Pedro morning of Feb. 9, almost 50 people showed up at Brouwerij West to partake in the trendiest new way to exercise: Goat Yoga. That’s right, goats and yoga in a brewery. It unfolded pretty much as might be expected — attendees assumed their positions, let a Billy goat walk on their backs, then enjoyed a beer or two afterwards, all for $40 a ticket.
“This is more [people] than normal,” said Raziq “Raz” Rauf, founder and owner of an Los Angeles-based yoga business called Downward Grog. “But the goats are very attractive.”
Rauf is a realist that way.
“This is not even real yoga,” he allowed. “It’s more a goat exhibition. But if the idea is to spread happiness, then everyone is grinning at the end.”
Rauf’s not wrong. As his employee instructor, Lisa Saubert, led attendees through traditional yoga poses accompanied by soft meditative music played over the brewery loudspeakers, handlers led Spanky and Pippen, a pair of male goats with rainbow-covered horns, onto the top of the posers’ backsides to unanimous delight. As the goats were walked up and down the rows and onto arched back after arched back, neighboring yoga posers would invariably break form and take pictures of the barnyard animals with their phones and beaming smiles on their faces.
“It’s like a knuckle massage,” said Mary Arzuman, a San Pedro resident who attended with her family. “I really liked it because of the animal interaction. What’s nice is that [the goats] were surprisingly very clean. So, for people wondering, you do get shed — you get some hair [on you] — but even with dog encounters you get some hair.”
Goat Yoga attracted folks like Arzuman through a collaboration among three local businesses— Downward Grog, which specializes in “Doing Yoga in Breweries,” Brouwerij West, which provided the venue and the beer, and Party Goats LA, which brought the goats.
“This was my side hustle that I started when I was on break from Rick and Morty Season 3,” said Scout Raskin, an animation producer and the owner of Party Goats LA. “If you had asked me five years ago what I thought my life was going to be like, I could never have imagined that I would be running a goat business, but here I am. I just love sharing these animals with people.”
Raskin, a spritely woman with bright blue hair, prefaced the day’s activity with a warning to the assembled crowd about Spanky’s digestive problems, which led to him being paraded around in a diaper.
“He’s wearing a diaper for you guys,” Raskin said to crowd as they responded with laughter. “Normally it’s not a problem, but if a goat does happen to go near you, please consider that a compliment that they’re that comfortable around you!”
While the goats did bring the earthy smell familiar to anyone who’s been to a petting zoo, they issued no “compliments” during the two-hour yoga session. After the primary exercise routine was finished, attendees divided into two camps, some sauntering over to the tasting tables to partake in a beverage or two, others coming to Raskin and her employee, master goat handler Orsolya Dunai, to take pictures in front of the brewing vats.
“The photos are a big part of [the experience],” said Dunai, while groups of women posed with Pippen. “As much as yoga is a big part of it, at the end of the day I think everyone’s main thing is they want the pictures. They want the proof. They want the fun. They want the, ‘Hey, look what I just did!’”
For the pair of women from Party Goats LA, it was just the latest in a long series of goat-wrangling jobs. Immediately after yoga, they had to bring Spanky and Pippen to a party. Dunai stated that business had been booming, especially after Saturday Night Live made a joke about it during a Weekend Update segment this past October.
“That was kind of a thing,” said Dunai, who explained that many celebrities, from Charlize Theron to James Vanderbeek, had employed Party Goats LA’s services for private Goat Yoga sessions of their own. Television exposure has certainly been good for the business, and it has grown since its inception two years ago, now employing four women in an all-female goat-wrangling team, with two more young goats on the way.
But for Rauf, themed exercise sessions like Goat Yoga are just one service he offers. He also hosts Pug Yoga, Rooftop Yoga and Yoga for Runners events, but his real niche is the pairing of breweries with the ancient Indian exercise.
“I’d been doing yoga for over 10 years, anyway, and I really like beer,” said Rauf, explaining the source of his inspiration. “LA has all these breweries in the greater Los Angeles area, and they all have these unused spaces. [They] are perfect for yoga because yoga can be done anywhere.”
Rauf, originally from London, has recently added a bit of activism to his lineup of events with a session called “Downdogs for Democracy,” in order to bring some immigration politics into the mix as well.
“I’m an immigrant to this country and a person of color,” Rauf said. “All of the things happening in America right now resonate strongly.”
Rauf’s drive definitely appears to be working. While he started Downward Grog at the end of 2017, he says he was able to soon start turning a profit over the past year, and now books breweries regularly.
Brouwerij West relies on events like Goat Yoga to draw in customers during the slower, non-summer season, company president Dave Holop said. The company does as much business with patrons coming to their in-house tasting room as it does with distributing suds all across Southern California.
“A brewery tasting room, especially a large one like ours, becomes a kind of community gathering place,” Holop said. “We try to program a variety of fun events to bring people down. We’re trying to attract new customers and returning customers by coming up with fun new ideas like Goat Yoga to get them to come down.”
It all goes to show that in the often-cutthroat world of small business, a catchy idea — and a little teamwork — goes a long way. The challenge is to keep local business thriving in San Pedro while waiting for certain redevelopments to finally finish.
“We need things like this to keep people in the downtown area,” Arzuman said. “Hopefully, Ports O’Call’s [redevelopment finishes soon], but we have this right now.”