Is Sweat and Tonic’s David Ingram Building the Next Big Thing in Fitness?

By Aleah Balas

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Over the pandemic, fitness was an industry hit particularly hard because of the health protocols and shift to home workouts. While this was tricky to navigate for those in the industry, it was an especially challenging hurdle for those who had only just opened their doors, like Sweat and Tonic. Flash forward several years, and the brand is one of the most beloved fitness establishments in Toronto, recently opening their second location at The Well. While it wasn’t always easy for founder David Ingram, he was able to lean on his prior entrepreneurial experience to lead the way and forge a path forward alongside his team. 


We sat down with Ingram to hear more about his experience starting the brand, and his goals for the future of fitness and wellness in Toronto and beyond.

State your elevator pitch and mission for your business.


David Ingram: Sweat, recover, connect. Our mission is to bring together the best of boutique fitness and wellness under one roof. Sweat and Tonic bridges the gap between home and office for those who prioritize health, fitness, and community. From our complimentary full-service amenities and unparalleled range of yoga, Pilates, HIIT, and indoor cycling classes powered by top-of-the-line fitness equipment, custom-programmed lighting, immersive projection screens. and state-of-the-art sound systems, to our restorative services and high-tech biohacking amenities—every aspect of our operation has been designed to deliver a best-in-class experience with a hospitality approach.


Our cafe and bar offerings, member lounges, and event spaces come together to create a truly unique third place where you can not only get every type of workout in, but also access options for recovery, food and drink to refuel, and a flex space for work, social collisions, and finding connection.


What are you doing that no one else is doing?


David Ingram: Bringing together the top three boutique class-based activities—HIIT, Yoga, and Ride—under one roof and bolting on a shared workspace so that urban professionals have a place to sweat, collaborate, and have social collisions to build an amazing community.


What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?


David Ingram: At 16, I was working three part-time jobs. My weekend job was at a gas station that had a car lot. While the owner and his friend were out for lunch one Saturday, a customer came in to look at the different cars, and I managed to sell him one, despite having no sales experience or authority. The owner was shocked, and he smiled at me and said, “You’re going to do well in life, and you will build something.” I spent years looking for the answer to what that might be.


Many industries were impacted by the pandemic, but the fitness industry was hit particularly hard. How did you navigate that time, and what did it teach you?


David Ingram: We opened Sweat and Tonic four months before COVID-19 closed the studio, and we had to pivot really fast. We had ‘Sweat Live’ and ‘Sweat on Demand’, our virtual platform, and ‘Sweat in the Park’, our outdoor classes launched within two months and it allowed us to keep all of our instructors working albeit on a reduced schedule. To take it even further, we created ‘Sweat on the Roof’, our one-of-a-kind outdoor fitness studio on the rooftop of the Toronto CF Eaton Centre. 


With every challenge that came our way, we continued to be resilient and committed to innovation and serving our community. We also decided that building the safest studio in anticipation of a soft reopening would be critical to creating trust and confidence for anyone returning to a studio. We tried to find work for every employee and keep them and all of our guests informed along this challenging time. 


Over-communicating and making the right choices (versus the convenient ones) meant we had great support once the doors reopened. After such a trying time, having every single back-of-house team member returning to work was my proudest moment.

Serene pilates room in a theatre style with a large screen.
Photos courtesy of Sweat and Tonic

Toronto is a diverse and dynamic market. How do you tailor your gym offerings to meet the diverse fitness needs and preferences of the community?


David Ingram: Firstly, we employ from our community, so it’s important that the team represents the guests who enjoy our space and play to the values we want to represent. What’s incredible about the 40+ instructor team is the mix of skills—from ultramarathon runners, triathletes, an Ironman, boxers, and kinesiologists, to breathwork specialists, reiki healers, nutritionists, dancers, and even DJs. Then we add on benchmarking against 10+ world-class wellness facility and gym operators, on top of continuous research and development, testing, learning, and creating new programming to ensure we can be leaders in the industry for our guests.


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Tell us about one phone call/meeting/email that changed your life?


David Ingram: I was in London for a few days when the hotel phone woke me with a panicked voice, telling me that my wife’s water had broken and she was in the hospital about to give birth to our first child. Over the next three hours and a tornado of activity, I was on a plane back to Toronto, praying I would make it for the birth, which I thankfully did. There was a determination and adrenaline I had never experienced in trying to find a way to make this happen. Since that day, I have believed that you are truly only limited by the size of your imagination. If you want to make something happen, you can. 


Entrepreneurs often wear many hats in the early stages of their business, and some would argue that never really ends. How has your role evolved since the inception of your business, and what key skills have you developed along the way?


David Ingram: I was fortunate to learn and make mistakes building other companies. You have to be crystal clear on what you are solving for, be sure the size of the opportunity is worth the risk, pay up for the most talented team, and have the passion to get close to the operations so that you set the tone for constant measurable progress. I retain a healthy disrespect for the status quo, and I really appreciate when I see team members behave like givers and not takers. It’s a measure of confidence and maturity when you see someone who’s not in the job just for themselves.

A red-lit workout room with various exercise gear.
Photos courtesy of Sweat and Tonic
A blue-lit cycling room with the bikes facing a large screen projecting a digital face of a woman.
Photos courtesy of Sweat and Tonic
Photo courtesy of Sweat and Tonic
Spa-like change room with mirrors and marble floors with hair dryers.
Photos courtesy of Sweat and Tonic

In the age of technology and digital fitness, how have you integrated technology into your gym experience?

David Ingram: Having technology that enhances and removes friction from the guest experience is one of our founding values. An example of it in play is our class booking app that allows guests to check into class within 100 feet of the studio so that they can bypass the entire front desk check-in process, and manage their bookings with ease. 


At our newest and largest location at Front and Spadina (The Well), we’ve integrated tech-powered sensory immersion into our workouts, including state-of-the-art chromatic light systems, theatre-quality AV, and even projection screens as large as 445 inches that all come together to transport our guests to another realm as they sweat it out in our studios. 


With our 10,0000-square-foot wellness and recovery hub at this location, our offerings will combine a luxury spa experience with the most advanced science-backed wellness and biohacking technologies, including red light therapy, cryotherapy, hot and cold therapy, a DEXA scanner, and more—enabling our guests who are looking to dive deeper to integrate 360-degree fitness and wellness into their own personal journeys.


What would you consider as some of the key milestones or achievements in your entrepreneurial journey so far?


David Ingram: Rebranding six rental companies to one company in 2003; creating a new financial lending company called easyfinancial in 2006; and, of course, building the first Sweat and Tonic in 2019. These organizations have won many team and individual awards along the way, but the financial success so far at goeasy—achieving a 19,000% total shareholder return over the last 23 years—has given me a big challenge for Sweat and Tonic!


What is a misconception about your industry or line of work that you are looking to dispel?


David Ingram: Every industry has great companies and its share of rogues, but I don’t think the gyms I’m familiar with have misleading or bad practices. 40% of our industry got wiped out during the COVID-19 pandemic which sunk a few that were poorly managed, but the majority lost their business due to a tragic once-in-a-lifetime event made financially very difficult by a city that was one of the most locked-down communities in the world.


What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are just starting their ventures or are considering taking the entrepreneurial path?


David Ingram: It’s the best job in the world, provided you don’t want to work three days a week from home, but rather, are willing to be mentally available every waking hour to achieve something great for you and your team. Expect to prove yourself over again every day and always choose truth over harmony. Give every person on your team an equal voice but it shouldn’t be confused with an equal vote. Your business is not a democracy; you will listen, but ultimately you will also decide.


What is your vision for the future of your business?


David Ingram: One that has built the best classes, fueled by the best instructors and a team that is excited to be at Sweat and Tonic, striving constantly to find ways to make the guests feel like this is their home away from home and the healthiest fun in their life. If we can achieve this consistently, then I believe we can be in any major urban city in the world.

Sweat and Tonic founder David Ingram wearing a branded black hoodie and arms crossed in a hallway.
Photo courtesy of Sweat and Tonic