“Belvedere” Real Estate Developer’s Path to Yoga and Wellness

Mariola Zaremba, creator of Awakening, left a successful real estate business to dedicate her life to the business of holistic healing. Photo by Ben Rosenzweig

By Mary Yeung

Early this summer, a new wellness center called Awakening opened at 605-607 Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint. It is the brainchild of real estate developer, certified yoga teacher, and licensed esthetician Mariola Zaremba. She and her instructor partners have created a full-service center that offers spa treatments, exercise and meditation classes, and life coaching.

Zaremba, who’s 46, is a walking advertisement for Awakening. She has radiant skin and boundless energy. She also has a compelling life story to tell. Twenty-one years ago, she immigrated to the U.S. from Poland and settled in Greenpoint. Shortly after she arrived, she ended her first marriage and became a single mother of a one-year-old baby boy. To support herself, she worked as a home health care attendant and a waitress. “I have a masters degree in Special Education from a University in Poland, but I needed to make a living right away.” A couple of years later, her entrepreneurial spirit led her to open an employment agency, and later, an importing and exporting business. “I was exporting construction materials to Europe,” she says.

In 2002, she realized that real estate prices in Greenpoint were rising, so she teamed up with a friend, Chris Rostek, and started a real estate development business. They tore down old buildings and replaced them with modern condos they called Belvedere buildings, which residents watched pop up over the years with some amusement, as the buildings featured the same name, with increasing roman numbers. They worked together for three years before parting ways, but both wanted to retain the Belvedere brand. Today, Rostek is the head of Belvedere Bridge Enterprises (comprising the odd numbered buildings), while Zaremba owns Belvedere Partners, Inc. (the even numbered buildings). “Belvedere means ‘Beautiful View’ in Italian, but it is also the name of a very famous historical building in Warsaw,” Zaremba explains.

After forming her own company, Zaremba developed 10 Belvedere buildings in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. The latest are Eco-Belvedere and Eco-Belvedere 1, a conjoined building that includes sustainable materials, water conservation facilities, a green roof, and an interior painted with VOC paint. Zaremba housed the Awakening Wellness Center on the ground floor and in the basement. “Eco Belvedere was awarded a Silver LEED certification,” says Zaremba. “We are the first company to build eco-friendly buildings in North Brooklyn.” But this was her last real estate project. She wants to focus on the Wellness Center.

One of the catalysts for Awakening happened in 2006. “I was diagnosed with melanoma,” she says. Suddenly, she had to slow down and take care of herself. She took up yoga and frequented spas wherever she traveled for business or pleasure. She took stock of her life. “Even before the illness, I felt I was missing something. My business was doing well, I’m married, and I have two beautiful sons, but the real estate business was very stressful. I felt I needed something more spiritual,” she says. “I have a lot of fire in my soul, and I’m in a business that generates a lot of anxiety. Yoga helps me relax and feel more grounded.”

Although she is completely healthy now, Zaremba’s brush with skin cancer gave her the idea of opening a wellness center for the community. Awakening has two spacious exercise and meditation areas, several well-designed massage rooms, healing rooms, a steam room, and an organic cafe where anyone can drop in and get a salad, fresh squeezed juice, smoothies, and sandwiches. It’s healthy and tasty food prepared by Chef Kyle Lowe.

Zaremba says she wants her wellness center to serve people from all walks of life. “Businesses are so segregated in Greenpoint,” she says. “There are places that cater just to hipsters, places just for the Polish. I want to welcome everyone: hipsters, locals, business people, artists, the young, and the old. I designed the center so everyone will feel comfortable here. This is a great place to meet your neighbors.” she says.

At Awakening you can get spa treatments like massages, facials, and steam baths; exercise and meditation classes, including yoga, tai chi, dance, and Pilates; and life coaching for weight management, substance abuse, and goal setting. Other exotic treatments include Vishesh and Shirodara treatments, Ayurvedic Face Treatments, Marma Chikitsa, and Garshana Abyangha. For those in search of a more mystical experience, Awakening also offers shamanic healing sessions with shamanic master Phillia Kim Dawn. “It’s a 5,000-year-old Peruvian practice,” Zaremba explains.

Zaremba says her own daily regimen includes Tibetan ritual yogic exercise. She takes probiotic supplements and juice, all on an empty stomach, to start the day. She drinks fresh juice to get vitamins instead of using vitamin pills. She also does cleanses. She says that since she started taking care of her body, she has lost weight and has more clarity in her thinking.

One of Awakening’s signature services is the full-body massage, performed by Ira Macner, who trained at the Swedish Institute and teaches at the Finger Lakes School of Massage in Mt. Kisco. “We combine many techniques in our massages,” says Zaremba. “They’re customized to your needs.”

A professional massage is one of those treatments that is very difficult to duplicate at home. At Awakening, you’re treated to candlelight, new age music, hot towels, and aromatherapy. Spending an hour with Macner is like taking a mini-vacation. You emerge from the experience feeling loved and re-invigorated.

Since its opening, Awakening has attracted many clients who are visiting a wellness center for the first time. “They tell me, ‘I never knew what I was missing all these years,’” says Zaremba. She touches on a story about a friend from Germany who had just gone through a bad break up and was emotionally and physically a mess. Zaremba designed a wellness program to help her heal. She was put on a juice cleansing treatment for 10 days, undertook an exercise regimen, received an anti-cellulite treatment, and underwent sound therapy involving crystal balls, gongs, and chanting. She also received shamanic healing, nutritional counseling, and massage. She went back to Germany and has since taken up yoga training. Zaremba believes that with so much stress in modern life, everyone could use a little holistic healing.

Awakening will offer weekend retreats in the spring. The center can be rented for bridal showers, community meetings, and wellness parties. Prices for spa services and exercise classes are quite reasonable. There are free trials, drop-in and membership classes, and special events and programs for children.

“Everything I’ve learned from my life has brought me here, from Special Ed teacher, to health-care attendant, waitress, and real estate developer. I’ve come full circle.” Zaremba believes that providing a sanctuary for people to heal their bodies and spirits is the most fulfilling work of her life. “I have found my calling,” she says.

Check awakeningny.com for class schedules and upcoming events.