New Hospitality Group Wants You To Take Leisure Seriously

The flamingo-themed entrance to an event hosted by Serious Leisure

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

Every time I take a deep full belly breath I think of Anderson Pugash. The handsome restauranteur, philanthropist, and entrepreneur recently enlightened me to the importance of breath. “Have you heard of breath work? It’s a cool practice. It’s a different kind of breathing. It’s a yoga practice, and it’s this form of breathing that hyper-oxygenates the body,” he explained. “It flushes out energy and flushes out your autonomic nervous system. It’s really powerful. You breathe for about an hour in this specific kind of style, and it’s a great stress reducer.” As the owner of four of the city’s top nightlife spots—The Dorian, Palm House, Audio, and Bergerac—it might come as a surprise that Pugash is providing wellness advice.

Anderson Pugash

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

After suffering from a debilitating neck hernia that left him in bed for months, Pugash realized he needed to change his play-hard work-hard ways. “I was working fanatically, getting my company up and going, and we grew quickly,” he says. “I didn’t take care of myself. It was a life-changing injury. It inspired me to open my eyes to the fact that I needed balance and the world needs balance.” Now almost two years later, Pugash has fully recovered and launched a new venture, Serious Leisure, to bring his breathing techniques and positive lifestyle changes to the masses.

A packed crowd at The Dorian

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

“Serious Leisure is about balance, and too often we find ourselves serving others without serving ourselves first,” he says. “The messaging behind Serious Leisure is to take your leisure seriously. Find time for balance, find time to relax, and take care of yourself.” Pugash points out that over 600 million vacation days went unused last year and 12% of millennials suffer from anxiety disorders. With Serious Leisure he hopes to encourage peers to take more time for themselves—whether it be a month-long vacation, a weekend escape in wine country, or a blowout bash at one of his bars.

Banana shots at a Serious Leisure event

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

By prioritizing your leisure time, essentially taking leisure time as seriously as you do work, exercise, or sleep, Pugash believes we can live better, more fulfilling lives. “You can create time if you prioritize it and you find ways to build it into your day,” he advises. “Can you spend less time on emails or social media? Can you disconnect a little bit more? Can you cut out a commitment that’s not serving you? If it’s important to you, you’ll find other things to cut out, and that’s how you’ll find your balance.”

Pugash and co-founder Benson Wang

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

While he and his partner, Serious Leisure co-founder Benson Wang, haven’t made any visible changes to their establishments—besides adding more plant-based options to the menus—the duo is motivating staff members to embrace the Serious Leisure lifestyle. “We offer unlimited vacation. We do meditation before our meetings,” Pugash says. “We’re bringing these practices into the workplace and we’re trying to show that there are more ways to disconnect and relax than what’s often found in the hospitality industry.” Instead of letting loose by partying all night, Pugash is introducing friends and fans to the breathing exercises and exclusive events like sound healings, yoga experiences, and further down the line, restorative retreats.

Palm House

Serious Leisure has a wine country hotel in the works, but Pugash is coy about details. He also hopes to get back into philanthropy—Pugash was the founder of a wildly popular and successful event, The SF Social, that raised money to support local causes—and is exploring partnerships with organizations like Larkin Street Youth.

Interactive elements that cultivate connection are common at Serious Leisure events

Photo Credit: Serious Leisure

But all of that is further down the line; right now he and Wang are focusing on throwing transportive events. “Our mission for Serious Leisure is to create better lives through better leisure. I want to guide people in finding answers,” he says. “I am here to help expand consciousness in a time when the world needs more consciousness. The world needs healing right now.”