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Creating connections through steam, sweat and relaxation

Kov Sauna – Appleton’s first wood-fired sauna – opens behind Moon Water Cafe

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January 26, 2023

APPLETON – Nathan Litt said when he was first introduced to the world of sauna, he was “hooked” immediately.

It would be an understatement to say he was intrigued.

From there, Litt said he immersed himself in sauna – learning about its popularity in European culture, as well as the hubbub of mobile sauna in the Twin Cities and Duluth, Minnesota.

“I’ve always loved sauna,” he said. “But it became more than a hobby – it turned into a passion.”

After seeing the success of saunas in Minnesota, Litt said he thought Appleton could also benefit from what he describes as a relaxing experience and culture.

Taking the leap in June 2022, he said he transitioned out of a different company he helped found and run and decided to start a business with his wife – Kov Sauna.

How it started
Litt said he is the first in the area to offer a wood-fired sauna, and though it’s been exciting for Kov Sauna to be the first of its kind in Appleton, it also meant there was no municipal code in the city for the specific service.

“I’ve had to navigate and work with the city,” he said. “They’ve been great to work with, but there is no current municipal code that specifically addresses wood-fired saunas. They’ve had to try to figure out the best existing code to make this work.”

As of right now, Litt said he can only operate with a temporary use permit on a commercial property. 

Following these restrictions, Kov Sauna set up shop behind Moon Water Cafe (606 N. Lawe St).

Though Litt continues to work with the city to create a new municipal code, he said he looks at the temporary permit as phase one of a three-phase plan.

“(For) phase two… I’d like to be able to have other mobile sauna trailers,” he said. “For instance, (someone) could rent it from me, and I could drop it off at their house for the weekend… Then phase three is a brick-and-mortar location. But, for right now, people have to come to me where I am at.”

Further down the road, Litt said he could also see Kov Sauna expanding outside of Appleton — to Green Bay and Oshkosh.

Before officially opening, Litt said he and his wife hosted informal sauna sessions to get a feel for how Kov would do.

“The collaboration and ideas immediately started to be shared,” he said. “To me, that’s such an amazing and beneficial thing for the community. You never know, the new best thing for Northeast Wisconsin could come out of a future sauna session.”

The culture behind it
The name Kov Sauna, Litt said, is a nod to Nordic and Scandinavian origins of sauna culture. 

“It doesn’t mean anything in the Nordic or Scandinavian (language), but phonetically, when you pronounce it, it sounds like ‘cove’ – like a cove on the shoreline,” he said. “A place of safety and sanctuary where you go for rest and care.”

The sauna can fit up to eight people at a time. Participants can choose from a community session, private session or guided private session. Submitted Photo

Tied in with that, Litt said the Danish word “hygge” – which means coziness, comfort and friendship – is central to what Kov Sauna is trying to achieve.

The wood fire, he said, adds to the overall cozy and relaxing feel.

“The only true sauna experience is with a wood-fire stove, and that’s because you have all the elements,” he said. “You have earth being the stone or the wood being burned in the air, the heat, the cool water to create the steam… all of your senses are stimulated – there’s sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.”

Participating in sauna, Litt said, can bring health aspects, such as a better night’s rest, but he said the social facet is also important.

“What I think is key is the social aspects – being able to experience the sauna together with friends, family or people you don’t even know,” he said. “It’s about building community.”

What to expect
The Kov Sauna is built out of a mobile trailer and can fit up to eight people, Litt said.

People can book three different kinds of appointments online:
A 75-minute community session, where random members of the public do a session together.A 90-minute private session with a specific group of people/friends.A 90-minute private-guided session where Litt explains sauna culture, practices and more during the visit.
Before a session, Litt said it’s important to stay well-hydrated, because participants will sweat “a lot.”

He said people will also want to drink water during the session, and therefore, should bring a water bottle (not glass or metal) along with them.

Litt said participants should also show up dressed in swimwear or active wear.

Though there are breaks during a session, he said it will be cooling and relaxing.

“A sauna session consists of three to four rounds,” he said. “Each round is 12-15 minutes in the sauna, and then everyone will go outside to cool down, drink some water and rest a bit. When everybody is starting to get a little chilled, then they jump back in the sauna and keep repeating that (cycle).”

Post-sauna session, Litt said participants should continue to hydrate and eat something with electrolytes.

He said the winter is the perfect season to book a sauna session – which obviously makes Wisconsin a good fit for sauna.

“From a seasonal standpoint, it’s a great activity that hasn’t existed before,” he said. “It gives people an opportunity and a reason to get together and be social and take on winter head-on, and it also obviously complements winter activities. After a day of skiing, sledding, ice fishing or snowshoeing, it feels good to sit in the warmth of the sauna and relax the muscles and rejuvenate.”

Nathan Litt, owner of Kov Sauna, said a wood-fired sauna experience is the best and most authentic way to enjoy sauna culture, as it provides all four elements: earth, water, fire and air. Submitted Photo

Litt said though winter is the ideal time for sauna, Kov Sauna will be available year-round – with plans of new offerings to beat the summer heat.

“One thing I’ll be adding shortly is… cold therapy, meaning like the cold tubs for you (to sit in),” he said. “You’ll be able to do it during the winter, but it becomes even more important and desirable in the summer months when you need to cool down a lot faster because it’s not as cold outside. I think there’s an opportunity to make it this year-round. Just as the seasons change, the way you experience sauna changes to accommodate the seasons.”

The importance of sauna
For Litt, he said the most important aspect of sauna is bringing people from the community together.

“I believe in the power of sauna to bring people together from social connectivity and help build community,” he said. “I hope – in this day and age where everything is at a click of a button… and hyper-connected and digital – that (sauna) slows the pace and brings people back to how we used to relate and connect to each other.”

Looking to the future, Litt said he would like to see more sauna businesses pop up within the Northeast Wisconsin area.

“Long-term, I would love to have other sauna businesses pop up because my sauna max capacity right now is eight people,” he said. “The more businesses operating and doing a great job and offering a great sauna experience – the better off it is for everybody and the faster the sauna culture will grow. That’s my ultimate vision – that it becomes part of every day.”

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