Future of Hospitality? Pod Lodging Provides Natural Social Distancing

Future of Hospitality? Pod Lodging Provides Natural Social Distancing

Wild Rice Retreat in Bayfield, Wisconsin, plans to break ground next week on a $10.4 million expansion.

We could probably all use a vacation right now. But what might getaways actually look like for the foreseeable future? Cast a gaze on the shores of Lake Superior where Wild Rice Retreat will break ground next week on a $10.4 million expansion. The centerpiece of the project designed by award-winning architect David Salmela, is lodging “pods” and “nests” that offer social distancing by design.

The blueprints pre-date the pandemic, but retreat owner Heidi Zimmer thinks the timing could be ideal.

“The timing of the retreat coming to life later in 2020 seems particularly appropriate for the times we are in right now,” Zimmer says. “The cabins were designed to naturally provide each guest with the opportunity for expansive physical distance and plenty of room to breathe, rest, learn, and create in nature.”

The retreat center is curently closed; all programming has been postponed until late July due to Covid-19.

Wild Rice Retreat, which bills itself as “a center for arts and well-being,” opened in 2018. Workshops focus on yoga, meditation, creative arts like jewery making, and healthy eating. Zimmer, a Twin Cities-based developer, says all of her investors are women. Situated on 114 acres just a mile and a half from downtown Bayfield, Wisconsin, the retreat center’s main facility is the former Wild Rice Restaurant previously owned by philanthropist, artist, and entrepreneur Mary H. Rice and designed by Salmela, the Duluth-based architect best known for his minimalist wood designs. The restaurant’s chef, Lars Dukowitz, stayed on board to create locally-sourced meals for retreat-goers.

But without lodging on site, “It has been difficult to gain momentum,” Zimmer says.


Salmela Architects and BKV Architects are behind the retreat’s expansion designs. The unique lodging will include two styles that Zimmer is calling RicePods and Nests. The RicePods—made of  locally sourced basswood and cedar—are modern, tiny house-style dwellings with two single beds, a European-style bathroom, a small kitchenette, and Lake Superior views. Nests will feature a king-sized bed, full bathroom, kitchenette, living area, and lake views.

“Blending arts and creativity with health and wellness practices, along with a continued tradition of locally sourced food and service, our goal is to provide a transformational experience to each guest,” Zimmer says.

Construction is scheduled to be complete by March 2021, but Zimmer says at least a dozen cabins should open by fall. Online booking will open in June for a lineup of summer programming which is listed on the website.

“We’ve had to cancel and move all reservations from May through the end of July,” Zimmer says. “Guests asking for refunds is really tough on a brand new small business so we are just working through it one group at a time and hoping to get most people rescheduled.”

Still, Zimmer remains confident, the market will spring back quickly. “I do think people will come to a place like Bayfield, which even during the height of tourist season is a pretty calm and serene place,” Zimmer says, adding that the nearby Apostle Islands have become a bigger draw in recent years. “Our main facility is large enough that we can have groups of 20 to 25, and people will still feel quite spread out. I am hoping people will flock to us both out of interest in our values and programming and also because we feel like a pretty ‘safe’ place to visit.”

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