Crank It Up

11 October 2018Danae Mercer
Crank It Up
Crank It Up
Crank It Up

With pumping music, neon lights cutting through dimly lit rooms and bodies flinging sweat everywhere, Crank could be a dance club. It could — but it most definitely is not. Instead, this urban space is Alserkal Avenue’s first fitness studio.

Inside, visitors will find three different workouts split across two levels: a spin workout, done on bikes to rhythmic beats; a strength workout that combines weights with cardio; and a stretching workout meant to loosen muscles. Downstairs there’s a coffee and smoothie bar. Upstairs there’s a space for lounging, with brown leather stools scattered around a massive wooden table. Drawdeck graffiti-art spreads across concrete and exposed brick. The overall vibe is industrial and approachable, like a trendy New York cafe turned fitness hub.

“For years I had this vision of setting up a fitness studio,” says Ken Calleja, one of Crank’s four co-founders. Yet something — fear of a massive investment, work, life — always got in the way. “This time was different… Four like-minded fitness enthusiasts came together. We believed in the opportunity. We committed to making it happen. And we did.”

The idea for Crank started over a casual dinner one night between co-founders Calleja, Kourosh Dara, Sami Hakim and Nuno Fernandes. There was a gap in the UAE market for a home-grown fitness brand, says Hakim. “We had all been in Dubai for long enough that we were keen to contribute to the city by helping it grow organically from within,” he says. There was a dream for something personal, something a little bit like home. 

“Instead of letting the conversation simply fizzle out, we actually did something about it,” Dara adds. Step one? Finding a location.

Alserkal Avenue was a natural fit for this design-based studio, the co-founders note. “It took a few weeks of pitching the idea to the Alserkal Avenue team, and it’s been a great partnership since day one,” Dara says. “We love the community vibe.”

“We are unique,” agrees Fernandes, Crank co-founder, general manager, and lead instructor. “Alserkal Avenue is unique. So we match each other’s vibes perfectly.”

Overall, it took 18 months for Crank to open its floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Instructors practiced together for weeks in an upstairs room overflowing with boxes over summer. Eventually the bikes were set up downstairs, the boxes unpacked, the dust swept away. Then came lights, microphones, music and multiple iPads. After nearly two years, Crank was ready.

There were definitely challenges along the way, says Calleja. “Getting all elements right in a start-up business is not easy and requires a lot of hard work, attention to detail, commitment and dedication,” says Calleja. “I am proud we achieved that.”

“We did not think the puzzle would be so complex to put together,” agrees Hakim. “With all our perfectionist temperaments, the journey was so hectic.” But the co-founders had made a promise to create something different and exceptional, Hakim continues. “We gave this all our energy.”

While Dubai is positively heaving with cycle studios these days, Fernandes says Crank stands out because it mixes a high-tech studio with a seriously cool ‘hangout’ vibe. There are familiar elements — like a racing board in the spin class and a smoothie bar — mixed with new touches. These include lights that echo a dance club and the ability to hop between spinning, strength and stretching classes. “And there’s the personality of the instructors,” says Fernandes.

During Crank’s first trial ride, it was clear that the hard work was worth it, he adds. “Seeing the light, the music, and everyone having fun, I felt that we had come a long way — and that it was done.”

“Crank literally brought out the best of us in working toward a common goal,” adds Calleja. This positive vibe is a big part of Crank’s ethos, one echoed across all four co-founders. It extends from staff to guest, stresses Fernandes. “Our goal is to be the best part of a customer’s day.”


Our goal is to be the best part of a customer’s day."