Charleston’s social and wellness club, The Wonderer, founded by Beau Burns, evolved from years of work, travel, reflection and life-scarring tragedy.
In December 2014, Beau Burns quit his job in finance and bought a plane ticket to circumnavigate the globe. Tired of the daily routine, he wanted to clear his head and consider career changes. Three months into his journey, about to leave the Philippines for Nepal to participate in an ascent to Mount Everest Base Camp, he received a call from a friend in China. “I’m coming south to Tibet, and we can do the climb together if you can push your date back 2 weeks,” he told Burns. Burns phoned the trip coordinator and, in a rare stroke of luck for this popular excursion, they had slots open for the new date. Burns changed flights and stayed in Cebu for another week.
On April 25, 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal on the boundary between the Indian and Eurasian plates. The epicenter was just 37 miles northwest of the capital Kathmandu. The earthquake devastated the city, killed nearly 9,000 people and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest. All 15 climbers from the trip that Burns had canceled died on the mountain.
Burns was born and raised in Kentucky, graduated from the University of Georgia and Terry Business School with degrees in finance, and joined the workforce soon after. Ten years of knocking a clock for money was enough. Of course, like many millennials, Burns had a side-hustle that lit up his life in ways a desk job couldn’t. Focusing primarily on producing live music events, he enjoyed the challenge of coordinating large-scale logistics as well as connecting with others. “I loved showing people the good times, bringing them back to a closer version of themselves,” he said during a recent interview with Forbes to The Wonderer.
He hosted New Year’s Eve parties on the USS Yorktown, a World War II aircraft carrier-turned-museum stationed permanently at Patriot’s Point in Charleston. In 2012, he organized a music festival from scratch on a private island in the Bahamas. “Like the Fyre Festival but it really happened,” he said.
As co-owner and operator of Brightsound Entertainment, Burns has worked on a myriad of events and concerts during his time in finance. One of the sticking points of the business model that he found frustrating was the challenge of creating events in places owned by other people. “There was this seed in my mind – I wanted my own place one day,” he said.
On the morning of the earthquake, Burns had been swimming with whale sharks. “I got back to my hostel, I’m on this big high, and my friend calls me and asks me if I’m watching the news,” he said. I told him he saved my life.
“I don’t believe in coincidences; I don’t believe in luck. Surely all of this is happening for a reason,” Burns said of his thoughts that day.
Timing would be a catalyst. “I realized that I should start figuring out how to make sure that what I do when I get home is based on gratitude,” he said. With three weeks left on his ticket, Burns changed flights again and re-routed to India.
He chose Kashmir, a mountain destination with no cell reception, no Wi-Fi, and at the time English-speaking. He actually signed up for a silent retreat. “I didn’t see any Westerners and had no way of communicating with anyone for almost 22 days,” he said. He almost hit the proverbial eject button after a few days, but he had books to read and journals to fill out. “That’s where I got the idea for The Wonderer,” he said.
Burns did a quick mental SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats).
“I knew I wanted to do something that would create impact, meaning and positive change. I thought: what are my strengths? Among them were finance, events and music. The exercise helped him evolve his idea.
“Instead of events, I thought maybe I could create a second home for people where they could combine exercise, wellness, work, and social events in one place. Help them find time again in their lives, the most precious possession that we will ever have again,” Burns said.
He turned to shared economy projects and success stories like WeWork and Soho House as proof of concept.
Burns set the Wonderer in motion in 2017. The private Meeting Street social and wellness club in downtown Charleston’s Upper Peninsula finally opened its campus four years later in July 2021. Burns, as founder, developer and director, breathed a sigh of relief when the doors finally opened.
Such a sigh is understandable, especially at first glance at the physical manifestation of his multi-year vision. Entering through a sun-shaped door, members walk through a breezy corridor of palm trees and tropical plants. Perhaps the most striking aspect of The Wonderer is the Olympic-sized pool. Behind, a music stage hosts live entertainment and a giant movie screen loops saturated video of dreamy distant locations as members lounge in chairs and cabanas. It is an image of holiday happiness, without flying to Mexico.
In fact, the entire campus channels the rustic-chic wood-and-macrame vibe of Tulum, one of the places on Burns’ travel circuit that marked his memory.
Other amenities include a fitness area known as the “garden” where a teepee imported from Norway provides shelter for yoga, HIIT classes, and sound bath sessions, among other spiritual, physical, and meditative practices.
Most of the structure is outdoors to take advantage of Charleston’s warm weather and encourage people to spend more time outdoors, a feature that has worked in the club’s favor during the pandemic. Upstairs is home to a rooftop bar, lounge area, and elevated seating, as well as a terrace that members and non-members can rent for private events. Below, one of the club’s few enclosed spaces, the cafe serves members cold beers by day and wine, cocktails and beers by night. Or the day. As a member wishes.
The restaurant’s menus continue to evolve but feature globally inspired dishes with a healthy bent, such as the salmon poke bowl or Baja fish tacos at Bhava, the club’s all-day menu. Upstairs, Krida mixes local seafood with heartier dinner portions ranging from ground beef with tangy chimichurri to bowls of udon noodles with glazed tofu. All the food is excellent, thanks to the club’s talented full-time chef, Tom Smith.
Aft, behind a tropical-inspired third bar with its ready-made rope swings, is the coworking space. Soundproof booths for private calls, high-speed Wi-Fi, printers and scanners are just some of the features that keep members productive so they can pivot to relaxation once they’ve pressed on send this last e-mail.
A new biophilic gym makes its imminent debut, solving some of the problems with training at the Wonderer in bad weather.
While the daily conveniences keep members active, it’s the club’s social calendar that brings them together, movie nights by the pool, wine tastings, trivia and a series of guest speakers focused on business development. The Wonderer also rents out the garden, rooftop or offers full club buyouts for private events, from corporate wellness retreats to weddings.
For Beau, The Wonderer is for locals looking for ways to improve their lives and stay open to new perspectives. The pandemic has brought this point home. “The goal was to bring people together so that when they go through something difficult, they have a community. The challenges we face in life are less difficult when we have a strong base of support,” he said.
Contact the club for membership applications and rates.