Ep 7. Finding Family in Coliving with Tony and Katya from Burgas Coliving in Bulgaria.

🎙️ Join us in the 7th episode of Colivers Club, this time with Tony and Katya, the founders of Burgas Coliving in Bulgaria, as we explore their remarkable journey of transforming an abandoned communist spa into a thriving coliving space with a summer camp vibe. 🏕️

In this episode, Tony and Katya share their unique story, from the challenges of renovating a historic building to the joys of creating a vibrant community for digital nomads. They discuss the importance of community support, the balance of work and play, and the activities that make their coliving space feel like a family. 🛠️🏡

Learn about their innovative approach to coliving, the impact of their fitness and wellness programs, and how their personal backgrounds in brewing and urban planning have shaped their vision. Tune in to discover the secrets behind Burgas Coliving’s success and get inspired to enhance your own coliving experience. 🎧✨

 

Read Katya & Tony's Interview

César: Hello everyone, my name is César. Here we are in another episode of Colivers Club. I’m joined by Tony and Katya. Hello, how are you?

Katya and Tony: Hello. Thank you. We are really great, and it’s a pleasure for us to be part of your podcast. Thank you for inviting us.

César: Thank you. Yeah, this podcast has been powered by Mapmelon. I think you guys didn’t meet Ramon and Sole yet, right? I think Tony was telling me…

Katya and Tony: I have met them here last summer, but unfortunately, they only stayed for a couple of hours. I really hope we will have a chance to meet each other again very soon. They promised to come this summer, so we will spend some time together. I hope so because I miss their visit last time, and I hope we’ll have more time together next time.

César: Nice. For those of you who don’t know, Ramon and Sole are the founders of Mapmelon. It’s an app and website where you can see colivings and book them through it. They have a nice community, and that’s how this podcast came together.

Katya and Tony: Actually, they did an amazing job with this website and platform. In just one year, they gathered so many people and colivings. People are starting to use the app a lot more, and we are very happy that our place is also part of their list.

César: Yeah, sure. It’s a curated list of colivings. Nowadays, people just say coliving, and it’s maybe like a hostel or something. I want to start this podcast by asking you guys, what do you think a coliving is?

Katya and Tony: It’s an experience, a rollercoaster. Coliving is so many things in one. It’s not just the building because coliving is not the building. It’s all the things that happen in and outside of the property. Many people ask us this question, and we still can’t find the right short answer. We just talk and talk about what coliving is. For us, the word coliving is too broad. Different platforms use it, and it can be a hotel deciding to become a place for digital nomads, just putting up a sign saying “coliving.” For us, coliving brings open-minded people together, making them feel like part of a family. They live together, share moments together, and it’s more than just sharing accommodation. It’s becoming part of something bigger, going in the same direction together. When we started our first year with coliving, we had one thought, but now we are so close with the people who have been here that coliving means something completely different. We have a bigger family now, with people who are so close to us. I think I’m in touch with some of the people who have been here more than with my family. Coliving for us is a family and something bigger than just a place. Especially in community-based colivings like ours, the friendships and relationships are strong and long-lasting. It’s beautiful. When we travel, we always find friends, people we lived with here.

César: That’s beautiful. Can you tell us more about Burgas Coliving?

Katya and Tony: Sure. Our story is a bit different than most coliving owners. Most decide to create a coliving and then find a place. For us, it was the opposite. We had a place and then learned about digital nomadism and coliving. We realized it was perfect for our property. It was in early 2019 when I saw an article about colivings in Europe. At that time, places like Sun and Co and Nine were famous. We realized this should happen here. Unfortunately, we are not remote workers. We have jobs that don’t allow us to stay outside the country for long, but we love to travel. We realized this would be the perfect way to invite the world to come here when we couldn’t go see the world. In 2019, it started with an idea. We knew it would be hard because we weren’t digital nomads and didn’t know many people. We started in early 2020.

A very important start was given to us by my good friend Katia from Chateau Living. She helped us a lot, supported us before the beginning, and made us believe we could do this.

César: Katia is from Bulgaria, right?

Katya and Tony: Yes, Katia is from Bulgaria, from Burgas, so this is her hometown.

César: That’s such a coincidence! She’s the founder of Chateau Co living in France. That’s incredible.

Katya and Tony: We were very grateful to other coliving owners who supported us a lot in the beginning and continue to support us. The network between coliving owners is strong and supportive. The beginning was hard, but thanks to them, we survived. In early 2020, we started renovating the building, which was totally abandoned. Burgas Coliving is located 15 kilometers from the city center of Burgas. The property is big, almost 10,000 square meters with a huge yard. We have two buildings, and we renovated one, which was totally abandoned. The renovation was hard. We needed a construction company because we changed almost everything. We kept the construction elements like slabs and columns, but everything else was changed – the roof, windows, walls, everything.

The building was originally a community building, a spa complex from the communist era, founded in 1952. We found an old book with pictures from that period, showing the comrades who started the project. It was for workers to come and use the healing mineral water. The area is famous for its healing mineral water, with several spa places around. We preserved the building’s look from the past, using old photos to guide the renovation. Everything was destroyed, so we changed the windows, roof, floors, electricity system, pipes – everything. The backyard was like a forest, but we managed to arrange everything. Now we are very happy with the place.

César: Nice. It took two years of renovating, right?

Katya and Tony: It was a huge project. The whole backyard was like a forest because for 20, 30 years, nobody was doing anything to cut the trees. It was like a disaster to go there, but slowly we managed to arrange everything and now we are very happy with the place. So we started at the beginning of 2020 with the renovation and we opened as a coliving at the beginning of the summer of 2022. And as I mentioned, we started with the renovation just as the pandemic hit.

Covid came to Bulgaria, and at that time everything just stopped. Life stopped. Everything was frozen. So for a couple of months, we had to slow down because everyone was scared. Nobody knew what would happen. It was a disaster. We stopped the renovation for a couple of months, and we were very afraid about our budget and if we could continue. Fortunately, the pandemic actually worked for us because it unlocked this wave of digital nomads and remote workers. It helped the industry, but at the time, we had a plan and a budget, and Covid changed everything. Prices went up, and we weren’t prepared for that.

I’m so happy we succeeded in finishing the project. I remember our biggest supporters were other coliving operators, mainly Katja from Chateau. When we decided to open, we planned five or six months in advance to invite some well-known digital nomads from Europe and abroad for an open month to check the place. We didn’t have anything in the building; we had finished the main construction, but none of the interior was done. It was tough, but we finished everything just one week before people arrived. It was a huge relief for us because it was so stressful.

César: Nice. Yeah, I think what we mentioned earlier about coliving being about community really embodies this. You are competitors in some ways, but your supporters are other coliving owners. It’s so nice to create these networks of properties and houses around the world where everyone supports each other. As a software developer, this reminds me a lot of open source, where people create a project and share it with the world to make it even better. Community is a big part of what coliving is.

Katya and Tony: Totally agree.

César: So this is your second year, and you’re already doing things like pop-up colivings around fitness. Can you tell us more about that?

Katya and Tony: Actually, it will be our third season.

César: Third season, okay.

Katya and Tony: Yes, we opened in April with the fitness pop-up, which is not a completely new concept for people. It’s made in different ways. We even hosted a wellness pop-up organized by Chateau Coliving. Now we are focusing more on fitness. The idea is to help people, with professionals, nutritionists, and fitness instructors, to implement a healthy lifestyle during their travels and work as digital nomads.

This is the biggest challenge. When you stay in one place for a long time, you can arrange things around you. But when you’re traveling a lot, it’s hard to maintain healthy habits. You need time to understand where you can train and what you can do. Often, you’re in a rush and end up eating unhealthy food. The project’s idea is to help people implement healthy habits and use accessible things for workouts, meditation, and nutrition.

For me, this month will be about getting in shape for the summer. Many people feel like me after the holidays and need this. We’ll put a lot of effort into making something very useful, like workouts with water bottles. It sounds unprofessional, but both of us are runners and ultra-marathon runners. We’ve finished a lot of ultra-marathons in Bulgaria and abroad. We know a lot about nutrition, and we’ll invite people working in this field. The month will show different types of movement and what people can do.

There will be profiles for runners, people who want to walk or hike, those who want to do strength workouts, and body workouts you can do anywhere without equipment.

César: You just need a body, right?

Katya and Tony: Yes, if you have a body, you can work out. If not, that’s a problem. We’ll also teach people to eat healthier and search for better products.

We want to use our huge yard for fitness activities. We’ve built an outdoor workout area. We’ve also started a simple renovation in our second building, preparing a big room for yoga and workouts. So, when the weather is bad, we can still train inside with all the equipment.

César: Yeah, because whenever I go to colivings, a central point of the experience is eating. It’s a social activity, and people gather around the kitchen. Someone starts cooking something nice, then someone else makes dessert, and it happens very often. You don’t want to miss that part, but you think about balancing it out with more exercise or fasting. It’s cool that you’re focusing on these important things, which can also be social activities. You mentioned you are ultra-marathon runners. How many kilometers is that?

Katya and Tony: It’s everything above 42 kilometers. It can be 50, 60, 70, or 100. You choose the distance.

César: Oh man, by car, by bicycle?

Katya and Tony: Whatever you can find. After 30 kilometers, it becomes very mental. The body can handle around 40 kilometers; after that, it’s all mental. Your brain starts playing funny games with you, but it’s a funny thing.

One of the ideas for the healthy month came from doing a lot of family dinners in the garden, with amazing dishes from different places. We eat a lot, and you can’t say no to trying everything. So, we made a rule: try everything at night, but in the morning, everyone has to be active. We do yoga, running, fitness in the backyard, and tennis in the morning. It’s our daily routine.

César: Nice. These are not necessarily unhealthy foods, just a lot of them, right?

Katya and Tony: Yes, the quantity is the issue.

César: You mentioned you have your day jobs, right? Tony, you’re a co-founder of a brewery. Can you tell us more about that?

Katya and Tony: I’m co-founder of Beer Bastards, one of the well-known Bulgarian craft beer brands. We’ve been producing craft beers since 2016. We consider ourselves brewery nomads because we don’t have our own facilities and brew our beers in different places in Europe.

César: Maybe you can put the brewery next to the coliving in the second building you’re renovating, right?

Katya and Tony: It’s a good idea, but it won’t be easy and might be a bit smelly. We have a craft beer room in the building, which is actually better than having a brewery. The brewery smells are funny, but having the beer is easier to manage. We also have a bar in the city center of Burgas. Additionally, I have a running team and produce running clothes and equipment. So, that’s my field. If you come this summer, I’m inviting you to Burgas for good craft beer.

César: But you’re going to make me run an ultramarathon before I can drink, right?

Katya and Tony: Yes, of course! At least a hundred kilometers before that.

César: This reminds me of Ben and Fabienne from Alpiness Coliving. They wrote a book about hikes that end up in bars with craft beers. You could do the same for ultramarathons—run an ultramarathon and then go to a bar for a beer.

Katya and Tony: I love their book. I couldn’t understand everything because it was in French, but I saw the places. I know where to go for beer in their country. Hopefully, we’ll visit them soon and try some of the routes. They are amazing people doing great work.

César: Katya, you’re an urban planner, right? Did that come in handy during the renovation and the whole process?

Katya and Tony: Yes, it was really helpful. I have a small company related to creating projects before starting any building. I could make all the plans for this building myself, which clarified our ideas on paper. Also, our other family business is a construction company, so creating the project and making the renovations was kind of easy for us. Not easy in terms of the situation, but easy because we didn’t lose time searching for people to create it. Many coliving owners struggle with finding people for renovations and projects, but we didn’t have that problem.

César: Nice. I also read on your website that you’re a hobby chef and enjoy cooking.

Katya and Tony: Yes, I like cooking. Here, I’ve met amazing chefs, so I’m not as confident to call myself a chef now. But I enjoy cooking for people and giving them the chance to try typical Bulgarian dishes. I also enjoy learning new recipes from the people here. It’s amazing how Katya picks out every tomato, smells the vegetables, and chooses the best products. I’m just buying things and putting them in the bag.

César: One trick for picking tomatoes is to take a bite to check if they’re good. If you don’t like it, you put it back. If you like it, you buy it.

Katya and Tony: I’m not sure people would let me back in the store if I did that.

We have a small garden next to the building, and for the second year, we have our own tomatoes. They’re amazing, thanks to Katya’s parents, who keep the old Bulgarian varieties that you can’t find anymore. We have many fruit trees too—plums, apricots, peaches, cherries, pears, apples. It’s great to pick fruit right from the tree.

César: For example, Katya, were you surprised by any cuisine from colivers who cooked for you? Any dish that was particularly good?

Katya and Tony: Yes, many people have surprised us. We had an amazing volunteer last summer, Alona from Israel, who cooked incredible food. I’ve learned a lot of different recipes from people here. Most people who come are great cooks because they travel and learn to cook amazing dishes. When someone cooks something that’s not delicious, it’s surprising.

César: Please, you’re not welcome anymore if you can’t cook.

Katya and Tony: If you can’t cook, please don’t come here.

César: Of course, if you’re cooking for a lot of people, you want to make a good impression. How many people are usually at Burgas?

Katya and Tony: Between 10 and 20. People want to make a good impression and show love and gratitude through their cooking. Last summer, in Alpines, everyone was competing to create the best recipe and dish.

César: When you cook for that many people, you really want to make a good impression. It’s a way of showing love and expressing gratitude. This happened last summer in Alpines, where everyone was competing to create the best recipe and dish.

So, you guys are focused on activity and creating this family community. What vibe are you going for?

Katya and Tony: Something we’ve noticed, or rather people here have noticed, is a summer camp vibe. Especially with this huge yard and all the activities. We have a petanque field as well.

We have a lot of things with all these activities. Something we loved last summer, and our last season, was the Burgas Olympics. We did all these childhood games, running around the yard. This summer camp vibe is something we want to keep and improve. If you want to work in a Pomodoro schedule, this is an amazing place. You can work indoors or outdoors because we have internet everywhere. You can work for 20 minutes, then play table tennis, petanque, basketball, or use the slackline.

We are trying to create small things that can help you have a great time during your work. The idea is not to push you away from work. Many people say their productivity is higher because they can stay on the property most of the time and have everything they need. They aren’t distracted by going far away and losing the whole day.

We still organize a lot of activities outside, but we do them during the weekends or in the afternoons. People are focused on their work and are very happy, achieving a lot of goals here. We do a lot of things together, like amazing dinners in the city or going for walks on the weekends or the beach.

The family vibe is stronger than the community vibe. Here, we are really a family. You can see who is the older brother, the younger sister, the mother, the father. We have family meetings where everyone suggests things, and in the end, Katya decides what we will do. Just kidding.

César: Nice.

Katya and Tony: We decide everything together. We create our weekly agenda together. I just cook breakfast during the family meeting. We have traditional Bulgarian food for brunch and decide what we will do in the next week.

César: Nice. Oh, wow. I’m hyped about Burgas. I hope I can go there this year.

Katya and Tony: We can run together!

César: Yeah, I can run from Madrid.

Katya and Tony: It’s a lot, but you can make it.

César: I don’t know how many kilometers, but I will make it sometime. It has been a great pleasure to meet you both, Tony and Katya from Burgas Coliving. This has been Colivers Club by Mapmelon, and I hope to see you soon. Goodbye.

Katya and Tony: Ciao, ciao.

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