A renovated 1940s-era building in an industrial area south of downtown Fresno will spring to life again next month, reopening as an upscale boxing and fitness gym.
Gilbert Ruiz, a longtime boxing and fitness trainer and chef, and his wife, Lourdes, have set Nov. 5 as the target date to open Heartbeat Boxing. They and building owner Mark Baskin are teaming up to create a vintage atmosphere inside the former Judy Tobacco building at the corner of Van Ness Avenue and Los Angeles Street. The late Art Deco-style structure, part of the South Van Ness Industrial District, operated as a wholesale distributor of tobacco and candy from 1948 through the 1980s. It’s being considered for inclusion on Fresno’s Local Register of Historic Resources.
From the exposed brick walls and block-glass windows to industrial-style light fixtures and lit restroom signs salvaged from a 1930s-era theater in Kansas City, the renovation aims at evoking a modern-yet-retro feel that appeals to a younger generation of executives and professionals working and living downtown. The goal is to distinguish Heartbeat Boxing from a slew of more conventional gyms and fitness clubs in other parts of the city “and make it convenient for the downtown professional,” Ruiz said.
Lourdes Ruiz said the gym will open with six to 10 employees in addition to herself and her husband.
For Gilbert Ruiz, the gym represents the realization of a longtime dream that took 2 1/2 years to bring to fruition. “This just started out from talking at a Starbucks” with Baskin, who was among Ruiz’s training clients at a north Fresno fitness gym. “He had a vision, I had a vision, and now it’s coming to reality.”
Ruiz, 51, was born in Fowler and raised in Fresno before going to high school in Sanger, where he began boxing in the 1970s. He and his two brothers were the first three members of the Sanger Boxing Club.
I fell in love with boxing (as a youth), and I was good at it. Boxing reached out and plucked me from the trouble I was in.
Gilbert Ruiz, owner/trainer, Heartbeat Boxing
“I fell in love with boxing, and I was good at it,” he said, adding that the discipline needed to excel at the sport helped steer him from what he described as a troubled path. “Boxing reached out and plucked me from the trouble I was in. My future was behind bars.”
In addition to his boxing, Ruiz worked in restaurants as a teenager, eventually rising to manager and chef. He became immersed in culinary work in restaurants, hotels, hospitals and catering while also working as a boxing and fitness trainer. For about a year, he was a trainer in Las Vegas at the Golden Gloves Gym, where notable boxers including former heavyweight champions Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson worked on their skills.
Heartbeat Boxing expects to capitalize on boxing’s popularity – there are dozens of boxing clubs across the central San Joaquin Valley with upward of 900 members, Ruiz said – as well as a boom in other fighting sports in the region. “Boxing, mixed martial arts, jiujitsu – they’re all growing here in the Valley,” he said.
The owners have a three-prong focus for the gym: Fight sports, fitness and food. Between boxing, training and his restaurant work, Ruiz also developed a passion for food and nutrition. Lourdes Ruiz also has a background in the hospitality industry as a chef and manager and shares her husband’s enthusiasm for fitness and healthy diet. Together, they plan on bringing their expertise to the new business with healthy snacks as well as a premier membership level that includes complete customized meals prepared and packaged for customers.
“You can work out every single day, but if you’re not eating right, all you’re going to do is be sore, tired and angry,” Gilbert Ruiz said.
The building lends itself to being developed in stages. Phase 1 occupies the front portion of the building, and will present an executive atmosphere where professionals can train and spar in a 16-by-16-foot ring, pound away at suspended heavy bags, or work out on cardio machines and then shower before they head back to the office. A snack bar will sell healthy tidbits, and workout gear will also be for sale.
Close to his heart
The Phase 1 boxing ring holds a special place in Ruiz’s heart. It will be dedicated to his late younger sister, Ruby, and dubbed “Ruby’s Ring,” with her photo mounted on the wall.
“Ruby’s Ring” near the front of the gym will be dedicated to Ruby Ruiz, who learned boxing from her brother. After joining the U.S. Army in 2009, she became a battalion boxing champion. At age 21, while stationed in Georgia, she was shot and killed by her husband, also an Army soldier, in a murder-suicide.
Ruby Ruiz as a teenager learned boxing under her brother’s tutelage, and after joining the U.S. Army in 2009 she became a battalion boxing champion. In 2011, at age 21, while stationed in Georgia, Ruby Ruiz was shot and killed by her husband, also an Army soldier, in a murder-suicide.
“She was my baby sister,” Ruiz said as tears welled up in his eyes.
In Ruby’s memory, Ruiz said the gym will offer free self-defense classes for women once each week. “It’s my way of honoring her and giving back to the community,” he said. “In boxing, we always say, ‘Stick and move,’ ” referring to the tactic of landing a punch and then dancing out of the way of a counterpunch. But, he added, the phrase can also apply figuratively to women in abusive relationships, to learn how to defend themselves and then get out of the relationship.
Phase 2, the rear part of the building, will serve as an overflow workout area and classroom for fitness lessons. It also will provide two more boxing rings, including one that’s portable. The room can also be cleared into an open assembly space to stage boxing matches and host meetings, weddings or other catered events. Ruiz said one wedding reception has already been booked into the space.
In Phase 3, plans are to convert the abandoned alley behind the building into an open-air cafe for both gym members and the public.
Various levels of membership will be offered, from basic senior and kids memberships with training and classes to private or VIP memberships. Classes will include boxing and other fight sports, Zumba, yoga and other fitness programs. At the elite membership level, membership will include the private-chef meal program that provides two personalized, packaged, ready-to-take meals each day, five days a week.
“Even if they don’t work out that day, they’ll be able to come in and pick up their meals and take them home or back to the office, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Ruiz said.