Ottawa Redblacks star gives business venture a spin

All-star centre Jon Gott and spouse Nicole Hilstob team up to target downtown fitness market with new spinning studio
Jon Gott and Nicole Hilstob
Nicole Hilstob and Jon Gott are the owners of the new Ottawa Spinco. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

He’s a Grey Cup champion, a two-time CFL all-star and one of the most recognizable sports figures in the nation’s capital.

Now, Redblacks centre Jon Gott can add another distinction to his glittering CV: entrepreneur.

In his four seasons in Ottawa, the affable offensive lineman – who will be suiting up for the team again this summer – has gained a devoted fan following for both his fulsome beard and his formidable blocking skills that helped the Redblacks bring home the Grey Cup in 2016.

But earlier this year, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Gott ventured into a whole field: business. He and his life partner, Nicole Hilstob, became partners of a different sort in January, when they opened the first Ottawa franchise of B.C.-based spinning studio chain Spinco.

The 3,300-square-foot studio on Slater Street officially opened its doors on Jan. 8. But the idea first took shape several years ago when Hilstob, who lived in Kelowna until she was in her late twenties, started going to the original Spinco location in the Okanagan Valley, where she fell in love with the high-intensity physical activity and eventually became friends with Spinco founder Michelle August.

She says it was during a class around Christmas 2016 that she made up her mind to become an entrepreneur.

“I was like, ‘Man, I have to do this for the rest of my life. I have to figure out a way to open up one of these.’”

By that time, August had embarked on an aggressive expansion drive that has seen her launch Spincos from Victoria to Halifax. The Ottawa location is the chain’s eighth.

Gott, 32, knows all about the rigours of training as a high-level athlete. But the idea of earning extra income by offering a workout venue to others had never occurred to him until Hilstob broached the subject.  

“I was so focused on my career in football that I didn’t really think about it,” he says. “Then she started talking about it and I’m like, ‘Yeah, we could look into it.’ Then it just kind of snowballed, and now we’re running a business.”

Once they made the decision to launch the venture, Hilstob and Gott jumped in with both feet. They’ve poured about $400,000 into the franchise, funded through a combination of their own savings, a bank loan and a Toronto-based business partner. The state-of-the-art facility includes a soundproof spinning venue equipped with a $20,000 sound system that can pound out enough bass to pump up clients of all shapes and sizes and get them moving.

“The thing I love the most about it is when you walk in, the music is pumping, the energy is high, everyone’s in a good mood,” Hilstob says. “You walk in here, and it’s like you feel like you’ve arrived. Nothing else matters. Everything is left at the door.”

Still, the pair concede there were a few sleepless nights getting to this point due to construction delays and other hurdles.

“At times, it got stressful, but we found a way to put that aside when we needed to and it came together pretty good,” Gott says. “People come in and they love it. They come in with a smile and they leave sweaty with a smile.”

Before going into business for herself, Hilstob, 34, worked in corporate partnerships with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group – the owners of the Redblacks and hence Gott’s employer as well.

The two originally met when he was playing for the Calgary Stampeders and she was working in the western club’s front office as a marketing co-ordinator. Hilstob was first to come east in 2013 as one of OSEG boss Bernie Ashe’s initial hires. Gott, an Alberta native, followed the next year, when the Redblacks acquired him before the season in a trade with Calgary.

‘This was my passion’

Hilstob says she had a great career at OSEG and remains a die-hard football fan, but the pull of entrepreneurship proved too strong to resist.

“I had no complaints,” Hilstob says. “I loved my job more than anything else in the world. But this was my passion, and you only live once. I followed my dream and everything just came together, and here we are.”

"I followed my dream and everything just came together."

She’s already thinking of eventually opening a second location, but for now, Hilstob and her high-profile partner have plenty to keep them occupied.

“People come up to me after when he’s gone and they’re like, ‘Was that Jon Gott?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah.’” she says, smiling. “They’re like, ‘Oh. What is he doing here?’ I’m like, ‘He’s my boyfriend and he actually owns the place with me.’”

Gott, the operation’s resident handyman, appears to get a kick out of his celebrity status.

“If they don’t know who I am, they find out pretty quick,” he says. “It’s fun.”