Co-founders of Driftless Sauna Richard Gadbois (third from right) and Karen Gadbois (second from right) celebrate their business with a ribbon cutting on April 11, 2024. Jim LaBelle of the local Chamber of Commerce (right), Angie Presby of Saco Main Street (second from left) and Torie Gorman of the Saco Economic Development Department (third from left), and Holly Gordon of Saco Main Street (left) attended. City of Saco Communications Department/Andrew Dickinson

SACO – The first thing you notice in Richard Gadbois’ workshop is the rich, warm smell of wood.

He’s recently finished building two stationary, wood-fired saunas that take up a large part of his work space. Step inside them, and it’s easy to imagine how nice they would be heated up on a cold Maine day.

Gadbois and his wife, Karen, started Driftless Sauna during the pandemic. A ribbon cutting celebrating the business took place April 11. Today, the business rents out a mobile sauna, a portable four to five-person space, and a tent sauna for birthdays, anniversaries, wedding weekends, and other events.

Richard Gadbois also builds standalone saunas for purchase, one of which he recently sold to a couple in Scarborough for $25,000. Karen maintains a full time job as an ed tech in the Old Orchard Beach school system, but running Driftless Sauna has been Richard’s full time occupation since the spring of 2023.

The two became hooked on saunas decades ago when they visited friends in Vermont who had one. Over the years, they had thought about building one themselves, and a couple of years ago they did exactly that.

After building a sauna for the couple’s home in Saco, which he finally completed in 2021, Richard Gadbois realized there was business potential in giving other people access to the same experience.


“I jumped into it full time, a leap of faith,” he remembered. “I’m like: this would be an easy sell. I don’t like selling that much, (but) it sells itself.”

Gadbois, a Biddeford native, did a lot of research on the internet to help him with the building process, but he’d also had some previous

Richard Gadbois was inspired to name his business after the Driftless Area in the midwestern United States. City of Saco Communications Department/Andrew Dickinson

exposure to this type of work. His father was a longtime contractor and Gadbois himself was a project manager for a flooring company based in Portland.

“When you love something you learn very fast,” he said, adding there are some tricky design aspects of building a sauna. The benches have to be a certain height and there needs to be adequate space between the wood-fire stove and the walls of the sauna, otherwise it could start a fire, he explained.

Gadbois traveled to Minnesota – where saunas have deep cultural roots – and bought the shell of the mobile sauna from a business that makes them, and built out the interior himself. The business began with the mobile sauna, but today it’s morphed into both rentals and sales.

The “Driftless” in Driftless Sauna comes from the Driftless Area of the United States, an area of the upper Midwest that has distinct topography from the area, including steep hillsides and narrow valleys. Gadbois said he read the book “Going Driftless” by Stephen J. Lyons, which recounts the unique culture and community of the region, and was inspired to name his business after it.

“I love the individual stories about people who led unconventional lives. The landscape, the sense of community, self-reliance, local music scene (Karen and I are huge live concert fans).  We believe a strong local community is the foundation for a healthy economy, that helps our families and neighbors thrive and lowers our impact on the environment,” he wrote in an email to the Biddeford Courier, reflecting on the book.

For Karen and Richard, a sauna is about a lot more than just getting warmed up. In their ideal world, everybody would have access to one whenever they wanted. “I would love for every town to have a community sauna,” he said.


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