Pillow talk is one of my favorite pastimes. Those late-night, post-party existential conversations with friends or lovers that lead you to obscure revelations. Moments just before dawn when light is peering through sheer hotel curtains as you debate love and lust. Bed, to me, is one of the most intimate places to get to know someone. So when we launched our Pillow Talk series for One Night, I sought one of my personal idols to get into bed for a one-on-one session at The Ludlow Hotel.
Who is this idol, you wonder? It’s none other than Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton, founder and CEO of Chillhouse and industry-famous badass known for her insatiable style and quick-wit. I could start with her accolades, being named “40 of Tomorrow” by WWD, or the fact that she turned her previous blog, Taste The Style, where she shared her love for all things food and fashion in New York, into a powerhouse. But what I’m really here for? Chillhouse, a Lower East Side cafe and day spa designed to give space for visitors to ‘chill at their will.’
Sat with her husband, Adam Fulton (founding partner at Den Hospitality), in search of a spa day, the couple had their aha moment. While spa options in the city were either too expensive or too seedy, Cyndi and Adam had an idea to open up their very own space that made self-care more accessible and appealing to an experiential-driven generation. Cyndi, a native New Yorker herself, took her passion for wellness and turned it into a space specifically created to make visitors feel welcome and at ease. They’ve got CBD manicures, hangover massages, avocado toasts, and, well, everything your modern-day city dweller needs to take time to chill out.
Before we get into the good stuff, let me set the scene. The Ludlow Hotel is one of those rare boutique stays that locals actually love hanging out at. You’ll find writers in the lobby working on their latest piece, artists lounging on gorgeous leather couches discussing next month’s exhibit, and trendy socialites hashtagging over brunch at the always delicious Dirty French restaurant. Put simply, the gorgeous king-sized bed at The Ludlow Hotel’s suite 612 would be the perfect setting for me to interview this influential New Yorker. So without further ado…
One Night: Is this the first time you’ve been interviewed in a hotel bed?
Cyndi: Yeah, I think so!
One Night: Let’s start from the beginning of Chillhouse, what is the first thing you did to take your idea into action?
Cyndi: We started looking for spaces. That was the most exciting part! At the same time, we started looking at the business model, how nail salons operate, how massage boutiques operate, how cafes operate. Chillhouse is three different businesses rolled into one. We dove right into the market, started visiting a lot of places, doing a lot of research. That’s the first thing you do for any business you’re starting in a market that you don’t have a grasp on yet. We wrote the business plan, designed it, and then went out to friends and family and started fundraising.
One Night: How did you come up with Chillhouse as a concept and brand?
Cyndi: We looked at the industry, what was missing, why it was missing, and we came up with this nouveau spa concept. We wanted to make this industry feel more appealing to a younger generation. Today spas are either really expensive and don’t appeal to your personal taste or they’re seedy and it feels wrong to support a business that doesn’t have the right ethical standards. I think that conversation spiraled into the idea of a brand and what that brand would look like and do outside of just having four walls. The name was one of the most fun parts. I’ve always loved the word house in brands. It obviously reminds you of home, it’s that feeling of you’re welcome here, you’re wanted. It has a sense of hospitality too, which I definitely wanted to incorporate into the business.
One Night: Did you always want to work in hospitality?
Cyndi: I grew up watching my mom in a brick and mortar environment where she was always surrounded by customers. My mother is an esthetician and runs her own business. That’s all I knew. I didn’t know how to be behind the scenes in an office. It was really hard for me to get a traditional 9-5 job because I didn’t have the credentials for it. I ended up bartending and waitressing at a young age instead of interning, and I continued to do that into my mid-20s. There came to be a point where I realized I didn’t want to take the next step in that world to be a manager, I wanted to have a quote-unquote normal schedule.
One day and I turned to my husband (who wasn’t my husband at the time) and was like I need to do something about this. He suggested I go out and like start looking for internships. I was 25 at the time, so I was a little older than your typical intern, and he just reminded me to put my ego aside and go for it. I applied to a few different jobs and I only really got one bite. It ended up being the job that changed my life. It was in the city working for a start-up which I found really exciting. I didn’t know I wanted to be an entrepreneur at the time but I knew I wanted to learn how businesses were built. I ended up being their first hire, it was a great learning experience. In that job, there were a couple of moments that led me to realize I needed to run off and do my own thing. I really never had a second traditional job.
One Night: How did you and your husband meet?
Cyndi: It’s actually kind of cute, we met when we were in our early 20s at a nightclub in the city.
One Night: Ah, you can find love in nightclubs!
Cyndi: I was working at nightclubs so essentially, I was living in them. It was like finding love at a job. He was working in nightlife too, he was a promoter. He was very not your standard, typical promoter. He was very smart and had aspirations to do so much more. We met and it was one of those lusty love stories in the very beginning. We dated on and off for a couple of years in our early 20s, had some relationships in between and drifted apart, and then came back together in our mid-20s and made it official. We’ve known each other for 14 years now and have been married for 3 years.
One Night: It seems like you guys are always traveling, do you have any favorite hotels?
Cyndi: I love The Standard Spa, Miami Beach. It’s such a happy place, it makes you feel, I don’t know, everything about it is special. You don’t have to leave. It is like the adult resort we all love and need.
One Night: Have you ever thought about opening a Chillhouse hotel, what would that be like?
Cyndi: Heaven! It would just be the most relaxing beautiful hotel.
One Night: Do you have anywhere fun on your travel list this year?
Cyndi: Yes! I’m going to Italy next month for my best friend’s wedding in Tuscany and then we are going to Portugal. We’re doing Lisbon and then we’re going south. Is Portugal on One Night?
One Night: Coming soon! How do you keep chill in New York City?
Cyndi: I would say travel is my saving grace. Which sounds a little fleeting, but I’m very open about it. It makes me not feel tempted to move, it’s the thing that keeps me grounded. New York is really stressful and that’s why I opened up Chillhouse. I definitely take advantage of the experience we provide, and I use travel to reset and remind me how blessed I actually am. I think being able to do that is very grounding and humbling.
One Night: Where do you think is the least chill place in New York?
Cyndi: Everywhere. Except the West Village. But probably midtown, I don’t mess with Times Square. I actually think Herald Square is my least favorite place, it’s too intense. Right now we have a sweet little office in the LES that we share with another team but when we grow, we’re staying Downtown. With the anxiety and stress of Midtown, I’d rather spend the extra dollar to know that I’m going to feel better in a more calm part of the city.
One Night: For those who haven’t been to Chillhouse yet, what are beginner musts?
Cyndi: Do it all! Get a massage, get your nails done, have a bite. If you’re getting gel done, get a manicure first and then a massage. If you’re getting polish, get a massage first because you don’t want to mess up your nails. Experience it however you want, if you’re not big into massages, give it a try. We have a 25-minute one!
One Night: What’s coming up for Chillhouse this year?
Cyndi: So much! We’re launching a Montauk pop-up for a couple of months in the New York Pilates summer house, and we’ll be launching our flagship location in the city in Fall. It will be twice the size, more services, double the fun!
One Night: I’d love to hear more about The Chill Times…
Cyndi: The Chill Times started because it was making less and less sense to have Taste The Style, my original blog, and more and more sense to have an editorial element to Chillhouse. Taste The Style was originally about me fusing my two biggest passions, fashion and food. Like most humans, I grew into new passions. Today I’m much more into beauty and wellness and running my business. Even though I obviously still enjoy eating and shopping I don’t always feel the need to talk about it. When I opened up Chillhouse my personal projects started picking up which was crazy because I wasn’t seen as a blogger anymore I was seen as an entrepreneur. I really value content and think that things like this, interviews, things that go underneath the surface are really important to building a brand that people connect with. It’s not just like ‘here’s some cute nails, come in.’ It’s about what can we provide to people that come to our space or even those who don’t have access to our space.
One Night: What advice would you give to any woman who is trying to start their own business?
Cyndi: That’s always a hard one for me. There’s so much advice you could give. I guess the advice would be to lean into what you’re good at and know that you can’t be good at everything. Follow your strengths, be understanding of what goes into this but don’t be scared because no one is ever going to have all the answers. Just because you’re starting a business doesn’t mean you need to know everything, right? But that’s the connotation a lot of the times. There is a stigma around starting a business. Just do your research, figure out what your resources are going to be, who they are going to be, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Start with people that are on the same wavelength as you. You just have to really want it.