Even if you haven’t had the chance to visit Chillhouse—New York City’s sleek, Lower East Side outpost for massages, five-free manicures, and adaptogenic lattes—you’ve likely double-tapped a photo of their chic nail art or pastel-hued interiors. Though its doors have been open for just over two years, the brand has grown a massive following both online and off. The hotspot is frequented by tastemakers and celebrities alike and has enjoyed an outpouring of goodwill from investors eager to support the potential of the business, and of its founder, Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton.
It’s easy to see why: A visit to the cafe and wine bar turned day spa (even just to hunker down with a laptop and a matcha latte) certainly feels like a splurge, but steers clear of coming off as too stuffy or pretentious. There’s the well-priced service menu of facials, massages, manicures, and soon, pedicures, which offer the kind of respite New Yorkers crave amidst the everyday grind. And off-site, clean beauty products selected by Ramirez-Fulton can be found on Chillhouse’s e-commerce site, an editorial platform devoted to wellness content that rings true to the brand’s identity as “a destination for modern self-care.”
This fall, Ramirez-Fulton will expand upon the beloved boutique with a 3,200-square-foot flagship spa opening in November. To bring her vision of the new space to life she teamed up with architect Jeffrey White of Ecology Architecture Urbanism, with whom she worked on the brand's first downtown location. But before there was any flagship to prepare to open, a brand to build upon, or even a name for what would become Chillhouse, there was an idea in Ramirez-Fulton’s mind. It first came to her when she realized that her ideal day spa experience simply didn’t exist in New York City.
Having grown up in the city, she was familiar with the shady business practices of manicure and massage spas whose below-market-value prices often led to the financial exploitation of the service providers. She also found that the ultra-high-end spas weren’t quite the right fit for her either. “The higher-end spectrum wasn’t really attainable for me as a twenty-something,” she explains during a private tour of the new Soho space. “I couldn’t really go to those businesses because it was out of my price range. There’s this big divide between the two, and Chillhouse sits right in the middle.”
Balancing business costs with delivering the ideal consumer experience and a fulfilling career path for employees is a tall order for any business owner, let alone an entrepreneur who has her eyes set on one of the most congested markets in the United States. In a way, it was one that Ramirez-Fulton and her husband Adam Fulton first tackled together in 2014 as cofounders of New York City’s Den Hospitality Group. “We come from hospitality, and I’ve been in the industry for over 15 years,” she says. “People like to just assume that because I’m the face of it, it means that I single-handedly did a lot of it, and that couldn’t be further from the truth!”
The reality was, even the years of experience Ramirez-Fulton and her husband shared couldn’t have prepared them for the unprecedented task of marrying wellness, beauty, and hospitality under one roof. “Even two months in, there were a lot of things that we would have edited had we known the business a little bit more,” she says of Chillhouse’s early days. “It wasn’t like one day we just decided to wake up and own a 3,200-square-foot space in Soho,” she laughs. “It definitely takes a lot of experience to get to this scale.”
As a first-generation American succeeding in an industry less welcoming to women of color, Ramirez-Fulton’s story is doubly significant. “I’ve always grown up being fascinated by Latino women who have been successful,” she says. “I definitely didn’t realize until after we opened that I filled a void of Latino representation in wellness.” She reveals that her mother, an immigrant from Colombia who founded and opened several spas in Jackson Heights, has been her biggest inspiration through the ups and downs of her own ventures into entrepreneurship. “I was able to witness her successfully own a piece of real estate that she’s now selling,” says Ramirez-Fulton. “She has lived the immigrant dream.”
If it seems presumptive to ask the founder what’s next for her and the Chillhouse brand before her biggest undertaking has even opened its doors yet, she doesn’t give any indication. “We always knew we wanted to expand, even as we started forming the brand,” she explains. “We wanted to really grow and be known as a national, and hopefully international, brand one day.”
In fact, there’s a good chance that Ramirez-Fulton is already thinking more than a few steps ahead. “I’ll just say we’re definitely thinking more locations,” she says. “I can’t really share too much.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue