Midday naps were normal in Tunisia, where Nick Ronco grew up, but as an executive at Time Warner in New York, he saw co-workers resort to napping in bathroom stalls or “pulling a ‘George Costanza’ ” and crawling under their desks.
At Time Warner and then a Paris-based publishing company, Ronco spent a decade crisscrossing time zones in a perpetual state of exhaustion. In 2003, while he was standing on the 56th floor of the Westin in Tokyo (1), the room began to sway; it was a 7.6 earthquake. He didn’t sleep for five days. “Even my eyeballs were hurting. I thought, I’m not going to make it.” He stumbled into a reflexology parlor filled with napping businessmen; afterward, he “felt like a human being again.” Why, he thought, isn’t there something like this in New York?
Honing the Concept
In June 2005, Ronco left his job in Paris and came back to New York to develop his idea. He initially raised $1.15 million from ex-colleagues, friends, and family, and picked the name “Yelo” because he wanted the new business to be associated with a positive color. Yellow: safety, sunshine, fields of sunflowers.
Secrets of the Beehive
Ronco then turned to the Apartment design studio to construct “sleeping cocoons.” It took six months to find the right shape. A circle was disorienting. A square, boring. A triangle, horrible feng shui–wise. “So we looked at nature,” says Ronco, “and thought of a beehive.” The Apartment built a honeycomb-shaped prototype called a YeloCab (2) and put a claustrophobic inside. “Five hours later,” he says, “she was still asleep.”
In February, he opened the first Yelo at 315 West 57th Street, outfitted with seven YeloCabs. Each cab has a custom-designed chair (3) to raise your legs, which slows your heart rate. You can pick the cab’s music (Vivaldi or Norah Jones, for example), and add reflexology (4). Naps are a minimum twenty minutes. At the end you’re woken not with an alarm or a shake—“What if you’re drooling?!” says Ronco—but with a simulated sunrise. Yelo patrons don’t even have to talk to anyone. They can check the Website (heloyelo.com) for YeloCab availability, book it, and pay by credit card. Tips are not accepted.
Rest for the Weary
Ronco’s five-year plan is to open 25 Yelos across the city. Some will be in airports (he’s in discussions with Air France), hospitals, and, of course, offices to help the bleary-eyed maintain their sanity—and their dignity. Instead of diving under their desks, says Ronco, “they’ll have a YeloCab waiting right next to their conference room.”
THE $ OF MIDTOWN SLEEP
One night at Le Parker Meridien…. $406
Reflexology session at Mandarin Oriental Spa…$238
Twenty minutes at Yelo….$12