By Aida Toro
People meet their significant other by accident, chance, or fate. Celebrity Interior Designer, Vanessa DeLeon and Restaurateur, Bobby Bournias’s love story is one to admire as it encompasses everything the universe has to offer. DeLeon and Bournias have been together for a total of seven years, and married for four. Little did they know that they hung out at the same social scenes and had mutual friends.
“My cleaning lady happened to be his cleaning lady. She would always tell me about this guy that lived on the water, and she thought I designed his house because it had my aesthetic,” said DeLeon. “I said I never did a Greek guy’s house on the water in Edgewater.”She kept insisting that DeLeon designed his home, due to the fact that he had a book DeLeon was featured in on his coffee table.
“We finally met at Son Cubano. I was there with a girlfriend having drinks, and planning an itinerary to Italy. He came walking in, and he was meeting a mutual friend of ours who happens to be a builder,” said DeLeon. “He’s like, ‘Oh, my friend Bobby is coming’. I heard of Bobby and we always kind of hung out at the same social scenes, but we never actually met.”
DeLeon said her first meeting with Bournias was very nonchalant. He is very reserved, which was a quality that actually attracted her to him. After the meeting, she was not sure whether or not he was single. The following day, she went to dinner with another friend who also happened to know Bournias, and queried about his relationship status. DeLeon’s friend texted Bournias and mentioned she was having dinner with her at that moment. Bournias asked her to put in a good word for him, and this resulted in giving Bournias her phone number.
“It was kind of like a setup, but not really. It was nice because we have mutual friends who sort of put us together,” she said, “He ended up calling me a few weeks later, and we went out to dinner at Del Posto’s and we closed the restaurant down.”
It was a memorable dinner and we’ve been inseparable ever since, she said.
Seven years later, the pair got married and added a new member to their family, Telly Bournias.
“Telly is by far our best creation yet,” said DeLeon. “Telly exceeds any accomplishment in my life, whether it’s awards, running a very successful design business, or Bobby’s restaurant. He’s the best thing that’s ever happened to both of us.”
Their love story is one for the books. DeLeon and Bournias are hardworking and passionate about what they do. Everyone knows Bournias as the owner of the famous Brownstone Pancake Factory. What many people don’t know is how he got to be the owner of one of the most successful diners in New Jersey.
“I grew up in this industry. My parents migrated from Greece and they worked as laborers in this business as busboys and dishwashers. Then they became cooks and opened up their own place,” he said. “It’s something I was born into, but my family didn’t want me to be in this industry because they wanted me to get my education.”
Bournias attended Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey, and graduated in 1999 at the top of his class. He practiced Corporate Law at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP., and said it was a great career, but not his passion.
“When I decided to leave the law practice in 2005 and open up the Brownstone in Jersey City, it transcended my whole life for the better,” he said. “I’m doing something I truly love. I’m expanding, I get to be creative. I get to interact with a lot of people. It’s sort of like a life-long journey, and I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Bournias felt that his shift in careers had nothing to do with his finances or dissatisfaction with law, but about following his heart.
“A lot of people say ‘do what you love’, but that doesn’t always work because, at the end of the day you still have to make money. It does help if you do something that you are truly passionate about. It does make it easier” he said. “It was a hard transition, because a lot of people thought I was kind of crazy, or got laid off when I left law to open the restaurant.”
Ultimately, Bournias feels that it’s all about following your heart, rather than popular opinion. Nowadays, he sees himself doing so much more out of the ordinary.
“Now, I am opening up another store, I am married to a woman who is a designer, and we get to work together and build these stores,” he said. “It’s just a great fit, and it parlays into other stuff. We also do real estate, since I have a passion for that as well. And she has a passion for it, so it’s just a great team."
Although Bournias followed his passion to open up The Brownstone Pancake Factory, he encountered some challenges. Upon its debut, he had to deal with different types of personalities. Most of whom did not share his mindset.
“Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s just different,” said Bournias in regards to his employees. “Not everyone’s life goals are to be uber successful. Some people are content with just working week by week. That was a little challenging for me, because I’m somebody that’s very driven and I like to inspire people and make them happy.”
Bournias said some of his employees at the diner did not understand his personality. But he’s learned a whole lot from conducting his weekly staff meetings.
“I do these inspirational meetings that are constructive for work, but generally have nothing to do with the restaurant. I just to try to get these people to think outside the box and to better themselves as human beings,” he said, “I feel that has helped me to create a very nice culture, as far as for the people that work for us here.
Bournias has seen these employees grow within the company as well as outside. Some of them eventually opened up their own businesses and whatnot.
As for DeLeon, she was eager to get started in her field. She opened Vanessa DeLeon Associates LLC right after graduating college 18 years ago.
“I was eager to get started, work and make money,” she said. “There were a lot of trials and tribulations. Not everyone was willing to give me hundreds and thousands of dollars to spend on a renovation or build them a home, because I was so young.” In the interior design business, the older you are, the more capable you are at your job. Essentially, having a lot of experience is the stigma of designers. They are able to manage accounts, money, and so much more.
“I always knew I wanted to be some kind of creative something,” she said. “I initially wanted to be a stylist and that’s why I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). I acquired a really great position at Ralph Lauren, but hated the work environment and all the catty women in the fashion industry.”
DeLeon decided to go back to school, while working at her father’s furniture store. It was then she decided to become an interior designer.
“I would get a lot of clients asking me to design their window treatments. It went from window treatments, to them wanting me to open up a wall,” she said.
DeLeon was also featured in a variety of television shows, such as the Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible”, HGTV, TLC, DIY, NBC, among others. Her career in television began with her obsession with the first season of NBC’s The Apprentice.
“When I saw the first season of The Apprentice, I wanted to be on the show,” she said. “I was very career oriented and I knew how to run a business. Coming from a family business I felt it was kind of easy for me.”
DeLeon ended up applying for The Apprentice and was selected from out of 500,000 contestants. After being chosen, she was flown out to Los Angeles where she stayed seven days and had to take a variety of tests.
“I ended up having a one on one interview with Mark Burnett. On the last day you can be selected, I got a knock on my door, and the person who was in charge of me was like super bummed that I didn’t get the opportunity to be on the show.”
DeLeon arrived back at her home base and was still upset at not being chosen for the The Apprentice. But her assistant during this time mentioned an advertisement for a show called Design Star on HGTV.
“I said, ‘No way. I am not going to do this anymore, because reality TV sucks’. I didn’t get the show,” said DeLeon to her assistant. “I ended up sending the same video tape from The Apprentice to Design Star and it so happened that they used my video as a commercial for Season One.”
DeLeon was chosen for the show, which is a competition based show. She became one of the top four creative finalists. Fast forward to the present day, and she is represented by Abrams Artists Agency, which books her for television gigs.
Nowadays, Deleon and Bournias collaborate on projects together, all the way from culinary to real estate. Their most recent creation is the second Brownstone Pancake Factory opening up in Englewood Cliffs, a town in Bergen County, New Jersey. DeLeon obviously designed the place and Bournias is the creative director behind all of the insanely delicious concoctions on the menu. Even though they are successful working together on projects, the pair still faces challenges here and there.
“I always say he’s my worst client, but ultimately my best client because he always lets me do whatever I want. —Which is great,” she said. “It’s kind of like a business partner you are intimate with and have a life with. It’s tricky.
Overall, DeLeon and Bournias’s key ingredient to success is growth.
“What’s not to enjoy? The fact that we are always growing is the bigger picture for me,” said DeLeon about her journey with Bournias.
“I love growth and I am grateful for what I have now,” said Bournias. “It’s not just achievement, but growth in the sense that I want to always do better, feel better, live better, laugh better, love better, and just do things as best as I can.”