After shaking up Southern Charm, Leva Bonaparte has leveled up with her own reality spin-off on Bravo. Southern Hospitality follows the follomade up of twenty-somethings who work at Republic Garden & Lounge. It’s one of four Charleston hotspots and King Street staples that Bonaparte owns alongside her husband Lamar. Bottles are popping and business is booming at the club. That doesn’t stop the drama from unfolding. We caught up with the boss to talk shop and discuss the challenges she’ll have to manage this season.
How did the idea for a Southern Charm spin-off come about?
Leva Bonaparte: There are multiple production companies that have reached out to Republic, and what we are doing. It was never the right time for me. My husband and I were newly married at the time, trying to get pregnant, and struggling to get pregnant. We really just wanted to stay off the radar and build what we were building. It wasn’t until Southern Charm that I was approached again about bringing my world to Bravo in this way. I thought it was the right time. The stars aligned.
What was it like showing a side of your life that viewers really haven’t seen before?
What you don’t see on Southern Charm is how much of a beast it is to manage what we’re doing over here. You just see me show up at a party at 8 p.m. and let loose or be in my house making cookies for five minutes. You don’t see the chaos, the breakdowns, the time management. There is a little more of that with a better understanding of me. I live more in this wheelhouse because I’m a little bossier and like a little bit of control. I also like to boss my friends around, which they don’t always like. You’ll see a whole different side of who I am. You’re going to peel back this onion where it’s like, “Holy sh-t! That’s what Leva is doing all day.”
Craig [Conover] kicked you out of his party during this past season of Southern Charm. Was there a point where you questioned whether you wanted to do reality TV anymore?
Yeah. I definitely was disappointed in my friend that last evening. People don’t have context. I was talking to his partners, who I’ve known for years. I was hurt. We’ve moved on from it. It wasn’t a fun night, but it was raw. It was friends misunderstanding things. Craig had some feelings about me being too much on Naomi [Olindo’s] side. It got complicated. That happens with friends. It was very real. I’m big on boundaries. You can’t speak to me that way. I don’t like being disrespected. I like to be treated like a friend. When I feel like I’m not, I’m not going to subject myself to that environment. It was a tricky time, but I think with BravoCon and the reunion we’ve both moved on. He is a good person, and I have a 10-year friendship with him. He is like a little brother. He has apologized, so I’ve accepted that apology.
What kind of advice have you given those on Southern Hospitality about now being under a microscope? Like you unfollowing a lot of the Southern Charm for a time making news.
I’m in my 40s and not out here making irrational reactions or acting a fool, but I also hit a headline or there will be some clickbait out there. When you’re watching reality TV, it’s really a synopsis of what happened. You really just see the explosion. I never thought everyone would pick up that I unfollowed a bunch of people. I just didn’t want to see their faces because I was disappointed in them. I was going to quietly go to follow them later…People pay attention to every little move and little things get a little bit larger. It’s just part of the game. I tell them as long as they feel they’ve done well by people and can sleep well at night, that is what is important.
One of the central stories is the friendship and competitiveness of Grace and Maddi Reese and Grace Lilly. How do you manage those kinds of situations in the workplace?
I’m innately so good at personal and business. I grew up working in my family business. I have these skills I don’t even know how to translate to other people. From the time I was 5, I was helping my dad at the printing company and filling these cartridges and papers. I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I’m good at letting things go. I compartmentalize and am a master of boundaries. I have to learn ways to teach that to them. In my business, people end up dating or have exes. Southern Charm, a lot of our issues came from working together or businesses clashing. Business is personal. When people say it isn’t, it is actually true.
During the premiere, Mikel [Simmons] gets a second chance after working for another club. What went into that decision to suspend rather than fire him? It seemed the other crew was surprised.
It boils down to my team. They should know who I am. If they want to work for me and under my philosophy, they should know me. Once you do, then there is a level of trust. They have to know they can also trust me. So if Mikel is telling me about his life, I understand. I realize these are a bunch of humans and not machines. They are going to make mistakes. If I feel as though it was just a mistake that they can overcome. I obviously hired them because they have some magic about them, passion, and potential. If I can give them a second chance, I always say to worry about your own business. Worry about your own house. At the end of the day, there are things you don’t know about the person. So don’t judge. You just worry about doing your job the best you can.
What can you tease about the rest of the season? Are any of your staff worried about getting fired from what happens?
There was one point I was ready to fire a lot of them. I wasn’t even sure I could be in the same room as them. I had to take 48 hours before I blew a gasket. There have been many times I’m in shock or dismay. I do think they also know I care about them. I do think it comes to them feeling they‘ve disappointed me. I think they love working for Republic. How could you not? It’s so much fun. They get to have a great time and make killer money. Business is messy, which is why I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the show. This is the adrenaline of Below Deck with the messiness of Vanderpump times 10. We’re not just serving a meal and that’s it. This is a club that has a massive 200 people lineup at the door on a Friday night. It’s showtime. It’s not a joke. That paired with big feelings, you’ll gasp a lot. I certainly did. I definitely had a few meltdowns of my own. I will say they don’t at least make the same mistakes twice.
It’s nice to see the Southern Charm cast supporting you.
I have some dear friends on Southern Charm. We had some disagreements, but even ones I had it out with like Madison LeCroy. She came to my birthday and apologized. I’m very close to Olivia [Flowers], Taylor [Ann Green], and Noami, they are all very supportive. They’ve been here for the ride. Naomi was here in college she used to buy big bottles for all her friends. I believe it was Lamar who introduced Naomi and Craig at Republic. There is a lot of history here.
Southern Hospitality premiere, November 28, 9/8c, Bravo