Leva Bonaparte Talks Upcoming Bravo Spin-Off Series Southern Hospitality - Exclusive Interview

Leva Bonaparte made her debut on Season 7 of "Southern Charm," the juicy Bravo reality series about a group of socialites set in the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina. On "Southern Charm," we saw the wife, mom, and entrepreneur as a friend to the rest of the cast. In her new reality series, "Southern Hospitality" — a spin-off of "Southern Charm" — Bonaparte calls the shots as the owner of posh restaurant and nightclub Republic Garden & Lounge, just one of four trendy Charleston establishments that she and husband Lamar Bonaparte own together.

At Republic, Bonaparte leads a team of young, attractive 20-somethings making their way in the city's booming hospitality industry. Viewers can expect plenty of drama among the team, from workplace squabbles to romance. The List caught up with the Bravo reality star and restaurant entrepreneur to get the scoop, including what makes Charleston such a booming city for nightlife and what fans can expect as "Southern Hospitality" takes us behind the scenes of the busy restaurant business.

What to expect from Southern Hospitality

As a spin-off of "Southern Charm," how is "Southern Hospitality" different from the original?

It's an entirely different show and an entirely different side of Charleston that you've probably never seen, so I'm excited for you guys to see that ... It's a completely different show, a completely different premise, but it's still Southern. We're still in the South.

I do like to say that I try to get the girls to pull their skirts down a bit more. They want to be like, "Oh, Miami and the big city." I'm like, "No, this is the South, and these are things I like about the South." You don't have to dress that way. 

I love that my staff is warm and sweet. At most nightclubs, you'll walk up, and the guy at the door is not friendly at all. Here, I'm like, "This is the South; I want you to be kind and warm." People are coming here to spend good money and spend a special day of their lives with us.

You're going to see a little different side of Charleston, a little bit of a different side of nightlife. It's definitely a lot younger.

Will we see any familiar faces from "Southern Charm" on the show?

You'll absolutely see everyone make cameos. Literally almost everybody, you're going to see: Olivia [Flowers], Taylor [Ann Green], Naomie [Olindo], even Patricia [Altschul] and Marcy [Hobbs]. At my birthday, Madison [LeCroy] came and apologized about the finale because she felt like she piled on with Craig [Conover] and felt [bad about it]. She said, "I'm sorry, I felt like I was being a bully, and I'm sorry about that." That was the beginning of me and Madison making up. You're going to see almost everybody, and in real life, they're always here.

What are you most excited for?

I'm excited for everyone to meet our business. Republic, DMG — the whole group is in itself four of my little babies, these restaurants and clubs. I'm very excited for them to see the people that are building this, holding up this epic dream that we have realized. It's going to be fun.

Let's have fun again. People want to see people doing things that are outside of the box, taking careers outside of the box, loving their jobs, [but] also the challenges of the job. It'll be fun for people to see that business is personal. I don't believe business is not personal. I've always thought that [it is]. It'll be fun for people to see young people making those decisions that maybe they wish they did, or they hope their kids will.

Also, [they'll see us] having fun and being young and seeing a city they're not familiar with. Yes, it gets messy, and it gets crazy, and I definitely get a little stressed out. There was a time or two where I was like, "I'm not doing this show; I'm done." It's hard opening your business up. Today, [if] I was like, "Okay, I'm going to go in your closet right now," you'd be like, "No, you're not. I didn't clean up." There's no time to do that. You're literally opening your underwear drawer to the world.

It's very vulnerable, so give us some grace. It's a messy business, but we're doing our best and having a great time at it. I hope other people do that, too.

What draws viewers and tourists to Charleston

What is it that draws fans to "Southern Charm" and now "Southern Hospitality?" Is it that Charleston way?

Charleston is a hospitality city. [It's what] we're known for. That's a big thing. Back in the day — five, six years [ago] — it was a ghost town when it wasn't tourist season. It's grown a lot larger, and it's known for its food. I travel to many cities in the U.S., and I don't think there's anywhere like King Street at nighttime on a Monday or on a Friday.

I would always say to my husband, "Where do you go? Where are the people at on a Monday?" We'll be in New York, and he is like, "They're working, Leva, they're going to bed, and they're working. It's not like Charleston. People are not out drinking at 10:00 p.m. on a Monday."

A lot of people don't know this about me, but I grew up in Canada, and I also grew up in South America in Bolivia. My family had a multinational outsourcing company, so we traveled to both. That Latin culture where people are out having coffee at 10:00 p.m. is very European. My heart feels happy because I love when people are out at night, on a Monday, on a Tuesday, having dinner, living life. I love that about Charleston, and I love that about King Street. You're never not going to see people walking around. It feels alive all the time.

I love that. It sounds a little like New Orleans — maybe not as crazy.

It does. It definitely has the old city and has tons of architecture, and when you first come here, you're like, "Is this a movie set or a real street?" It's so beautiful and clean. But we're known for a lot of things.

For people who are aware of Charleston, we're known for our arts; we're known for our food; we're known for our festivals. You're going to see a lot more of that on "Southern Hospitality," and the fact that people go to college here to work in hospitality as opposed to ... [it being] a stepping stone to something bigger. People here want to work in hospitality, and they make a killing. It's like they've already arrived — now they're trying to work up in the ranks. That's the difference between us and other cities.

Fans will see a different side of her this time around

Now that you're running the show in "Southern Hospitality," how is your experience different from that of "Southern Charm?"

Here, I'm the boss; I'm not just a friend. You'll have some context about why I am always trying to get down to business. It's who I am. Sometimes, in my friendships, it can do me a disservice because I'm like, "Can we work this out? Can we move past this? Can we get here?" I'm also a little bossy where I'm like, "Can we go here? Can we figure this out?" That's my everyday life, 24/7. It bleeds into my personal life, so you're going to understand me more when you see what I'm dealing with day to day, weekend, night, all the time.

[For] a lot of people, their work lives are separate [from] their personal lives, and mine is not that way. It's one big thing that requires compartments and some organization and some boundaries. It's all one big personal thing that my husband and I built, that we believe in, that we love, that we enjoy, that sometimes drives us nuts. Sometimes we wonder why we did it, but it's all heart and soul.

It's what we love to do. It's a love affair. It's like when you're married — you love and you hate almost at the same time. You're like, "I love you to death, but I also want to kill you, but I'll also kill someone who would kill you." It's one big thing. We're passionate people [who] built something we love, and we hire passionate kids, and that can make for something very interesting.

That makes a lot of sense based on the type of business you're in. Viewers will see a different side of you on this show, right?

Absolutely. They're going to see more of me — a different side of me — and it'll give them more context as to why I navigate things a certain way in my personal life.

Will we see any of your life at home on the show?

[With my personal life and the business], none of those things are separate. My son's in here; my husband could walk in here at any given moment. My sister-in-law could walk in here any given moment, my sister. It's all one big blend. You'll see a little bit of my husband; you'll see me navigating my Republic family more than at home. At home, we're boring, to be honest. It's just me and Lamar and our sweet 4-year-old. That is probably the most interesting thing about us. You'll see.

How she handles it all, from her businesses and shows to her personal life

How do you handle everything between filming, your businesses, and your personal life as a wife and mom?

As of recent, I hired an assistant, which has been great, but it's been tough. Every season, you expand, [and] you have to let go of certain things. I'm one person. 

Also, at this point, we're a restaurant group, so we have an operational manager. We have an entire corporate office back there of corporate managers that manage things. I'm not here necessarily knowing what the schedule for beer delivery is, but I'm also on 75 emails a day coordinating the direction of what we're doing. We do have other businesses as well.

It's about hiring the right team. My dad's a businessman, and he always said, "Grow slowly, take your time. If you get too consumed by making more money, then the foundation of your house will crumble."

This has been 10 years in the making, and we've built this slowly but surely, and there's still little cracks here and there that we try to figure out. We're now in a position ... We're in our 40s, so I'm not necessarily here like, "Yo, come to the party." That's who I was a few years ago. I was all, "Come on down, come meet me, I got a table for you. I got this for you, I got that for you."

Now, these kids that you guys will meet are that for us. They're the "it" kids that are getting everyone in here. You don't just open a bar and people walk in. People think that's the way it works, and it's not the way it works. It's the people that get people in your bar; it's the atmosphere that's created by the humans that own it. People don't get that about the bar business. You guys are going to see that, and it's cool. It's a fun, adrenaline-filled, mad, crazy business. No day is the same here.

We have a very "mom, dad" dynamic here at work, so the kids ... almost don't want "dad" to walk in the door, because if dad walks in the door, there's going to be a problem. Lamar tries to keep things very black and white, and that's where we disagree. But we build cool things because he is more about the bottom line and keeping things black and white, and I like to live in the gray.

Business is run by humans, not machines. [In] the future, once we recognize that, we can build a lot cooler things and have more actualized [dreams], because you don't have to necessarily be a business owner right at the top to have your dream actualized. I would love to help some of these kids that work for me build cool things. What else is life about?

You're going to catch a lot of that. They're entrepreneurial. I enjoy that. It's fun for me to see what their ideas are and go through them and [give them feedback]. I always teach them that it takes the same effort to make millions as it does to make $10, so pick the right idea. You'll see a lot of that.

What running a restaurant is really like

There's got to be a lot of drama when you work at an exclusive nightclub. What can fans expect?

This is a business of young, attractive kids, but [you'll see that] these kids are [a lot more]. I don't hire like, "Oh, you're cute, you can bartend." No — I want kids with magic, and they're charming and they're outgoing ...

What people don't understand about this business is it's run by people. People go to hang out with people that they like, so when spaces are run by managers, everybody loves them. It's such a great time. That makes for all these interesting people — and probably very attractive people — on all levels. There's a lot of loving that goes on in here, and I'm not one to stand in the way. My big rule is if you're a manager, you may not date someone that you manage. I'm not okay with that.

If you are in two different areas of the business — if you're bartending, they're serving, or they're another manager at another place, and you're a manager — that's different. I don't like there to be any confusion when it comes to management and somebody that works underneath you. That can get tricky, and it has to be a very special type of person that can do that. But these kids have worked for me ... some of them up to seven years now. One had a child, some have dated in college, and some date other people.

There's a lot. I can't keep up on any given day. As long as they keep it outside of my walls, I'm fine with it ... In the past and possibly in the future, people have been fired and reprimanded and all that. You're going to see a lot of business, personal business.

This is a messy business, which is why I always had reservations about bringing a show into this world. It's chaotic and it's gritty and it's messy. Although it looks all glitz and glam here, if I were to take you to the back, it's a whole other ball game. There's someone crying, and it looks terrible, and there's no air conditioning, or it's cold, or something's broken. That's the real side of this business, so I'm hoping people can see all of it.  

"Southern Hospitality" premieres Monday, November 28, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

This interview has been edited for clarity.