Yvette Leeper Bueno
Company Name || Vinateria
Job Title || Proprietor
Company Start Date || May 2013
Years Living In New York || Whole Life (Born and raised in UWS/Harlem)
Social Handles || @Vinateria (IG), @VinateriaNYC (TW/FB)
Company Website: Vinateria NYC
What did you want to be as a child?
My first real dream as a child was to be a gymnast. I saw Nadia Comaneci on the balance beam and that’s what I wanted to do. I ended up going to Barnard College for Italian Studies — I just loved fashion, culture and the whole Italian way of life. From there, I became a designer and owned my own boutique. Even today, owning a restaurant, I feel that I’m still really a designer — but today it’s not clothes, but a restaurant and a feeling that I’m designing and curating.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when you were starting Vinateria?
Unfortunately, there really wasn’t much that people said in the way of help — so many people told me that going into the restaurant industry was such a tough business and that it wouldn’t be successful. But, I recognized a need and had a passion for it and knew that if we put in the time and energy we’d be successful. Entrepreneurship runs through my family’s blood — I’ve been given the tools and faculty to believe in myself and have a critical eye and [know] to not accept things blindly. I’ve learned that we’re never really ready for anything in life, but you just have to take the leap. You find out as much as you can, you immerse yourself, and you go for it. Today, I hope to support others and give the advice of what I’ve learned, so that other women have the tools to pursue their business ideas.
How has your background helped you with this venture?
Retail is a very unique field because it brings you into contact with so many people and so many walks of life. You develop incredibly keen social skills, and we treated our retail businesses as places of great customer service — welcoming you into our home. Largely that feeling has not changed, just our product has. We already really ran a hospitality-focused business so it’s been an amazing journey turning that experience into a restaurant that has become a hub of the neighborhood. A place where we’ve seen people go from first date to engagements and then having kids. It’s pretty amazing to watch it all unfold.
How do you define success?
I think that success is super individual to everyone — for me, when a guest comes away from their experience and gives a warm and genuine compliment — noting the ambience, the service, the food — that’s success. You’ve just changed someone’s day, and to see how we affect lives in that way is HUGE. Of course you need to pay bills and sustain the business and our employees, but it’s so much more gratifying to see how we really touch people’s lives.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting out?
That you really have to lead with your heart, to know that you’re doing things for the right reason. It ultimately all falls on intention. Why are we doing this? What are we hoping to achieve? At Vinateria, we really want to make people happy and to feel good. It’s an opportunity to be really generous and warm. We run another little space right next door called Mindful Harlem that is a meditation studio, and it’s been so impactful in making sure that we are checking in on our mental health, and also that we’re engaging with the neighborhood in a multitude of ways.
What made you interested in starting this restaurant?
It really came down to a few things, namely: timing, opportunity, and the desire to contribute to our neighborhood and expand our network. We have a real passion for bringing people together, for loving food, and loving wine and embracing this moment where you feel so connected to your community that you want to contribute in a meaningful way. You see something that you can do that can really make an impact.
Do you have a personal motto?
Not so much a motto, but more a mantra. You have to weather the storm—you know, things are not going to be easy, but it’s about keeping at it. Things take a really long time, and we need to be patient and forgiving with ourselves. You need to treat people well — you never know where a small act of kindness will lead, and it has to be done without expectations.
Which women inspire you?
My mom is definitely the first to come to mind. She has taught me the spirit of business and is the first source of love, support, and guidance. Beyond that, of course, Michelle Obama is such an inspiration.
What is your workspace like?
The beautiful thing about my workspace is that it’s anywhere. I don’t really have a desk where I check in on everything, but I have every single platform that we use at the restaurant on my phone. I even have the restaurant phone forwarded to my cell so if no one picks up, I’ll make a reservation for someone on the go. I compose emails on my phone. It’s nice to be able to be running around and do all of my work remote. But, if I do get to sit and do some work, I have a meditation room on the top floor of our house in Harlem and I’ll curl up in a chair in the sunlit corner of this room and knock some things out.
How do you overcome moments of self-doubt?
By surrounding myself with an incredibly bright, fun and funny team of people that inspire me. I’ve tended to not feel as doubtful while creating, while working on so much for the future, when I have a team around me that I fully trust and that supports me. Plus, we’ve worked really, really hard and have pride in that work. When that self-doubt creeps in, we try to focus on the task ahead, focusing on what we can do, and just trying to the best of our ability.
What is the hardest part about being your own boss?
I’ve almost always been my own boss, but the hardest thing is that there isn’t anyone else to blame. When something goes wrong it’s on you. You have to own up to mistakes. You have to take responsibility, and it’s a lot about learning, introspection and growth. It’s a great way to see your own humanity — its ok we all mess up.
How do you handle situations where you feel overwhelmed?
I lean on meditation and yoga deeply in these moments. It’s important to check in with yourself — I recently got a puppy and long walks with him in the park are incredibly restorative. It’s an opportunity to take some time with yourself and to process what’s going on, and to be able to work it off physically.
What has been the most rewarding thing since starting Vinateria?
The incredible people and community we meet. That is the bread and butter of this business, it’s what really drives us forward. It’s about the families we meet, the lives we touch, and to be able to be a source of this community. As well, to be able to support livelihoods for 30 people is pretty remarkable. It’s something I don’t take lightly because we all work incredibly hard and they are there because they believe in the business and we’ve fostered a culture that reverberates with our staff and clientele.
What are some of your goals moving forward for Vinateria?
A few fun things — of course we have a our female collaboration dinner series which we’re really excited about. Otherwise, we’re also working to expand our take-out and catering offerings and we can’t wait to re-open the patio. Summer please come back soon!
What advice would you give to other women trying to enter your field?
It’s not easy, but one thing that is essential is having support and having community. I had my family, my friends but I didn’t really have a mentor in the industry which was really tough. If you’re thinking of entering this field come on up to Vinateria, I’ll tell you everything. I’d love to help others with the experience I’ve accumulated.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.