Controversial, no-nonsense, driven and sexy are but a few of the words used to describe the 50-something-year-old August Town, Jamaican-born reality TV star and entrepreneur Peter Thomas. Some would agree that Thomas, son of Thadeus and Eugene Thomas, who left Jamaica in 1973 at the age of 13, is currently the most famous Jamaican male on TV anywhere in the world due to the popularity of his hit TV reality show, The Real Housewives of Atlanta on the Bravo network. Peter believes in giving back, and in exercising that belief, he tries to get involved in as many charitable causes as he can. When SO tracked down Thomas at his tapas bar, Bar One, in Atlanta last week, he was hosting a cancer fund-raiser along with the stars of Tyler Perry's House of Payne. It was a packed house and he was the consummate host meeting and greeting celebs and fans alike with his gorgeous supermodel wife Cynthia Bailey by his side. Bailey thankfully found time to sit, sip and chat with us.
Heather Elliott (HE): Peter, you seem to be a traditional Jamaican man who loves and appreciates a beautiful black woman. There are a number of men who can relate to you directly. How did you meet Cynthia?
Peter Thomas (PT): Wow, this is an amazing story. I actually first saw Cynthia over 26 years ago at a club in New York City. She was coming out of a limo with about six other long-legged, beautiful models and she was the only black girl. I was standing outside the club with a young, not yet famous Chris Rock. I knew all eyes were on her, but I was bold enough to go over and ask her if I could buy her a drink. She said yes. Shortly after, I left the club without exchanging information. Six years later, I was on a flight from Miami to NYC and guess who was in first class on the same flight? I switched my seat to sit next to her and we spoke for the entire flight up to New York. I still didn't leave a contact with her. Fast forward 17 years later and I moved to Atlanta. A friend of mine knew I wanted to get a car while I was trying to get settled and she mentioned that her girlfriend in Houston had a Range Rover she wanted to lease while she was away at work. Turns out that girlfriend was Cynthia and I guess you can call it serendipity, we were married a few years later.
HE: Judging from your appearances on RHOA (Real Housewives of Atlanta), you like to cater to your woman by doing most of the cooking. Did that come from your upbringing in Jamaica?
PT: My grandmother Petal forced me to learn to cook. She had the most interesting opinions about why a man should not eat from a woman all the time. I remember her saying that if I wanted to live long enough and feed myself I had better learn how to cook and cook well. I was 11 years old when I first started cooking at my grandmother's house.
HE: You are a serial entrepreneur who has had several hits and misses along the way as we have seen on reality TV. What is the one thing that keeps you going for more?
PT: I have a certain hunger that is untamable. I don't always do things for money, but rather lifestyle. It's important for me to live up to a certain standard as a black man in America and the only way I know how to set those standards is to always go for more.
HE: Your life is not quiet anymore. You can't just simply walk into your Atlanta tapas bar, Bar One, or any place for that matter, unnoticed. How has the rise to fame changed your life?
PT: My life has changed in many ways, but it's all positive. I love the flashbulbs and the glitterati the fame brings. I knew what I was getting into when I was approached to do the RHOA show. The show is now the number 1 show for the Bravo Network and with that there is an enormous amount of pressure to be in the limelight, but I wouldn't change a thing. I love that it has opened doors for me and I am not shy about the intrusion as I have nothing to hide.
HE: How do you and Cynthia unwind?
PT: My wife loves when I cook, so we bond a lot around the kitchen table.
HE: Your wife is a supermodel and super-attractive. I imagine men stare at her wherever she goes. How do you deal with that on a day-to-day basis?
PT: She deserves all the admiration she gets. She is the most amazing person I know. She is real and what you see is what you get. What people look at is exactly who she is — a beautiful soul.
HE: Where would you like to take Cynthia on your next Jamaican vacation?
PT: I love Jamaica with all my heart, but there is only one place we like to go and spend time together. Round Hill Hotel & Villas has been my spot of over 20 years and Cynthia cannot get enough of that place as well. In fact, we flew to Round Hill the very next day after we got married a year-and-a-half ago. That place is very special to us and by extension her daughter Noelle (my stepdaughter) who spends time there as well with her dad every Christmas.
HE: What's next for Peter and PTEG?
PT: We have immediate plans to expand the Bar One concept in urban cities across the United States. We want to be the answer to middle- to upper-class African Americans who are looking to unwind and network with people of like minds and circumstances. The second Bar One franchise will be opened in North Carolina later this year. It is currently under construction as we speak. I take it one day at a time. Anywhere my journey takes me, that's where I will be. I have a very optimistic outlook in everything I do.
HE: Would you consider doing business back home? What would it be?
PT: Heather, make sure you print this. I have tried, up to recently, to do a mega music conference in Jamaica and I got no support from the JTB at the time the event proposals were being presented. I was bringing down people like Russell Simmons, P Diddy and other music industry stalwarts to be a part of something the Caribbean had never seen. All this to benefit the music and the people, and we got little support, so we pulled out. I would love to do something in Jamaica, but I find that there is far too much bureaucracy and politics involved even at the lowest levels and it's a turn-off. I am still not opposed to doing something for the young people, though. I would love to see them benefit more from their music; the one thing that places Jamaica on the map, so to speak.
HE: What's your fondest memory growing up in Jamaica?
PT: My father Thadeus Thomas aka Tommy used to operate a bar at 12 Gordon Town Road between 1970 and 1972, called Tommy's Hideout. Every evening after school, I would find myself at the bar where I'd hang out with the people who would come there. I think that my love for the bar business came from those experiences. My mother Eugene Thomas (affectionately known as Miss Cherry) delivered me at KPH so for me, as a true Kingstonian, all the memories that I have from Jamaica are pretty special and close to me.