The New York Minute

Interview Series: Meet Your Remarkable New York Neighbors

The Renovator

Paul & Vince would like to welcome to the conversation Stephen Fanuka of Million Dollar Contractor.
I’ve been all over the world, and I can truly tell you that New York is still one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s alive. It’s filled with immigrants. Everyone’s got a story.

Paul & Vince would like to welcome Stephen Fanuka, television personality, master carpenter, and owner of Fanuka, Inc., specializing in high-quality general contracting and luxury renovations, including fine millwork. 

Steve’s father was a Croatian immigrant who started his small cabinetry business in New York in 1967. The senior Fanuka trained his son in the traditional European art of cabinetmaking. Since then, he has expanded the cabinet business to a full-service construction company.

As a television personality, Steve has been featured on Good Morning America, The Real Housewives of NYC, and starred in 54 episodes of his own show, Million Dollar Contractor.


Paul & Vince: How did you come to live in New York and in your current career?

Steve:  My father came here from Croatia in the 1960s, where he was a cabinetmaker. I was born in Astoria, Queens, and he started taking me to work when I was nine or ten. I didn’t have a choice, by the way. [Laughs]. But then again, by the time I was 16, I was already a master craftsman…And then Imelda Marcos needed a contractor.

Paul & Vince: No kidding…Did she need a shoe closet?

Steve: Pretty much. A painter walked up to me on a job site when I was installing a cabinet, and he said, “I know a client who I’m working for…She’s looking for a really “green” contractor, someone she can push around. Do you want to get your license?” And I was like, “Okay.” And the client ended up being her.

Paul & Vince: Wow! That’s the craziest true story!

Steve: Yep. It was my first real job in New York. And it’s still, to this day, probably my toughest job. The family had flown over their niece from the Philippines, and she was in charge, and, you know, sometimes, you learn the hard way! But what doesn’t kill you makes you better.

So, from there, my dad was working with a lot of big-name interior designers and they started to remember me as that little kid who would come to work with him. So, when they heard about Imelda, they started to give me work. And slowly but surely, I got more work and more help. I went from three employees to about 50, plus 300 subs. Now, we do full-blown, high-end “Architectural Digest” renovations. In fact, my work has been on six Architectural Digests covers.


Paul & Vince: Such an impressive story! What is a typical day for you now?

Steve: Every day is interesting. I wake up and go straight to the City. I always pick a few job sites to walk through, but I don’t usually tell anyone when I’m coming. It keeps everybody on their feet. Then, after half a day on the sites, I’ll return to the office to check on the cabinet shop. I’ll do proposals, I’ll chase the money, and I’ll deal with issues if there’s a client who is not happy. I multitask. But I’m constantly going from job to job in a circle in my head. I have to send myself emails all day…reminders, and followups. In fact, I’m my own biggest email fan! If I get 400 emails, you can bet 300 of them are from me, writing to myself! [Laughs]


Paul & Vince:Can you tell us something about your career(s) no one knows?

Steve: Well, it’s obvious you’ve gotta be a people person, but it’s also important to understand: nobody likes to fight. Nobody wants to fight. If you give them a reason to fight, they will fight you back, and they will defend themselves. So, if you blame someone, a client, you’re going to have a fight, and you’re probably going to lose. And it goes that other way, too. I just had a client the other day – a tough wealthy lady – who called and started yelling saying, “Steve, you know how much you charged me? You charged like I was paying for a Mercedes!” And I thought, “Uh-oh!”…But I didn’t react; I didn’t give her any reason to fuel a fight…So, a few seconds later, she said, “But the work you did, you gave me one.”

Paul & Vince: That’s sweet. That’s nice to hear. No wonder you’re on TV!

Steve: You know, funny story about that, too… the TV show happened as a bet. I was getting into bed one night with my wife at the time. I was looking at the ceiling, and I told her, “Someone told me today I had a good personality and I should be on TV.” And it was dark, and all I heard was a laugh. She said, “Don’t be silly.” So, I made a bet. And the next day, I hired Christina Juarez, who was a publicist. Within two months, she called me and got me my first TV appearance. And that led to other things.


Paul & Vince: It sounds like you’re always on the go. What are your favorite things to do in New York on your day off?

Steve: Sometimes it’s nice to be a tourist, even in your own town. And I’ve been all over the world, and I can truly tell you that New York is still one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s alive. It’s filled with immigrants. Everyone’s got a story. And when I have family in town, I go to a steakhouse. They don’t have steakhouses in Europe like we do. And then, there’s nothing like the energy and excitement of the person who sees New York for the first time. You gotta show them that skyline at night for the first time, and you look at them, and they’re like, “Wow.”

…and one more, Just For Fun

Paul & Vince:  Nice!  But now it’s time for our Just For Fun question. What is the scariest activity you’ve ever done for fun while on vacation?

Steve: [Laughs]…Well, I repelled off a cliff in Costa Rica…but I didn’t want to.

Paul & Vince: Why didn’t you want to?

Steve: Because I was repelling off a cliff!? It had to be 200 feet. And, not that this was scary, but I remember there were blue butterflies everywhere. It was beautiful, but repelling off the thing was not something I was excited about. I really don’t like heights, actually. If you need me on a ladder or on a roof, I can do it, but it’s also very hard to get me down! [Laughs]

Paul & Vince: Funny, we think of contractors, and we think of these big, burly guys who do all sorts of crazy, dangerous things.

Steve: Well, I can do other kinds of crazy things, but let me tell you, you put a rope on me and tell me to come down the side of a cliff? Not fun…and they say I was yelling down things like “Where’s the helicopter? Bring me down!” [Laughs]


Original artwork by Jolisa Robinson, Gavriani-Falcone Team Marketing

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