///By JASON SALERNO
Twelve years ago, Francis Toumbakaris set out for New York City to pursue his Broadway dreams . He ha d only $2,000 in his pocket – money he ha d save d fr om being a back up dancer for a pop singer in Greece – but he was young, driven and ambitious.
It wasn’t long before he was dancing in the national tours of Fosse and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and on Broadway in the revival of Fiddler on the Roof starring Harvey Fierstein and Rosie O’Donnell.
But even Broadway stars need backup work to see them through the lean months between gigs. While most turn to waiting tables, Toumbakaris made ends meet with small painting projects, repairs and other odd jobs. “I would ride around the city on my bicycle and a backpack full of tools,” he laughs.
His survival job turned out to be no joke. Within a year, Toumbakaris was working full-scale renovations in Manhattan. He hired an assistant, filed for insurance and established his own contracting and design company, Greek & Handy.
This month, Francis Toumbakaris will merge his love of show biz with his passion for renovation when he competes for $50,000 on HGTV’s new renovation competition show, “Brother Vs. Brother.” “I never thought wearing a tool belt would give me the chance to perform on a new kind of stage,” he says. Root for him every Sunday at 10 p.m. on HGTV.
Do dancers need to be prepared for life after the stage? Unless your name is Chita Rivera, a dancer’s life comes with an expiration date. Male ballet dancers can last until about 42 before the body starts to betray. Theater is less rigorous on the body. Dancers with great discipline, and a great voice and acting chops, can last longer.
How did you go from dancing on Broadway to home renovation? One client referred another who referred another and so on. My clients liked my taste in design. Before I knew it, I wasn’t only the handy man. I was selecting furnishings and finishes.
What do you enjoy most about home renovation? Solving space problems, making unique use out of space. In Manhattan, apartments are tiny, and every inch counts. I am also fascinated with raw materials. Concrete, stone, plaster, wood and paint … I always strive to find new ways to marry them seamlessly.
What led you to HGTV? I wanted to combine my entertainment background with my skills in renovation. It took me four years to make it happen. My first audition for the network was four years ago for HGTV Design Star.
How are you different from David Bromstad and all the other designers with shows on the network? [laughs] Well, I am not as cute as David. But I have no problem taking my shirt off, either. I design, build, joke, flirt and entertain all at the same time.
Do you miss the stage? Sometimes I do. But you know, a client’s gratitude at the end of a project is the greatest applause. It stays with me longer than curtain calls on Broadway ever did. By improving someone’s home, I know I have changed his or her life in a fundamental way.
Does your dance training ever make its way into your home renovation work? Sometimes up on the ladder, like when I’m inside a cabinet during installation, I find myself in some odd dance positions. I also perform some dangerous balancing acts every now and then.
Do you still have all the moves? You can never take the dance out of a dancer. If and when the right project comes along, I may reactivate my Equity card.
Is it true the next thing you intend to build is a family? I was born to be a dad. I love children. I need a husband though first. [laughs] Helloooooo! Where are you Mr. Man?
Toumbakaris on Twitter at @GreekAndHandy.
Or visit him online at greekandhandy.com