By Dana Tudose Tianu
I meet with Isfahan and Violetta on a Wednesday morning in early July, at the Beans and Dots Café in Bucharest, next to Cismigiu Park. It is 11 am, school is out for the summer, and they bring their 6- year old daughter, Rayssa, with them.
Foreigners who come to Romania with a project or job, marry Romanian women and end up staying and building their business here, have somewhat become characters of national folklore. Isfahan is quick to admit he could not have built his real estate business, Bliss Imobiliare, without his wife’s help.
Violetta Tudorache is very beautiful. I smile, listening to the story of their courtship period, when he (according to both) wouldn’t stop asking her out, even though she refused every single time.
Isfahan Doekhie was born in Surinam, South America, a colony of the Netherlands, where he moved when he was four years old. He grew up north of Amsterdam.
He came to Bucharest in November 2003 from Moscow, where he had been working at the Marriott hotel, managing their loyalty program. He accepted a challenge – to manage the loyalty program (the Diamond Club) at the Hilton, in Bucharest. He remembers that the pre-EU accession atmosphere in Bucharest was vibrant, and he immediately took to it. A lot of new expats were staying at the Hilton or meeting there for business, he remembers. He calls them “the adventurers”.
Of course, as luck would have it, Violetta was working at the Hilton, behind the business desk.
“He was coming by every day, starting up a conversation, and I didn’t know how to get rid of him”, she says, as Isfahan laughs. “He went on for three months, asking me out every day. He was inviting me for dinner, for coffee, for cake, for drinks, and I was always saying no. One day, he asked if I wanted to go and play tennis. I said “ok”, but we never played (he came up with an excuse) and we ended up having dinner at Casa Di David in Herastrau. And that was the beginning of our story.”
Sensing great market opportunities and with a natural entrepreneurial spirit, Isfahan resigned from the Hilton and decided to start his own loyalty program in 2004. He set up Bliss and put together benefits for a new type of membership program. He took Violetta, who says she gave up her job without any regrets, with him on the new business venture.
At this point in the story, they both say, in unison: “We did this for a year, 2005-2006. It was a complete disaster and we went broke.”
“Our strength was that we were together”, Isfahan says, “and, I am very outgoing”, he adds. “I know a lot of people and I connect people with one another.”
Their break came from one of Isfahan’s closest friends, attorney Chuck Vernon, who had an office in Cotroceni and needed to move. That was the moment he and Violetta shifted their work to real estate, and Bliss Imobiliare was born in January, 2006. “Chuck got his new office on Benjamin Franklin and we collected our first 5,000 Euro commission out of that deal”, they gratefully remember.
Pretty soon after their first deal, a second client, a Dutch citizen, wanted to buy a house, and things started to flow as they were getting to know the market better.
Thirty minutes into our conversation, Rayssa has been drawing on her IPad, showing her art to mom, dad, and to me, from time to time. Knowing what it is to entertain a 6-year old during the summer vacation, I ask them how they were spending their vacations before Rayssa was born and when they had their last vacation alone.
“We traveled a lot by car”, says Isfahan. “We drive to the Netherlands twice every year. My parents are still there. Before having Rayssa, the longest trip we took by car was when Violetta was two months pregnant, in 2012. It was a 5-week trip. We drove to the south of Spain, to Malaga. We visited Serbia, Croatia, Italy, France, a part of Switzerland, Monaco. It was an 11,000 km trip.”
I ask them about their hobbies and Isfahan boasts that he received a medal from Hagi. He loves cricket, tennis and football. Violetta’s passions are reading, music, Spanish and traveling.
To Isfahan’s merit, he is one of the foreigners who speak Romanian, even though, as he admits, he only began to learn it in 2013, to be able to communicate with his mother-in-law. He is sweet to admit that his “soacra” takes very good care of him.
“Violetta and her mother help make my life easy”, he says, towards the end of our meeting. “I would not have been able to accomplish and do all that I do, live the life I live, without their support.”
The interview is over, and I ask what they are doing for the day.
“I’ll take Rayssa to Herastrau”, says Isfahan. Violetta has a business meeting.