By JOHN T. WARD
After a 99-year run as a jewelry store and two-plus years as a vacant shell, the former Ballew Jewelers storefront in Red Bank is about to become an art store.
Tesserae, as it’s called, will feature only mosaics, all of them the brainchild of a 27-year-old restaurateur who’s only been in the creative realm for 18 months and leaves the execution of his ideas to someone else.
A budding Jeff Koons of the shattered-stone world, Pete Theodoropoulus makes no pretense to being an artist. What he’s selling, at prices ranging from $3,000 to $20,000, is home decoration some of it weighing in at as much as 500 pounds, he tells redbankgreen.
“I wouldn’t consider myself an artist,” he said. “I have the vision that this company could eventually have hundreds of stores worldwide.”
Theodoropoulus has been gutting the 2,000-square-foot former Ballew space in the week since signing a lease, and plans to open Tesserae by the first week in July.
So, who is he, and what’s this all about?
Theodoropoulus, who grew up in Phillipsburg, attended Monmouth University. But he dropped out, he said, because he was “too busy” working in local restaurants as a server and bartender. He also alludes to “trouble” he got into that prompted him to turn his life around at age 19.
At age 23, he returned home to remodel a diner owned by his family in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. He also started acquiring his own businesses. Theodoropoulus said he now owns two diners, three Rita’s Italian Ice stands two of them paired with tanning salons he also owns to offset the seasonality of business and a steakhouse called The Brown Stone, in Metuchen.
“I keep busy,” he said.
A couple of years ago, on a visit to Atlantic City, Theodoropoulus became smitten by a large mosaic. He wanted to buy one for the original diner, but couldn’t find anything comparably pleasing to his eye, except for one priced at $100,000, which he considered “a little much.”
So he “found a guy” in Newark, Rick Velser, who specializes in wall and floor mosaics for penthouses and swank lobbies, gave him an image, and told him he’d be back with a business plan. Six months later, after taking delivery of the first piece, Theodoropoulus said he told Velser, “here’s 100 images. I want you to create them.”
Velser’s now in the process of doing so, Theodoropoulus said. The works range from abstractions to photorealistic, sometimes comprising 265,000 pieces of granite or other stone, and no grout, which Theodoropoulus said would detract from the image. They range in size from four feet by four feet to 20 by 32; most will be priced between $5,000 and $8,000, he said.
Solely on word of mouth, Theodoropoulus said, he’s sold $150,000 worth of the mosaics. So he’s decided to go brick-and-mortar with a store.
Why Red Bank? Theodoropoulus said he fell in love with the area while at Monmouth U, and “I always said, once I make it, I want to come back.” Now, he regards the borough as not only bustling, but about to “explode.”
“I truly believe, more than any other downtown I’ve seen, that Red Bank is probably two years away from becoming the premier city on the East Coast,” he said. “I really think it’ll blow the doors off the rest of the Shore. There’s a lot of action coming down on Broad Street.”
Rumson resident Michael Morgan paid $1.5 million for the three-story building in July, 2011 through an entity called LLC 36 Broad Street, according to Monmouth County property records. Morgan also owns 58-64 Broad.