Most of the shops along the strip are owned by immigrants. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
The street is named English Plaza, after a former Red Bank mayor. But for the majority of businesses along the short block, English is a second language.
Of the eight shops in the strip of one-story business, at least six are owned by immigrants. That far outpaces the borough’s foreign-born population, which comprises 20 percent of residents, according to the Census.
Here are the stories of five, owners of two restaurants, a home decor shop, a beauty salon and a liquor store.
Owner of the InBetween Café
56 English Plaza
Raul Tepoz, a 44-year-old Mexican immigrant, came to the United States at age 16 and quickly landed his first job: working as a dishwasher at the InBetween (then owned by German immigrants).
He did not expect to stay, but instead to “work, save a little money and go back,” he told redbankgreen recently. But he started a family at age 21, and remained.
After four years, Tepoz went on to other jobs, and tried his hand launching his own grocery store in Long Branch and a restaurant in Lake Como, both of which folded.
He returned to the InBetween in 2010, and took over as owner and chef from Ginny and Bob Koehler in April.
Tepoz said he wants his two children, aged 23 and 9 years old, to know that “life is not easy, but they have all the opportunity here to make it. It depends on the person.”
Leo Luu and Jennifer Nguyen
Owners of Victoria Beauty Lounge
58 English Plaza
Jennifer Nguyen bought a nail salon in Eatontown in 1999, seven years after she immigrated from Vietnam. Six years later, she and her husband, Leo Luu, also a native of Vietnam, relocated the business to Little Silver, and then to English Plaza in 2014.
Like some other business owners on the block, she has experienced “a bit” of discrimination, Nguyen said. But she is “blessed to have customers who recognize what I can do for them,” and to love her work, she said.
The shop, which Nguyen calls her “second daughter,” is named for her 22-year-old daughter, a recent graduate of the University of Delaware.
“With the business, I put my daughter through college. That was my dream,” she said. “I bettered my life, I bettered my daughter’s life, and I’m able to take care of my mother.”
Luu, her husband of 15 years, said he appreciates the “joyful vibe” of Red Bank.
Co-owner of Oriental Empire
54 English Plaza
Vicky Li emigrated from China 15 years ago with her mother and brother, after her father established a beachhead for the family in Texas, where he opened a restaurant.
As a teenager, she helped out. The family now owns Oriental Empire, which they opened on English Plaza in 2014.
“I really appreciate our customers,” particularly those who stuck with the restaurant through the pandemic, when it operated on a takeout-only basis, said Li. Even now, “sometimes we’re understaffed, or an order might take longer than others, and they’re very patient with us,” she said.
Li also owned the short-lived Mini Shop gift boutique on Monmouth Street.
Co-owner of Royal Wine & Spirits
24 White Street (corner of English Plaza)
Anvit Trapasia, who came to the United States from India with his family at age 8, opened Royal Wine & Spirits in 2013 with his father and another partner. They now have a second store in Oradell Township, Bergen County.
“I love Red Bank,” said Trapasia, who manages the English Plaza store, which benefits from the many diners picking up wine and beer en route to downtown BYOB restaurants. “I couldn’t have asked for a better spot, and it’s a very diverse crowd.”
Trapasia said he “doesn’t really know” the immigrant experience, having come here so young 27 years ago.
“But I have seen it first-hand, being achieved by my parents, coming here as immigrants, essentially having nothing, and building the quote-unquote ’empire’ that they have today, working their butts off,” he said.
“The American Dream is real, and it’s achievable,” he said.
Owner of Forge
50 English Plaza
Alex Montaperto, who grew up in Pirmasens, Germany, came to New Jersey as a visitor in 1995, at age 21, and wound up marrying an American.
Unlike some of her friends from Germany, “I felt very welcomed here,” she said. “I felt at home.”
After a career in the tradeshow industry, Montaperto opened her interior decor boutique in mid-2020, and managed to hang on through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s actually doable,” she said of creating a retail business. “You can do it in America, whereas in Germany, you go through so much paperwork, and have to pass a test for a certificate. They don’t make it easy.
“When they say ‘the American Dream,’ this is truly what it is,” she said.
[Of the three remaining stores on English Plaza – a nail salon, a pizza franchise and a dog trainer – one is known to be immigrant-owned. The owner did not respond to requests for an interview.]
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