RED SOFA: ENGLISH PLAZA, LIGHTLY ACCENTED

Most of the shops along the strip are immigrant owned. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

The street is called English Plaza, after a former mayor of Red Bank. But for most companies in the short block, English is a second language.

Of the eight stores in the one-story strip, at least six are immigrant-owned. That far exceeds 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 improvement store, a beauty parlor, and a liquor store.

Raul Tepoz
Owner of the InBetween Café
56 English Square

Raul Tepoz, a 44-year-old Mexican immigrant, came to the United States at age 16 and soon landed his first job: working as a dishwasher at the InBetween (then owned by German immigrants).

He didn’t expect to stay, but instead “work, save some money and go back,” he told redbankgreen recently. But he started a family at the age of 21 and stayed.

After four years, Tepoz moved on to other jobs and tried to launch his own grocery store in Long Branch and a restaurant in Lake Como, both of which went bankrupt.

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, to know that “life isn’t easy, but here they have every opportunity to make it. This depends on the person.”

Leo Luu and Jennifer Nguyen
Victoria Beauty Lounge Owners
58 English Square

Jennifer Nguyen bought a nail salon in Eatontown in 1999, seven years after emigrating from Vietnam. Six years later, she and her husband, Leo Luu, also a native of Vietnam, moved the company to Little Silver and then to English Plaza in 2014.

Like some other entrepreneurs in the area, she has experienced “a little” discrimination, Nguyen said. But she’s “blessed to have clients who recognize what I can do for them,” and to love her job, she said.

The store, which Nguyen calls her “second daughter,” is named after her 22-year-old daughter, a recent University of Delaware graduate.

“With the company I got my daughter through university. That was my dream,” she says. “I’ve improved my life, I’ve improved my daughter’s life, and I can take care of my mother.”

Luu, her husband of 15, said he appreciates the “joyful atmosphere” of Red Bank.

Vicky Lic
Co-owner of Oriental Empire
54 English square

Vicky Li emigrated from China with her mother and brother from China 15 years ago, after her father established a beachhead for the family in Texas, where he opened a restaurant.

As a teenager she helped. The family now owns Oriental Empire, which opened in 2014 at English Plaza.

“I really appreciate our customers,” said Li, especially those who stayed with the restaurant during the pandemic, when it only operated for takeout. Even now, “sometimes we are understaffed, or one order can take longer than others, and they are very patient with us,” she said.

Li also owned the short-lived Mini Shop gift boutique on Monmouth Street.

Anvit Trapasia
Co-owner of Royal Wine & Spirits
24 White Street (corner of English Plaza)

Anvit Trapasia, who came to the United States with his family from India at the age of 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,” says Trapasia, who runs the English Plaza store, which takes advantage of the many diners picking up wine and beer on their way to the downtown BYOB restaurants. “I couldn’t have asked for a better place, and it’s a very diverse crowd.”

Trapasia said he “doesn’t really know the immigrant experience” because he came here so young 27 years ago.

“But I’ve seen it firsthand, it’s been accomplished by my parents, who came here as immigrants, essentially have nothing, and built the unquoted ’empire’ they have today, working hard,” he said.

“The American Dream is real, and it’s achievable,” he said.

Alex Montaperto
Owner of Forge
50 English square

Growing up in Pirmasens, Germany, Alex Montaperto came to New Jersey in 1995 at the age of 21 as a visitor and eventually married an American.

Unlike some of her friends from Germany, “I felt very welcome here,” she said. “I felt at home.”

After a career in the trade fair industry, Montaperto opened her interior boutique in mid-2020 and managed to keep up with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s actually doable,” she said of setting up a retail business. “You can do it in America, while in Germany you go through so much paperwork and have to pass an exam for a certificate. They don’t make it easy.

“When they say ‘the American dream,’ this really is 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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