Thomas Stevens and Paul Elyseev, the owners of Hot Sand, started the glass blowing business as a small studio in Asbury Park. Both would go and blow glass regularly and enjoyed it. At one point, the owner of their space was concerned about the safety of the operation and asked them to move to a different location.
“Paul thought that would be the end of our glass blowing days and was ready to throw in the towel,” Stevens said.
“I told him that there was no way that we would just give up and I suggested that we would just take all of our equipment, along with a little capital and move down toward the boardwalk to a different space.”
After moving, the pair renovated the entire space, installing all of Elyseev’s glass blowing equipment. “After a short time there, we both came to a decision that we would make this more than just a fun hobby and we steered our efforts toward making it a fulltime business,” Stevens said. “I left my job in the city and spent most of my days down by the boardwalk helping Paul keep this business afloat after we opened in 2007.”
Stevens and Elyseev came to the business from different backgrounds. Eylseev, attended Jacksonville University in Florida and got a degree in glass and sculpture. “During my senior year, my confidence level was riding high and I had a conversation one night with one of my fraternity brothers,” Elyseev said. “He asked me about my future plans and I told him that I would eventually open up a studio and blow glass professionally.
I had this idea in my head that I would make art and people would automatically buy it. I look back on that conversation and cannot believe how naïve I was. Even so, I made a promise to myself at that time that I would be doing this for a living and be self-sustaining with this business by age 35 or 40.”
Stevens, on the other hand, has a different story. After moving to Amsterdam and living there for a short while, he found a glass blowing studio there and started practicing through a program of workshops. “I ended up taking every single one of them within the first year,” Stevens said. “After practicing for a while and picking everything up pretty quickly, the owners of the store offered me to first supervise the workshops and then lead them altogether.
I accepted their offer and got to work teaching the workshops and showing others how to blow glass.”
While Stevens and Elyseev come from different backgrounds and have their own experience with glass blowing, they did not get serious until they crossed paths in Asbury Park.
“After I moved to Asbury Park in 2004 and was building my house, I had already been practicing glass blowing for six or seven years,” Stevens said. “One of the first things I wanted to look for was a glass blowing store. I got into town one day and went into one of the businesses asking if there was a glass blowing establishment around anywhere. The guy I spoke to kind of scratched his head for a moment and then remembered Paul’s studio, at which point he gave me Paul’s number to contact him.”
“After Tom contacted me, we instantly clicked and had a lot of things in common, as far as our experience with glass blowing,” Elyseev said. “Also, we are very compatible with our work ethic, but we have a really great business relationship, which I was telling him the other day. Sometimes, business partners get mixed up in who is doing what right or wrong and start to resent each other or eventually grow apart. That certainly is not the case and has not been ever since we first met.”
After opening at their second location and deciding to start a business, the owners of the space raised the rent and other costs, so they once again moved, this time, to Cookeman Avenue, in the heart of downtown Asbury Park.
“We moved onto Cookeman at the perfect time that Asbury Park was really coming back,” Elyseev said. “The rent is pretty stable, even though it is constantly climbing. Cookeman is a great place to have a running business because there is so much customer influx in and around it. We really got lucky with the location and it has contributed to our overall success.”
WHAT IT TAKES
For those who have never heard of glass blowing, it is the process of using a blowpipe to expand molten glass into different shapes and sizes that are then manipulated into artistic designs. The practice seems to be getting more popular.
“It definitely has a niche in New Jersey as there are a few operating studios around the area,” said Jim Yack, the manager of Hot Sand. “There are programs to go and see exhibitions and you can follow artists and residents that are studying and working there. It’s an ancient art form and it tends to stick with people. From the first time they see it, it has an appeal on a wide range scale. It is a very versatile medium.”
The number of people necessary for glass blowing on the scale of the operation. “It takes two to four people to make glass,” Yack said. “If you want to bring it to the public the way we do, it will take five to ten people.”
As with all businesses, glass blowing requires a solid business plan. “It’s a question of what people will do or see or buy when they come to your studio,” Yack said. “Some programs are tethered to a school, so they draw students that are studying glass blowing. They have a constant flow of emerging talent. It also takes access to the equipment needed to do the job. In order to do glass blowing, you have to have a furnace and chamber to heat it in, an oven to cool it off in and you have to have a whole station to polish it up and clean it. The threshold for glass-blowing is very high.”
Other than local permitting requirements, there are no regulatory prerequisites. “It’s not like you get a license to be a nurse or a dentist,” Yack said. “It really doesn’t work that way. There are different roads into glass blowing depending on the individual and experience that it takes to be a successful glass blower.”
At Hot Sand, customers are offered individual activities that include creating drinking glasses, candy dishes and eggs, among others. In addition, customers can host team workshops to learn the ins and outs of glassblowing, as well as booking the entire facility for corporate team-building events, video/photo shoots, weddings and evening events.
Even though Hot Sand was shut down for a little while during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the partners kept busy and put a lot of time into preparation, so that when they did open their doors, they were ready to get back into full swing.
“It was a little difficult to imagine how much business we would do after the re-opening period and we were actually surprised by how many customers came in to try out our studio,” Stevens said. “People were coming in and buying different products from us that we never really expected at that point and time. Even now, people are still coming back and giving us business, which we are very grateful for. We are currently in the stages of climbing upward to the numbers we did last year and we couldn’t be happier.”
As Hot Sand looks toward the future, Stevens and Elyseev just want to keep up their pace but think there might be another Hot Sand location sometime soon. “That is still something in the back of our minds that we are really thinking about doing,” Stevens said. “We have just seen what we can achieve with our current store and we would love to have another location that offers that same degree of fun and creativity.”