Careers don’t necessarily develop in a straight line. For example, Thomas Maroulakos ’10 studied Fashion Design at Montclair State, yet he and his brother Dean ‘07 are best known for reimagining New Jersey’s dining scene.
So how does one go from fashion professional to restaurateur? In Maroulakos’ case, it started at Montclair State.
“Montclair State was the only college I applied to,” he tells us. “It’s kind of a family thing. My parents, wife, brother, and sister-in-law all attended Montclair State. I chose Fashion Design as my major, and by the time I started my career in luxury fashion Dean, who earned his MFA at Montclair State, was already working as a theater set designer.”
But corporate life was not as satisfying as he had hoped. “Although I grew up in Wayne, I spent a lot of time in Nutley, where my grandparents lived,” he says. “Dean and I heard that the Nutley Pub, an old neighborhood bar, was up for sale.”
Dean had already gotten a taste of the restaurant business through investments with co-workers, and he had been applying his theater design skills to dining environments. The brothers teamed up to transform the local dive into Cowan’s Public, which opened in 2015. The restaurant combines the best of everything – gourmet menu, craft beer, classic cocktails, and 1930s charm – into a stellar casual dining experience.
With Cowan’s Public up and running, they were soon looking for their next project. The Barrow House, a 230-seat farmhouse in Clifton set on land that was once a farm and grove, became the next Maroulakos hit, and Skopós Hospitality Group was born. They added The Vanguard, in a Harrison location that was once a 1940s factory, and Franklin Social – Tavern and Garden in Jersey City, which calls to mind a colonial public house. A fifth location is on the horizon. While each of the Skopós restaurants has a unique menu and atmosphere, all share a commitment to creating memorable experiences for patrons.
“As the company grows, expansion becomes more efficient,” Maroulakos notes. “But it can be hard to let go. Finding the right people makes all the difference.”
Maroulakos credits his Montclair State education with preparing him to be a visionary leader. “The Montclair State program covered the totality of the field,” he explains. “In addition to textiles and the craft aspects of fashion design, I learned business and statistics. Public speaking, which was part of several classes in addition to a course on its own, prepared me to make presentations.”
“In fact, some of my most valuable classroom experiences weren’t even in my major,” Maroulakos adds. “I took a class on the creative process,” he recalls. “It was so inspirational that it changed my entire perspective. Sometimes the things you don’t think you’ll get anything out of end up being the most transformative.”
Maroulakos’ time at Montclair State was life-transforming in other ways as well. “I met my wife on campus,” he recalls. “I remember the day we first passed each other on a stair landing in University Hall. We had an instant connection!”
With four-going-on-five businesses in northern New Jersey, Maroulakos finds himself passing through Montclair State fairly regularly. “I admire the growth of the University these past years,” he says.
He is particularly interested in the University’s work regarding food security, such as the University Campus Community Garden and the Students Within the Campus Foodscape survey conducted by Chris Snyder, MPH and Dr. Lauren Dinour, DrPH, RD, CLC. These initiatives are in direct response to the financial realities faced by many of the University’s students.
“This is why schools like Montclair State are so important,” he says. “Students can get a great education without financial hardship. It really opens up opportunities for people. The important thing is to focus on giving it your all.”