Local businessman carries on his mother’s legacy
Elsa’s House of Sleep, now celebrating 25 years of business, has become a staple along University Avenue in St. Paul. Its owner, Tetra Constantino, named the store after his mother, who established the business.
Constantino was born in Houston but raised in Minneapolis. He emphasized that his mother, Elsa Rezene, came to Minnesota from Eritrea (in East Africa) in the 1960s.
Rezene was an entrepreneur and initially opened a store in downtown Minneapolis. She sold clothing, incense, and did alterations. “She also had another store—in the late ’60s, early ’70s,” Constantino said.
“She was a very intentional person with a vision. She was able to visualize a ton of things.” Rezene’s entrepreneurial interests eventually grew into selling furniture.
The mission and purpose of Elsa’s House of Sleep is “to be a responsible, successful business that provides business services at a reasonable price,” Constantino said. He added, “We provide and fulfill the home and design fashion needs for clients who are on a budget.”
Constantino continued, “If you are trying to get some really nice furniture for a really great price without sacrificing service,” then Elsa’s is the place to shop. He added, “That’s our mission, but my mom’s mission was always about family.”
“What inspired me really was my mom, brother, sister, and my dad. And my uncles, aunts—just my whole family. Especially my mom—she really sacrificed a lot for us to go to school, and raised us. When I was younger, my brother and sister worked with my mom.”
At the time, “I felt that it was time for me to commit and to make a choice, follow my mom’s footsteps of how intentional she was,” Constantino said. He elaborated, “That was like number-one. I felt that it was my turn to prove myself.”
Growing up as the youngest, “I felt that everybody was like working hard.” When he got older, he chose to get involved in the business. “So, when I was 17, I was like, I can do this,” Constantino said. “I took over operations in 2001.”
“After my mom passed away [in 2004], I felt that I had to really continue on—I couldn’t let her down, because she had put so much time and effort into the business,” After his father also passed away, the shop served as a way for Constantino to focus on the family legacy.
“When that happened to me it was a bit kind of like therapy.” Going to work helped occupy his time. “For years I worked without a day off. For many years I worked seven days a week, I mean all through my 20s, even to my 30s. Now I’m in my 40s, so I’m starting to slow down a little bit,” he said.
“It’s not a cakewalk,” Constantino said of owning a business, but there are highlights and rewarding aspects. “The most rewarding is seeing a smile on a customer’s face when we’re able to get them their furniture—and when people share stories about my mom.”
Asked about the most challenging aspect of running a business, Constantino said, “Communication, because you constantly have to have your expectations,” and he has to make sure everyone eats.
The pandemic and civil unrest also created hurdles in the business. “With COVID we had to really pivot our business to focus more on our website. We did appointment-only for a while. It was difficult at the beginning trying to figure out how we do deliveries,” but they managed to overcome the challenges.
Civil unrest caused further disruption in the business. When the fires and riots broke out, “We had stayed over here [in Elsa’s House of Sleep] overnight. I ended up spending the night here at the shop over in St. Paul,” Constantino said.
“The Sports Dome went up in flames. The liquor store was on fire, so I was really glad we stood out here all night,” he said.
By morning, “There were thousands of people cleaning up the neighborhood,” and they helped him board up the shop. “We only had one window broken and one that was cracked,” Constantino added that, like many other local businesses, “We didn’t have riot insurance.”
Constantino shared words of advice for budding entrepreneurs young and old: “Definitely get a mentor. Try to see lessons in everything and nothing is a waste of time. Just try to be open-minded, be patient, and really invest in yourself. Take time in being intentional about it—and write everything down.”
Elsa’s House of Sleep is located at 1441 University Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55104. For more information, visit www.elsasfurniture.com or call 651-647-0225.