The Art of Natural Stone
Bella Stone, Inc. combines wonders of nature with 25 years of experience and collective knowledge
Mario Montes, owner of Bella Stone, Inc. in Jacksonville, Florida, knows what it’s like to embark on an unknown path and get established in a new country. In 1993, he came to the United States from El Salvador, went straight to Boston and started in the granite business—a new country, a new language and a new occupation simultaneously. “I was hired by a Greek guy who was opening up an additional shop in Miami, Florida,” Montes says. “He asked me if I was willing to travel to Florida from Massachusetts.”
Commuting…from Massachusetts to Miami
Because of the language challenge, Montes and his boss thought Miami would be a great place for him to work as he learned English. “At that time, I noticed mostly Greeks and Italians in the granite market. Then, little by little, I saw Brazilians, Chinese and the Spanish population take over as new technology and new trends in granite developed,” Montes says. He stayed in Miami for one year only. Because all his family lived in Massachusetts, he went back to the company’s home office.
Earning His Way to a Dream
Montes continued working for the same company from 1993 to 1999; then he decided to open his own shop in Massachusetts. The original company he worked for was bought by a Canadian named Jim Gerrity and the firm’s name became GerrityStone. Things started to change, and the new owner decided to dispose of all the old machinery and buy new machines.
“I asked him if I could buy one of the machines for myself. He was kind and said, ‘Of course,’ ” Montes says. He told Montes to make 10 kitchens for him in exchange for one of the old machines. After eagerly saying he would, Montes had a moment of apprehension. “What kind of kitchens would these 10 turn out to be? They could have been huge kitchens with fancy-edged countertops as opposed to standard edges. But, it turned out to be a great deal. The kitchens required only regular material and straight polish,” Montes says. After finishing the projects for Gerrity, Montes received the machine, found a place to install it and opened a business of his own. “I am proud of Montes Marble and Granite. Started with little capital, the company became the realization of a big dream,” Montes says.
Controlling Tools, Time and Quality
“My main motivation was to be free of limitations. I wanted control of the tools, my time and the types of the material offered,” Montes says. Granite is a rock with varying levels of appeal much like a diamond versus an emerald. It’s a matter of taste. The same happens with wood—pine versus mahogany. Furniture made of either could be excellent in quality, but the choice depends on preference. The main factors in pricing stone reflect availability, the country of origin and the colors offered. All three impact the cost and the final selection. Most of the time, stone distributors offer three lines—a first quality line, a second quality line and a commercial line.
“Value has to do with the size as well,” Montes explains. “A cheaper slab may measure 110 inches by 50 or 60 inches and require more seams compared to one 140 inches by 80 inches. With smaller slabs, the project may be cut in three pieces and take one or two guys to install. A longer slab could be cut in one piece, but it would require five or six guys to bring it in,” Montes says. “I don’t like to do seams, but sometimes I have to because the slab is not big enough or it doesn’t go through the door so there’s no other option.”
Before the economic crash in 2007, everything was about quality and there were two or three distributors in Massachusetts who offered good stone. Montes had 19 employees and was completing three kitchens daily. After the crash, his firm was hit hard. Most everyone else started looking for the cheapest price. The stone could be less than the best, and basic polishing became the norm. Even so, Montes continued his own business with superior craftsmanship, exceptional customer service and attention to detail.
Once Again Setting Out on a New Venture
In 2018, Montes sold his dream corporation and relocated his family to Jacksonville, Florida, where he started Bella Stone. “Even after 25 years, I couldn’t get used to the snow in Massachusetts. Every year a different record was broken. I knew that if we waited until the kids grew up and we had grandkids, we would never leave,” Montes says. “I plan to continue to do what I love in Northeast Florida.
“I am obsessed with the wonders of nature, the beautiful colors of stone and all the things I can accomplish with it—kitchens, bathrooms, fireplaces, Jacuzzis. All of these and more provide endless opportunities to create pieces of art,” Montes says.
Knowledge, Experience and the Right Tools
Knowledge is important in this industry. Every stone has a unique mineral in it. Granite is mostly quartz, mica and feldspar. Marble is mainly calcium and reacts to acids such as citric acid. Granite will shine in another way than the marble; that’s why specific tools are used on both. Travertine, slate and limestone all have distinct minerals in the stone and each has to be treated in its own way.
“My favorite material for kitchen countertops is granite. There’s nothing better. Nothing compares to 100% natural material even though the popularity of quartz has increased,” Montes says.
“When you have the right knowledge and tools you can make the correct decision and guide a customer to choose the perfect material and accomplish a great job. You know where to put the seam and what equipment to use to cut it and polish it in order to make it look best. Experience, 25 years of it, is also an important commodity,” Montes adds.
Developing a New Dream
“Being the owner and the operator makes a huge difference in my company. I was successful in Massachusetts and I expect to be in Florida,” Montes says. “I have a reputation for excellence. Accuracy requires a template because walls are neither straight nor square. You can’t just take measurements; and mistakes are expensive. I don’t trust anyone to do my template. I do it myself,” Montes continues.
Bella Stone has two employees for a total of three guys working in the 13,000-square-foot facility. “We will build up as we continue getting more work,” Montes says. “We’ve been doing one kitchen fabrication every other week. Most of the jobs we’ve been doing are installations, but we have a good capability for fabrication.”
The crew just finished Starling at Nocatee, an assisted living facility that offers senior living and memory care in Nocatee, Florida, built by LandSouth Construction. The project required 1,700 square feet of custom counters and included 16 bathrooms, two kitchens, and two bars using Viatera quartz from LG Hausys. Bella Stone did everything, including cutting, polishing and installing. The group also worked on JTB Apartments located on A.C. Skinner Parkway in Jacksonville.
“I have experience in every field of the stone industry and can assist in choices of products that will work best for a customer’s needs—from design, to color combination, to what will achieve the optimal result,” Montes says. “It’s an art—the art of natural stone.”