The Fourth Generation At The Helm
AN INTERVIEW WITH CEO AND PRESIDENT
Prior to joining Vassilaros Coffee, Stefanie enjoyed a successful Wall Street career in corporate law and investment banking. Trading in her corner office for the family business, she recently took the helm of the century old company which roasts millions of pounds of coffee a year in a 25,000 square foot facility in Queens. Between riding along on the company’s delivery trucks, Stefanie shares with us her experience and what lessons can be learned from a business founded nearly 100 years ago.
Vassilaros Coffee is nearly 100 years old; tell us about the founder, your great grandfather, John A. Vassilaros and the secret to his success.
My great grandfather, John Vassilaros came to America from Ikaria in the early 1900’s. Like many of his countrymen, he came with almost nothing in his pockets. He started out working as a waiter, holding down two jobs and taught himself English at night. To gain financial independence, he and his wife, Sofia, roasted and packed coffee in their kitchen and delivered it on foot to their first costumers. As his business grew, he helped other Greek immigrants by providing finance and other support to open their restaurants and become established in America.
He focused on quality in everything he did and on building relationships. He knew that if his customers were successful, his business would grow too. One restaurant in a family became five. People were very loyal to him. He baptized hundreds of children up and down the East Coast. There was no separation between business and family. He treated his employees like family, even sending some of them to school, marrying them off and helping them start their own businesses.
I never had the chance to meet him; he died just before I was born. Growing up, he was a legend to us. But now that I sit in his chair and walk in his steps, I am in learning so much more about him and I am in awe. Think about if you could go back a hundred years and write a business plan that would last a hundred years – this is what would it look like. He was a giver and his generosity of spirit turned out to be a sustainable business model for nearly a century.
Vassilaros first store.
Vassilaros has a long history and standing in the community. How are things the same or different then in those days?
Well, first off, everything is bigger. The company, the market - at the start, my great grandfather sold as much coffee as he and his son, Anthony, could physically carry on their backs. Today we have a fleet of ten trucks, five smaller vans and a team of equipment mechanics crisscrossing the New York Area every day. Literally, millions of cups of Vassilaros Coffee are served every week. Also, the trends are changing quickly and there is real challenge to keep up. So things are bigger and faster and more competitive than ever.
But what hasn’t changed, and will never change is our commitment to quality and a dedication to our customers. These are timeless principles. All my predecessors brought something different to the company. My great grandfather was an entrepreneur, my grandfather was a people person who loved being with the customers. My uncle John had a talent for buying green coffee. He modernized and perfected the blends we produce today. My father, George, has been with the company for forty years and is passionate about sales and service. What we all have in common is that we take a very long term view. When you do that, the culture of the business and the decisions naturally follow. We take a conservative approach and have never sacrificed our quality for short term gain.
We understand you had a corporate career before joining the family business. How has that shaped your approach to the business?
AS ORTHODOX Christian leaders prepare for what has been billed as their most important gathering for centuries, they have many problems to wrestle with. One, as widely reported already, is the chronically uneasy relationship between the two best-known of those leaders, the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew I, and Patriarch Kirill of Moscow. It is Patriarch Bartholomew, in his capacity as "first among equals" in the Orthodox hierarchy who is organising and hosting the Synod; but many eyes, both wary and admiring, will be on his Russian guest, who along with his huge entourage has just toured South America, and made a foray into Antarctica.
Still, plans for the "Holy and Great Council" are on track and preparations are gathering pace. The meeting is now due to happen between June 16th and June 27th; the venue was switched from Istanbul to the Greek island in deference to the Russian participants, whose government is at loggerheads with Turkey.
But apart from finessing their various differences with each another, most of the 14 leaders, patriarchs and archbishops meeting on Crete will have to look behind their shoulders at ultra-conservative critics in their respective home patches, who find the whole idea of church diplomacy rather suspicious. Those critics will be looking out for anything that seems at variation with Orthodox tradition, or which appears to be watering down Orthodox Christianity's claim to be the repository of Christian truth at its purest.
Πρωτοβουλίες της Pan Gregorian NJ
Απ' ευθείας συµφωνίες µε βιοµηχανίες επιδιώκει η Pan Gregorian NJ, όπως ο τσαίρµαν κ. Γιάννης Σακελλάρης και ο πρόεδρος κ. Γιώργος Σιαµπούλης πληροφόρησαν το Estiator σε πρόσφατη συνοµιλία τους µε τον εκδότη του περιοδικού µας.
Και οι δυο είπαν ότι είναι καιρός για αλλαγή στον τρόπου που µέχρι τώρα γινόταν τα συµβόλαια της εταιρίας και το πρώτο βήµα έγινε µε το κέτσαπ µάρκας RED GOLD, το οποίο προσφέρεται τώρα στα µέλη παράλληλα µε προϊόν της ίδιας εταιρίας που πακετάρεται µε το έµβληµα της Pan Gregorian, το οποίο είναι ελαφρώς ακριβότερο από το κανονικό προϊόν. Αυτό εξασφαλίζει σηµαντικές οικονοµίες στον επιχειρηµατία αφού αγοράζει το κιβώτιο των 24 κοµµατιών προς $27.50 και $28.50, αντί των $31.00-$37.00 που πληρώνει για τις γνωστές µάρκες. Το προϊόν αυτό χρησιµοποιεί ο κ. Σιαµπούλης στο Tom Sawer Diner στο Paramus τα τελευταία 5 χρόνια και ο κ. Σακελλάρης 4 χρόνια. Και οι δυο τόνισαν ότι αυτό το κέτσαπ είναι ακριβώς το ίδιο στη γεύση και ποιότητα. Δοκιµές γεύσης µε τις άλλες δυο γνωστότερες µάρκες απέδειξαν ότι δεν µπορεί κανείς να ξεχωρίσει την διαφορά.
Ταυτοχρόνως, η εταιρία ψάχνει και άρχισε ήδη συνεντεύξεις µε ενδιαφεροµένους για την ανάθεση σε ένα ικανό πρόσωπο τις επαφές µε διανοµείς και βιοµηχάνους προς εξασφάλιση των καλύτερων τιµών. Σ' αυτό αποδίδουν ιδιαίτερη σηµασία και οι δυο ανώτεροι αξιωµατούχοι της εταιρίας.
Ένα άλλο µεγάλο πρόβληµα που αντιµετωπίζει η εταιρία είναι η προσέλκυση νέων στην ηλικία εστιατόρων για θέσεις στο Διοικητικό Συµβούλιο. Και µε ιδιαίτερη ικανοποίηση ανέφεραν τον Στέλιο Κοντολιό, ο οποίος µπήκε στο συµβούλιο µε τις εκλογές του Ιανουαρίου. Όλοι οι άλλοι αξιωµατούχοι και µέλη του συµβουλίου επανεξελέγησαν. Ο κ. Στέλιος Κοντολιός µε τα αδέλφια του Γιάννη και Δηµήτρη, είναι ιδιοκτήτες τριών πολύ πετυχηµένων diner. Της Northvale Classic Diner, της Tenafly Classic Diner και της Sparta Classic Diner στις οµώνυµες πόλεις του New Jersey. Άλλο νέο µέλος του συµβουλίου από πέρυσι, είναι ο κ. Χρ. Πρέντζας, του Westmont Diner στην οµώνυµη πόλη.