This time we are profiling a successful shop in sunny Florida. I have sat down with @ Café owner Yanni Stathakis to find out his story:
V. Hi Yanni! How did the coffee journey start for you?
S. Hi Max! Well, before coffee, I used to run an entertainment company, which I still own now. We provide stage lighting and sound systems for corporate events. In 2010, I relocated that company from South Florida to Tampa bay. I love coffee, and although there were a couple of coffee shops here, their coffee was really subpar – it wasn’t so good. So my partner George Boulahanis and I decided to open up our own coffee place with our standards that set ourselves apart from everybody else. So we actually just opened up our second location and we are moving forward right now.
V. Tell me about the demographics of your area and your opinion of the Florida coffee scene in general?
S. Tarpon has right around 20,000 people, predominately Greek population – around 65% of total. My partner and I are also of Greek decent. I believe that overall, the Florida coffee scene is still in its fetus form. There aren’t really any outlets in Florida. There is Starbucks and there is us. They are a very corporate style situation. We are your regular “mom and pop” coffee shop, but our customers are guaranteed to receive a consistent, high-quality product and enjoy themselves in a clean, relaxing environment.
V. Why did you choose “@” as part of your business name?
S. It is one of the most recognized symbols in the world. It can mean anything. That is why our website is youareatcafe.com. Someone can say something like “Where are you at?” “I am at @,” etc. Last year we invested in a designer that did our corporate logo. It is very recognizable and people also love it.
V. You have mentioned that your still own an entertainment company. Did you incorporate some aspects of that business in your café operation?
S. Sure! We like to complement the whole coffee scene with the live-entertainment concept. Since we are an entertainment company we believe it is a good marriage. So whenever we want, we do special events – we bring out a Dj and live performers.
V. Do you think that running events like these helps your business?
S. Absolutely. Actually people expect that entertainment aspect from us since we are very popular here in the entertainment field. However, we keep it minimal, so that our customers don’t expect it all the time and get distracted from our true purpose – serving great coffee. That is why we do these types of entertainment in our shop as special events only.
V. I have noticed some comments about your shop describing you as a “European style” café. What does that mean?
S. Atmosphere for one, when you aren’t just coming in grabbing a coffee and running away, but you actually are encouraged to sit down, talk, or work here. Americans are now getting used to social coffee drinking and before it was all about speed. We are trying to say that coffee is a treat, it is not meant to be a rushed pastime. Second, our special attention. When we serve coffee here, we always give out a complementary bottle of water, and people absolutely love it because when you drink coffee you want water. We always try to give away something extra whether it is the attention and/or product. And last, the consistency of our coffee. I believe that a lack of consistency is the biggest enemy of local coffee business, so we hire and train our staff to deliver consistent product on a day – to – day basis with no exceptions.
V. What is one huge thing you learned about successful café operations?
S. The one major thing that we learned is the typecasting. We didn’t want to be labeled as just a Greek café. When you are labeled as something (like Italian, Spanish, Arabic, etc.) your business usually has a hard time growing, exploring other dimensions. We learned it the hard way, that is why our original location was sold to one of my best friends, who pretty much expanded his restaurant into our café and kept our menu.
V. I have noticed some unusual drinks on your menu like Nescafe Frappé, Nescafe Frappécino. Can you tell me more about them?
S. Those are Esspressions – our signature drinks. They are part of our concept blueprint. We took very popular Greek coffee drinks and gave them our own twist. Also, the Nescafe that we use is not a Nescafe that you find at your local supermarket. Our Nescafe comes from Greece and it is different.
V. I know that Florida currently is experiencing an ample flow of foreigners moving in. How does it affect your business?
S. It actually makes it easier for us. When somebody is driving on the highway and they see our Lavazza sign – it reminds them of home. For example, people from Italy: the second they see the Lavazza sign, they stop and pull in, boom! Then of course the American population, they come in and want to try something new, something other than Starbucks.