Bodega Coffee Flavor, Brewed Right in Your Kitchen
BY SARA RUFFIN COSTELLO
“I’ve been a salesman all my life,” said John Vassilaros, a third-generation coffee maker whose family company, Vassilaros and Sons, has been peddling its home-roasted, hand-blended beans around New York, New Jersey and Connecticut for nearly a century. “The trick to selling is don’t talk too much,” he added. “Just let them taste it.” He wouldn’t dream of leaving a pound of coffee behind for prospective clients to try later. Instead, he gets behind the counter to brew up Vassilaros and Sons’ trademark brew for side-by-side taste tests. He claims he usually wins. The proof is in the ubiquity of his familiar-tasting medium roast, a complex blend of South American beans prepared every Tuesday in Queens, which can be found in hundreds of New York City delis, bodegas and coffee shops, not to mention restaurants like the Boathouse Restaurant in Central Park.
Now, for the first time, the company is selling its product straight to consumers. There’s its 1918 line, named for the year the company began operating in New York, and an espresso blend, Vassi, which fans can purchase online. Vassilaros sees the brand as the anti-Starbucks. “Coffee used to be an inexpensive pleasure,” he lamented. “Everyone’s gotten so serious about the pour. Save your money and put a down payment on a house.” As evidence of his knack for salesmanship, his populism and his deep New York roots, Vassilaros recently started a satirical campaign for New York City mayor. His slogan: “The right man, the right coffee.”