GoStats web counter “FOR FIVE COFFEE”: FROM QUEENS, FOR THE WORLD – NEO Magazine


By on December 28, 2023

The American coffee scene is a burgeoning one and has been for decades.   From artisanal coffees that share shelves with the traditional giants of the industry to the myriad of coffee chains and boutique cafes that dot almost every corner of the US, one would think that entering the business – let alone finding enormous success – would be quite the challenge for even the most intrepid. But, for For Five Coffee Roasters, a New York-based company, it has been nothing short of a gilded triumph. The company, founded in 2010 as a small batch roaster working out of Maspeth, Queens, has grown into a multi-faceted empire that not only includes a roasting facility of its own signature blends but a major distribution entity that supplies clients – restaurants, hotels, and companies – all over the country.

But, even more remarkably, For Five has entered the retail space with resounding fanfare. They opened their first retail café in New York City in 2016 and now have over 35 locations around the country including one in Athens, Greece. They’ve even expanded their operations to own and operate over 150 corporate cafes. And they’re still not done.

For Five Coffee is the brainchild of two childhood best friends from Queens, New York, Stefanos Vouvoudakis and Tom Tsiplakos, who landed on a great, big idea and have steered it towards an entrepreneurial slam dunk. The company takes its name from New York City’s five boroughs and takes pride in those local roots, as a truly East Coast luxury roaster. But, the two co-founders would tell you they’re only just getting started, the proper mindset for any visionaries. They’ve even just opened their first full-scale restaurant, Balos, in Washington, DC to appeal to the palates of the world’s movers and shakers.

NEO sat down with Vouvoudakis and Tsiplakos to get the details of their great success story:

You’ve known each other since the third grade. Growing up did you both know that you’d eventually start a business together? Or was it more of a reconnection as adults?

Vouvoudakis: Tom and I have stayed friends since third grade and always joked around about starting a business together but didn’t actually consider it seriously until 2008/2009. I always believed Tom would be the perfect partner—we share the same work ethic but also have different strengths which make us the perfect balance.

What was the vision that guided you guys to venture into what most lay people would assume is a very competitive industry? How did you envision standing out from other luxury coffee brands?

Vouvoudakis: We always felt that our product was the best. We never cut corners, especially when it came to our roasting process. Once we established the different blends and perfected our recipes, we knew there was an opportunity to do more than roast, package and distribute coffee beans – especially considering our hospitality backgrounds; this is when we truly realized the potential we were brewing.

What were the challenges you faced as new entrepreneurs during the startup period? How were you able to grow so big, so fast?

Tsiplakos: When starting a company, you always remember the challenges – no matter how big or small – because those are the experiences you learn the most from. The biggest challenge we faced was scaling the business. To piggyback off that: how to continue scaling at the same rate when you have opened up your brand to different segments (i.e. retail, bakery program, new markets, etc.)  We determined that scaling it correctly would allow a seamless and secure growth.

Your main facility – where it all began – is located in Maspeth, Queens. Both of you are Queens natives and the “For Five” part of your brand name is an homage to New York’s five boroughs. How important was this hometown identity with the brand?

Tsilpakos: Extremely important. We feel lucky and very proud we are from Queens. Whenever we are meeting new clients & friends – no matter where we are – we proudly will say we’re from Queens versus saying we are from New York. Queens has a special energy. Being from this borough has shaped us into who we are today. The life lessons we were taught will stay in our hearts and be passed on to future generations.

What were the memorable moments since you started that stood out and made you say: “Wow, this dream of ours has really exceeded our own high expectations!”

Vouvoudakis: The way we have expanded and the rate we have expanded at, for sure. Tom and I started For Five with dreams of giving New Yorkers locally roasted coffee. Made by New Yorkers. That dream began in 2009.  Fast forward to 2016, and we are opening our first retail location in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Fast forward to now, and we have over 35 retail locations nationwide. To expand the footprint beyond what we initially expected was when we knew we could give the world not only a better cup of coffee, but a whole new way of enjoying their coffee as well.

You opened your first retail store in 2016. And now you have 35 across the US as well a store in Athens. Was this always part of your initial vision? Are there more stores in the future?

Vouvoudakis: Once we opened our first midtown Manhattan location in 2016, we knew we had something special. For Five is a coffee brand, but also a hospitality and lifestyle brand. While the coffee is the secret sauce of our brand, there are so many more elements we have incorporated to create an elevated experience at For Five: our architecture, the equipment, investment in a bakery partner to create artisanal fresh-baked pastries daily, as well as bringing on an executive chef to curate an amazing breakfast and lunch menu. We also have an in-house technician and marketing team to keep the brand consistently operative and innovative. We are now up to 150 corporate cafes, and have 8 new locations in the works for 2024, with more to come!

How does For Five contribute to sustainability in an industry that is known for such commitment?

Tsiplakos:  For Five has made it a priority to do our part in increasing sustainability efforts over the last few years. We started by upgrading our roasting facility, replacing traditional lighting with as many LED bulbs as possible and perfecting our roasting process in order to reduce our energy footprint, while still producing a top-tier product. Establishing the exact roasting process for each of our blends has enabled us to produce less waste. When sourcing green coffees, we try to use as many fair-trade options as possible, as well as rainforest alliance approved coffees. Our green coffee partners are also instrumental in establishing relationships with sustainable farms and bringing in many of the coffees that we use in our facility.

Not ones to rest on your laurels, you’ve just entered the full-service restaurant space with Balos Estiatorio in Washington, DC. This must be an exciting new venture. Are there plans for more in the future?

Vouvudakis: We are beyond excited to have opened Balos Estiatorio with our friend and business partner Joe Ragonese in DuPont Circle, Washington DC. This has been a three year project that finally came to life in November 2023, and we couldn’t be prouder. We believe there is no other comparable dining experience in the area, and D.C. was in need of a high-end Greek dining concept. We are grateful the first two months have gone so well and are look forward to continuing the Balos expansion.

What’s life like outside the For Five business day? How do co- founders relax or engage with the world beyond the office? Are you involved in the Greek community?

Vouvoudakis: “Relax” hasn’t really been one of the words in our vocabulary the last 14 years! But I do feel we have started to enjoy the time off we do have. Our infrastructure at this stage has allowed us to spend more time with our friends and families creating memories, for which we are very grateful. We’re very involved in the entire community, especially within our neighborhoods and the different markets we have locations in. We try and give back as much as we can to everyone who has and keeps supporting us.

What’s the best advice for any of those who are just embarking on their entrepreneurial journey?

Tsiplakos: Make a business plan and follow it. Believe in your vision. Wake up early. Stay late. Go the extra mile. It is always less crowded there. Put in the time. No shortcuts. Nothing is ever easy but once you accomplish your goals there is no better feeling. There is no ceiling; the sky is the limit. One of the lessons we live by – which we learned from our best friend and partner Michael Bapis of Rockefeller Vios, as well as Michael Psyllos, CEO of Alma Bank – is that work ethic and creating relationships through consistent networking are key; it is extremely pivotal to growth.

About Athena Efter