Recently, Gregorys Coffee opened in Melville and Deer Park, and has been a welcome addition to the Long Island coffeeshop scene. Dad of three Gregory Zamfotis founded the company in 2006, inspired by his own father who owned fast casual restaurants in NYC. “I had an epiphany about midway through my tenure at law school, realizing I had more of the entrepreneurial spirit than I originally thought and wanted to start a business. My father gave me a kick start, and ever since, Gregorys has been a labor of love for me, sixteen years and counting,” recalls Greg, who lives in Rye Brook with his wife Shalaine and their three children, Haiden (6.5), Hanneli (4.5) and Hugo (20 months).
Shalaine and Greg have been a business team since the first location (they now have 36), working side by side to make their business a destination for exceptional coffee and freshly baked, healthy pastries. We spoke to this husband-wife team about launching new stores, the business advice they give their kids, and more.
Can you please tell us about Gregorys Coffee, for anyone who is not yet familiar?
Greg: Gregorys is a family-run, specialty coffee company that began in 2006 in New York City. From the very beginning I wanted to create something different, something special. At that time, I felt there weren’t very many options for a good cup of coffee in the heart of Manhattan (that seems hard to believe now—but it was true!) If you found yourself in Midtown or the Financial District, your options were Starbucks, Dunkin or a deli. There were a few other great coffee operators, but they were on the edges of the city or in Brooklyn. I said, let’s build something in the heart of the city that serves amazing coffee and can do it quickly.
From the start people liked what we were doing, and as the years went on and I refined our concept, we built a loyal following of Gregulars and now we have grown to 36 locations across 3 states and DC. We roast our own coffee in NYC, we are a scratch bakery with fresh pastries baked in stores throughout the day, and we have a huge plant-based offering. We pride ourselves on having unique and innovative menu items and getting it to you quickly. Most importantly, I think we have the best team in coffee.
What separates Gregorys from other coffee shops?
Greg: Our experience and our menu is fully authentic. We aren’t doing things because they are trendy, we are doing things that are important to us and speak to who we are as a company. I am plant-based myself, so the heavy plant-based influence on our menu is very personal to me and also connects with many of our guests.
Shalaine: I was a design student at the Parsons School of Design when Greg first started. I could see he had passion and hustle, as well as lifelong experience, but in all honesty at the beginning the aesthetics, the look and feel weren’t there. To say we have come a long way would be an understatement. I now couldn’t be more proud of every aspect of what Gregorys is and what it stands for. Greg and his team have created a menu with delicious and interesting items, but important for me is they are made with simple and clean ingredients. That is how we eat at home, so it was important to me that we had that same style at Gregorys.
Love that. How do you choose where to open your locations—most recently, Long Island and Greenwich?
Greg: As passionate as I am about coffee and Gregorys, real estate is a very big piece of what I do. A big part of our success over the years has been due to selecting the right locations. We started Gregorys in NYC, and for many years we were only opening new locations in the city. As we expanded we started to focus on other areas that we thought had a need for a Gregorys.
Long Island has been on our radar for some time. There are so many bustling communities and we found there were so many people living on the Island that commute into New York City that we had a really strong brand reputation already, so we made a real push to find amazing locations. So we opened a store in Deer Park in the center of town, right next to the high school and we couldn’t be happier there. Next was Melville, in a new development project on Walt Whitman Road. The Melville / Huntington trade areas are some of the most desirable on the Island and the community has been incredible from Day 1.
When our family moved to the Greenwich area we found ourselves spending a lot of time on the Avenue, and it became clear to me pretty quickly that this was such a premier destination in the area, filled with amazing retailers, so we needed to get there. We found a space that we knew would be gorgeous once we got our hands on it, and it would have enough room for a lot of interior seating which I felt was really hard to find on the Avenue. We couldn’t be more thrilled with being in Greenwich!
What’s your favorite menu item?
Greg: I start my morning every day with a shot and a chaser, ha! Espresso and drip coffee that is—always black. My go-to food items are our Crunchy Power Bite, our Buzz Bowl (made with sweet potatoes!) and our Vegan Burrito. All A++ for me.
Shalaine: The Dark Enough blend at Gregorys makes my heart smile. Always a size large—need the fuel to take on the three tikes and two pups. Lately I have been indulging on the Vegan Peanut Butter Cookie.
What advice would you give to your own kids if they wanted to open a business?
Greg: Our two older kids love working behind the counter! Funny enough, I told my son Haiden recently that one day this would all be his. He said “What? Really? That is so cool. Wait, I don’t want to work as hard as you”. I cracked up. I think for me, finding something you love to do and are passionate about are the most important things when selecting a career. So if any of my kids wanted to eventually do what I do, it would be amazing, but I would not force it on them. When you have the passion, it no longer becomes “work” and I believe that is when you have the best results and the most satisfaction.
Shalaine: Seeing how hard Greg works all day every day, I am not sure I am ready to tell our kids to go and do the same, but I do think there is something to be said about showing our kids how hard work and effort pay off. I just want our kids to be happy and healthy and we want to give them all the tools they need to make the best decision they can for themselves when the time is right.
What’s next for Gregorys Coffee?
Greg: We will be opening in Darien, CT + Woodbury, Long Island later this year and we are super excited to be in those towns. And after that, we’re planning to build even more stores, and be in new formats (like mobile carts!)
We will continue to try new things, innovate and improve what we are doing and immerse ourselves in our communities because at the end of the day that is what it is all about. Making great coffee and food are only a part of the mix; serving them up to great people and starting conversations and connections is so important for me. If you’ve seen me in one of the cafes you will probably see me chatting with people and that is because I don’t pay lip service to building community—I relish it. There are friendships I have made over the sixteen years doing this that started as a cup of coffee and now we are lifelong friends. If you ever see me in the store, make sure you come say hi.
This story is sponsored by Gregorys Coffee.