Recently, I sat down with friend and New York coffee shop owner Greg Zamfotis to talk coffee and kicks. Both markets are changing rapidly, so I knew Greg would have some good insight on the topics.
Zamfotis earned his bachelor’s degree from Boston University, then went to Brooklyn Law and passed the Bar exam. After school though, he decided to try something different and open his own coffee shop instead of pursuing a career in law. So far, that decision has paid off.
Back when Greg was in college, his father had multiple sandwich shops and delis in New York. While in school, Greg helped manage one of the delis across the street from Brooklyn Law in 2004. “Every time my father would come meet me to see how things were going, we’d always meet at the Starbucks near our store. We would notice a lot of things in Starbucks that we would do differently, things that could make the experience better.”
The New York coffee scene was a lot different back in the mid-00’s. “There was no Caffe Bene, no Fika. Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia weren’t here, Stumptown wasn’t here,” said Zamfotis. “Any specialty coffee shops in New York were on the outskirts of the city where rent was cheaper.”
Zamfotis had a plan to start opening coffee shops in the heart of the city, to compete against Starbucks. In 2006, he opened the first Gregorys Coffee on 24th and Park Ave. “That was the only shop we had for three years. It took us a while to catch our groove and find our niche in the coffee market in New York.”
Overall, coffee shops in New York were evolving rapidly during this time. “People weren’t doing latte art on every cup of coffee. That was not a thing that was happening in the early 2000’s. A lot of the things that have become standard over the past decade or so were things that were just being tested out back then.” And Gregorys Coffee took advantage.
In 2009, Zamfotis opened his second shop on 44th and Ave of the Americas. With the goal of serving better coffee, along with better branding and innovation, the “Gregulars” started coming in waves. Today, there are 12 Gregorys locations in the city, with five more on the way by the end of the year. He’s also building a 7,000 square foot bakery and roasting facility in Long Island City, so that everything will be made and roasted locally.
On top of all that, Zamfotis is an avid sneaker collector. “To my wife’s chagrin, I probably have about 35 pairs of sneakers right now. It would be significantly more if I didn’t have to discard some because of space.” When reminiscing about his favorite pair, Greg expressed a similar sentiment most shoe collectors in their 30s share: “I have these white cement Jordan III’s that I bought in college. My father would never let me purchase expensive sneakers growing up. Anything that cost over $90, he could never justify paying for. As soon as I had a little bit of disposable money of my own, the first thing I did was go on eBay and bought a pair of Jordan III’s. I still own and wear them – there’s significant “yellowing” going on on the back of the shoe but I don’t really care.”
Zamfotis also has several pairs of Nike Dunks, including the Nike SB D.U.N.K.L.E’.s, (a 2004 collab between Nike and MoWax artist U.N.K.L.E.). He owns the Rick Owens Geobaskets, 2 pairs of Jordan VI’s (both the white and black/infrared’s), Nike Flyknit Oreo Racers, and the white Adidas Ultra Boost that Kanye West has made quite famous. “I didn’t even care about Adidas sneakers for a long time, and now they’re getting me interested in their sneakers. These Boosts are some of the most comfortable sneakers I’ve ever worn. It was Flyknit racers for a while, but now it’s the Boost,” said Greg.
When I asked Greg how he picks up a shoe he’s interested in, he admits it can be challenging. “Back in the day I’d go to Alife, or Dave’s or Staple, or just general Nike stores for a release. But now I find that the live releases have become such a game, whether it’s 21 Mercer, or Kith – I’m not going (to wait in line) the night before. I will honestly buy on eBay quite a bit. I’ll try to get it on the regular release online, (but) if I can’t get it, I’m willing to pay an extra 10%-15% on eBay just because I really like the shoe.”
Now with bots so popular, the possibility of purchasing a shoe online aside from eBay is even tougher. “Unfortunately for all of us, I think it’s going to continue to become more and more difficult - the bot thing is what kills me. At least make it human – if I know I have to compete with other humans, that’s one thing, but I can’t compete with computers. I’m not gonna be the guy downloading crazy software to make sure I get these sneakers.“
At least good, strong coffee will still be easy to come by.
For more info on Gregorys, check out http://www.gregoryscoffee.com