The History of New York City Coffee
Every city has something to proud of, whether it be a claim to fame, an iconic landmark, a longstanding tradition, or a slogan that stirs the crowd. Something that’s important not only to the people who live there, but also something that sets it apart from everywhere else in the world. Something that says, “There’s no other place like it.”
Every city has something, but when it comes to New York City, we have it all.
For everything special about this city, there’s a story, and NYC has millions of them.
This is just one of those stories; one that’s almost 100 years old—”The History of New York City Coffee.”
This story still flows through many generations and lives. And it’s still being written everyday by New Yorkers who love their coffee.
The classic cup of New York City coffee is best known for the iconic blue–and–white paper cup in which it was served. The cup’s design pays homage to the people who ran coffee carts and diners in the old New York City tradition.
The story of Vassilaros & Sons is about an institution that’s served all five boroughs with high-quality, hand-blended coffees, for nearly a century. And really, it’s a story about how our coffee continues to give New Yorkers the spirit that they need to build today and tomorrow, each and every day.
The Vassilaros Story
In the Beginning—
The original John Anthony Vassilaros was born in Ikaria, a rocky Greek island in the Aegean Sea.
Coming to America—
Along with many other immigrants searching for opportunity in America, Vassilaros arrived in New York via Ellis Island, speaking only a few words of English and carrying next to nothing in his pockets.
The five boroughs consolidate to officially create New York City.
Between jobs, Vassilaros taught himself to read and write in English at the public library on 42nd Street.
Vassilaros worked two waiter jobs, 7 days a week–a lunch shift on lower Wall Street and a dinner shift in the Bronx.
First Born, First Coffee—
After the birth of his son, Anthony John, Vassilaros took a job as a coffee salesman to help support his growing family.
Vassilaros’ integrity and honesty quickly made him a successful salesman for a fellow Greek coffee roaster.
Williamsburg Bridge opens.
How to Serve New Yorkers: Go to them—
In the early 1900s many New York neighborhoods were defined by their cultural backgrounds. Small business owners like the “fish man” and the “ice man” would bring their wares to different neighborhoods, even down unpaved roads. They sold everything, from pickles to oil lamps, from their pushcarts.
Manhattan Bridge opens.
Once he accomplished the finer points of coffee roasting and became frustrated with his boss’s casual consideration regarding quality and consistency, John A. Vassilaros decided to open his own coffee company.
Grand Central Terminal opens as the world’s largest train station.
Vassilaros & Sons Coffee—
John A. Vassilaros founded Vassilaros & Sons Coffee to give people the quality coffee he knew he could and would deliver for years to come.
Friends, Fellow Immigrants—
Many of Vassilaros’ first customers were friends and fellow immigrants from Greece and beyond. He wanted them all to succeed. Making loans to get their businesses underway was on part of his dedication to building relationships.
Coming Full Circle—
This dedication to quality and to the people of New York City shaped the company. Vassilaros’ first two accounts were at the restaurants he previously worked as a waiter.
The stock market crashes.
The First Vassilaros & Sons Employees—
In the beginning, Vassilaros piloted the business from their first store on Third Avenue. The first employee was his beloved wife, Sophia. Shortly after, her sister Frosini joined them.
The Chrysler Building is completed.
The Empire State Building is completed.
After Vassilaros selected the beans, Frosini and Sophia ground and packaged what was to become our classic blend.
Vassilaros rode the subway with 40-pound bags of fresh coffee on his shoulders to reach customers throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan.
New York City holds the World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park.
The company opened a small storefront on Third Avenue. As New York City grew, Vassilaros & Sons Coffee grew with it.
A new roaster allowed Vassilaros to achieve a signature blend that delivered the quality he dreamed about.
Delivering Quality Coffee—
The addition of delivery trucks and more employees helped Vassilaros keep up with New Yorkers’ insatiable appetite for a hot cup of coffee, without having to sacrifice standards.
The Vassilaros family founds and builds a 30-room hospital on their native island of Ikaria, which still remains to this day.
Home Sweet Home—
In 1962, Vassilaros & Sons moved to its permanent home, a 25,000-square-foot plant in Queens. For the past 50 years, it’s where proud employees have crafted timeless seasonal blends for 3,000-plus accounts in the tri-state area.
New York City’s role in the success story of Vassilaros & Sons Coffee cannot be overlooked. Every customer and account in all five boroughs has played a part in building the business to where it stands today.
Penn Station is rebuilt and reopened to the public.
50th anniversary of the founding of Vassilaros & Sons.
John Vassilaros becomes president of Vassilaros & Sons Coffee Company.
From the start, John Vassilaros helps other small business owners by lending them money and equipment, hoping to pass on the opportunities for which he was so thankful.
Construction on the World Trade Center is completed.
Vassilaros is run by the fourth generation to lead the business and serves more than five million cups of coffee in the New York Metropolitan area during any given week.
An Original Comes with Peace of Mind
A dedication to serving the people of New York doesn’t get easier over four generations but it’s a pledge we have upheld. Hopefully you will agree our coffee tastes and speaks volumes. Today, there is still a Vassilaros at the helm to make sure New Yorkers get the best cup of coffee there is. We are Vassilaros & Sons and we make the best cup of New York coffee, one that has fueled the history of this great city.