Leporem Mavericks: Tony Argiropoulos - Founder of Ambros Coffee Company, Most Passionate Man in Montreal

The most passionate man in Montreal is Tony Argiropoulos.

The Greek-Canadian entrepreneur, who founded Ambros Coffee Company in 2020, is on a mission to make good coffee accessible. Blending his deep passions for coffee and brand building, with painstaking attention to detail and a style all his own. Tony has built Ambros into a brand that is everything to write home about, in less than a year. He has "No Time for Coffee with No Soul", and he’s just getting started...

Further testament to his character and discernment, Tony has been an ever-loyal client here at Maison Leporem for the best part of 5 years. So, it is with immense pleasure that I invited him to our showroom to have some coffee (naturally) and feature as our latest Leporem Maverick. In an all-encompassing interview which lasted over an hour, we covered a diverse range of topics - from the importance of his Greek heritage, to the unerring support of his brother and fiancée, to the inspiring commitment that Ambros Coffee has made to Rescue All Dogs

I am sure you will enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed conversing with this phenomenal "Man of Will" I am fortunate to call a client, and more importantly, a friend.

Collins: Man, I'm excited! You know I've been looking forward to this for a long time. I've been looking forward to just sitting down with you and talking. It's been five years since you’ve been a client here!

As I was saying earlier on, you have clients you actually look forward to seeing, getting them in the showroom, and catching up with them. And it goes past just the transaction; it's like you actually enjoy serving this guy.

Tony: Yeah, yeah, I know the feeling.

Collins: I mean, you’ve brought so many people in here. I was saying I've lost count of the number of people you’ve brought in here.

Tony: I brought them in here because I knew what they'd be getting. And you know, sometimes, you have friends that have different interests, different ideas of what it is to buy a suit. And the truth is, as we know, some people are good with just going off-the-rack, in a sense, and it was important for me to bring people here. I wanted to show them that there's another way of doing it. It's worth the extra time, the extra money - a little bit of extra money for sure. It's worth the experience. And you're going to get something that's going to last you a long time, it's going to be fitted for you. And something personal.

Collins: And one thing I noticed is that you are very influential guy. In that, your friends respect your opinion a lot. It’s very subtle, but every time you've come in here with a friend, I could tell that, this guy is influential within his community. I just want to make that comment and ask, how did that come about? Were you always that that guy? Are you sort of a tastemaker amongst your friends?

Tony: It's not something I strive to do. It's not something I've always been in every facet. I think when you are yourself, when you show passion, it's contagious. And people tend to gravitate towards you, when you show that things mean something to you. And I think just by doing that, you know, there's a level of influence, and there's a level of appreciation, even with people that don't necessarily share the same interests.

So, in terms of influence, sure, I want to take care of my friends and I wanted to bring them to the best, to what I think is an experience or a product that's accessible and that's attainable in the city. It was definitely something that I wanted to show them. And I'm just hoping that the passion I put into things can inspire them to do the same. And sure, I hope that I can influence my friends in the right way.

Collins: That's really interesting. Let's shift a bit closer to home. Family! You're a family man, it oozes out of you – it’s obvious this guy is a guy who really cares about family. I think one of my favourite fitting appointments I’ve had was when you came in here with your childhood friend, Terry, and your brother, Tommy. I think that was the first time I finally met your brother, and watching that interaction between you and Tommy - it was so heartwarming.

Tony: It's just the dynamic we've always had in my family. We've always taken care of each other. And everybody in my family has different strengths, and we rely on each other a lot. Sometimes, too much. But it’s just that dynamic I had with my brother. With my parents, it’s the same way. It's very important to be there for one another. And my brother is five and a half years younger than me. He was young enough to see me grow; you know, we're never in the same stage of our lives because when, for example, I was 10, he was five. I was 15, he was 10. I was 20 when he was 15. You're never at the same point until you reach adulthood. But we've always had that bond growing up, that when we reached adulthood, it really just came together.

Collins: Were you born here in Canada?

Tony: Yes, I was born in Canada. My parents were born in Greece, and they both came to Canada around 10 years old. 

Collins: Oh really? I had no idea! I thought that you came here, maybe in your late or early teens. And you know why I say that? Because, Greece seems so important to you!

Tony: Yes. And I can explain why somebody in the Greek community is so tied to their culture. One reason is because a lot of us grew up with our grandparents. Our grandparents came here in their 40s. So, you have that direct link, not only to another country, but to another world.

Both my grandparents came from a village. They didn't come from a city. They didn't come from, for instance, Paris, where they would have simply gone from one city to another. They came from relative poverty, into another world. When you come here at 40 years old from a village, you are set in your ways.

Collins: Ahh I see.

Tony: So, we grew up with the same tradition, the same values. That's the cultural aspect. Then, a lot of my friends grew up in that community, with similar upbringing and background.

So, definitely, something important to me is to keep this and this goes to the way I live my life, it falls right into my brand where there's always Greek in the stitching. 

Collins: There's always Greek in the stitching! I love it.

Tony: I'm not going to, you know, do something with Greek flags everywhere. It's not what I want to do, because this brand represents me.

I am Canadian from a Greek heritage, and this reflects in anything I do. It's important that, in anything I do, myself is reflected in it.  

Collins: That's key! We're going to touch on that later. Before we do, let's take a step back to July or August, 2019… We were exchanging text messages, which by the way, was another beautiful thing that came out of having you as a client whereby there were certain times we would - you weren't buying a suit and I wasn't trying to sell you a suit - literally just hang out and catch up.

Tony: Oh yeah, for sure!

Collins: I think that was amazing, and testament to just who you are as a person. Anyways, we had one of those episodes, which was to be the last for a time; because, that was when I told you, I was going back to the African continent for work and all of that.

And I saw something in your eyes that day. I saw what Ray Dalio calls “Crazy Eyes” – whereby you can look at a room full of kids, and you can tell the ones who would become entrepreneurs because they tend to have crazy eyes. And I saw crazy eyes on you, because you were telling me about this crazy idea of starting a coffee company! 

In my head I'm like, first of all, where does this come from? Second of all, I know this guy has a stable business that he has been building for a while now, in real estate management. But third of all, this guy is super passionate about it. And I could tell that it already existed in your mind, which I thought was such a powerful thing. Ironically, or maybe not, we had this conversation over coffee.

So anyways, bringing that back, talk to me about that time, that whole process. How did you get into the coffee business?

Tony: Well, this was something that was a long time coming. It wasn't necessarily something that was planned for a long time, but it was brewing for a long time. (No pun intended. Laughs). This was like a cold brew – steeping for a long time.

I was actually inspired by a company in Greece owned by a relative of my fiancée. They are a great coffee company called TAF. They even sent me a few bags of coffee back then. We were exploring the possibility of putting them on some shelves, but it was too early, just not the right time.  

It's always something that I liked and that I wanted to share with the world. And then with the advent of… Well, that was about the time that specialty coffee was really coming into play and there were a few shops popping up around in the city. It was becoming prevalent.

“Specialty coffee” hasn’t been around for a long time. It really came with the advent of technology. In the past, people would roast coffee “by their ears and their senses”, and some data, but there would be little science behind it. Then, about 15 years ago, people started tracking data differently, when certain software became available where they would install probes into roasting machines and get an accurate reading on exactly what is going on with the coffee. When this came along, people started roasting coffee with more thought, purpose, and consistency.

When people started roasting coffee better, they get more out of their coffee, and were like, “Well, I'll buy better beans”. There was more money for the farmers and the growers, more investment. People that were trading - i.e., the importers and the exporters - knew that there was a market where people would pay premium, so they began investing more in the farms and the growing facilities, and then everything started lifting and rising.

So, the company that I was telling you about in Greece, they were one of the first in Europe to truly go into this specialty realm. And they inspired me to think about this seriously. But it's not something that I was planning or I was working on for the last 10 years. It did, however, plant a seed.

Collins: About 10 years before you launched the Ambros Coffee Company?

Tony: Yes, and that was when I first dabbled in it - just exploring. There was nothing official - no money involved - it was just feeling things out, seeing, talking.

Then a couple of years ago, I started thinking about it again. And that's when Ambros Coffee started budding. I felt that I was at a place in my life where I was able to follow through with certain things. And I decided to start working on it.

And the time I spoke to you was a time where I started really putting things down. Of course, things evolved from that point, but that was the beginning and I said, “You know what? I think I'm going to do something here.”

And I took a leap of faith - a calculated leap of faith. I did my due diligence. It took me almost two years of preparation.

There’s a lot behind it; I made a decision to be involved in every facet of the process. You can take the route where somebody else do the backend work and you can (just) sell the coffee. I wanted, however, to import the coffee, to choose it. I want to choose the coffee, not simply “Okay what do you have here? Can you roast it for me?”  I said no, I'm going to choose what's coming in. And I'm going to roast it myself. And I'm going to package it myself!

I want to be involved in every facet. It's very important for me. I am planting the seeds and growing the roots. This is the bones of my company. And it will evolve. But it was very important for me, for the foundation to be structured that way, and this is why it took a long time.

Collins: It makes sense, because you seem to me like a guy who doesn't do things halfway.

Tony: It was important for me not to do this halfway. Because I think, in all our young lives, we've had ideas, we've taken steps… And there were things that I've tried in the past, where I didn't follow through 100%. And there’s nothing wrong with that, because it's also important to know when to stop. When to follow your growth path. I think everybody goes through this - every entrepreneur, every person.

But it was important for me for to plow through this and to do it because I felt strongly about it. And I said to myself, “this is the right time.” I know exactly what I'm doing, I am going to learn what I don’t know, and I am going to plow through.

I think, in business, as in anything in life, there will constantly be hurdles, and one must learn to put their head down and plow through - if they want it badly enough. You need to be a "Man of Will" to succeed at anything.

Collins: Shed some light on what a younger Tony was like? And in the first place, what sort of training did you do, school-wise and all of that?

Tony: Well, listen, my background in the entrepreneurship was a lot of trial and error, and there were some interesting things that I've done.

Collins: Let's hear it man. How did you start? What would you consider to be your first venture?

Tony: I studied History in University. It was a point in my life where I was just, you know, I was a very curious person, and I didn't know exactly where I was going in terms of schooling. And I decided to do delve into something I love, and studied History.

I also had a little bit of a hobby where I used to collect vintage eyewear. Again, the history theme protrudes. I had a collection and started sending some of my glasses over to New York City. There was an eyewear boutique over there that would sell my stuff for a little while. Even small ventures like this teach you a lot about people, and more importantly, about yourself.

Collins: How old were you at the time?

Tony: I was 23 years old.

Collins: So, were you still in school?

Tony: I had finished. At that point I think I just finished my Bachelor's degree. 

Collins: Where'd you go? Concordia?

Tony: Concordia University, yeah. Then, I enrolled in a graduate degree at McGill in Marketing and Communications. Something that also interests me is marketing and brand building.

Throughout my schooling and beyond it, I held a job in facility management at the Shriners Hospital, and then took my experience in an entrepreneurial route and started a property management business working with a partner who owned real estate. I’ve always loved hospitality, and even helped turn several properties into short-term rentals, which was the most enjoyable part of the job. I love hospitality management, where your brand is your rating and reputation, and that was what actually kept me going. I came to realize, however, that it wasn’t where I wanted to take my next big step, so I started working on my coffee company.

When the pandemic hit, it was very near the time where I was almost ready to launch. And the pandemic put a halt to my (real estate management) business. It was an uncertain time. But it also opened the door for me; a window where I was able to transition quite easily without shaking up my partner’s side of the business. It was actually a very smooth transition out of it, which was the silver lining. I decided to go fully into the coffee business.

Collins: I mean, starting a business… A synonym for that is uncertainty and risk. And pandemic, it's all about uncertainty and risk. So, what was the thought process in your head?

Of course, in all of your planning, I'm sure you did not factor in a pandemic into this. So, you could have easily been forgiven for saying, “Okay, maybe this is not the right time, and I'll wait for things to stabilize and start then.”

Tony: I could have been forgiven by other people but I would not forgive myself. And I was lucky enough to live where I live, to have the support from my family, and my fiancée.

So, I said, “no, this is not stopping me”. If anything, I was like “Okay, this is an opportunity; this is like, not a sign but, I told you the silver lining was there and I’m going for it. Yeah, I'm doing it, I'm doing it hard.”

Collins: Something you just mentioned was support, and you mentioned your fiancée…There's something you posted on your (Instagram) story two weeks ago. It was a note that she wrote for you in 2019…

Tony: Ah yes! I had a notebook on my desk for planning my business and she left me a note (in it) saying, “I'm very proud of you for pursuing this. Love, Mary.” 

I remember, I opened my book that day, it was just on the page and I just found it there. That kind of stuff is so important, because a lot of people don't have that.

And when you have somebody that gives you the confidence, the support, and the reassurance, it only helps.

That doesn't mean you can’t do it on your own, but it doesn't hurt to have that kind of support around you. And somebody that’s taking the risk with me. You know, if we're starting a life together, she’s taking the risk with me.

Collins: Yes, she could easily have said, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, don’t quit your job.”

Tony: I mean this was before the pandemic, but it didn't change with the pandemic. It didn't change at all. It's (been) a consistent support system from my whole family. My mother has been behind me from day one. My brother, where do I even start. All you need to know is that he’s already working with me and will be by my side in this company going forward.

My father (was) not that supportive of these kind of ventures in the beginning. Like we were speaking off-air before, immigrant mentality is not (always) risk-taking mentality. Well, it depends. Some immigrants came and they said, “I'm going to be an entrepreneur, they open their restaurant, they open another businesses.” And they're more comfortable with risks. The other side of are the immigrants that went to work for a company striving to climb the ladder and build stability. They are a little more resistant to risk…

 And that was my father's sentiment. However, once I started showing results, and things started becoming real, he started coming around. And at this point, you talk to him and he's excited about things; because it's the first time in his life that there's something concrete (being built) around him, and I think he's appreciating it.

Collins: Here is a question I like to ask every “maverick” that comes in here… Personally, something I've struggled with a lot is having the feeling of not being understood. As a kid, I've always been different. I've never felt like I belonged anywhere in my life. I've always felt different. And when it comes to businesses - starting a business, growing a business and all of that - I've always felt that a lot of people around me don't get it or don't understand why I feel the need to build a business. Have you experienced that? And how have you dealt with that?

Tony: I definitely experienced that a lot, especially with my community. Although it's filled with entrepreneurs, it's filled with people that sometimes, you know, they're not really pursuing their passions.

How have I dealt with it? There’s a lot of people who are entrepreneurs, but they're not my kind of entrepreneur.

I'm an entrepreneur that wants to blaze trails. I'm an entrepreneur that wants to do something different. I want to communicate in my own language.

So, you can go open something that's very “by-the-book” and you can be an entrepreneur, which is amazing, but not everybody's the same kind of entrepreneur. So sometimes, you find that even if someone opens a business and they took a risk, you don't find yourself in that entrepreneur.

I think that you can sell anything; you can be an artist, and you can be a safe artist or you can be a crazy artist. So, finding yourself in people is not too easily. This is why it's a pleasure speaking to people like you and some other people that I've met.

Ultimately, this is why it's important to have internal motivation and to have certainty about what you are doing, and who you are! It’s so important because…

Collins: Know thyself. Know thyself.

Tony: Yeah! And knowing that you're true to yourself and you're doing things your way. You have to come to peace with that.

Once you come to peace with that, things move; because you're not strayed off-course by other people's words or non-words or reactions or non-reactions. You're infallible.

Collins: I love it, I love, I love it!  We can spend all day here, but we need to discuss Ambros Coffee!

Tony: I love coffee – I am passionate about the product, its place in culture, its history, its depth and complexity, but I wouldn't start a coffee company if I wasn’t able to do it my way.

If I only had a passion for coffee, I would simply brew it, drink it, learn about it as a hobby,

My passion is also building. This is what gave birth to my brand. I took something I liked, and I want to build something around it.

I want to lead an interesting life. In order to lead an interesting life, you’ve got to do it your way. So, this is how Ambros Coffee came about. As our mantra says, we have "No Time for Coffee with No Soul".

And that's it. I help bring in the coffee and I am involved in every facet of the chain up to the customer. This structure, I hope will help me scale my company the right away in the future. I made a decision to go slower, but grow on my terms. Some people make big ventures with others to move quicker, and there’s time and place for that, but, I decided to play the long game.

Collins: Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn and PayPal, co-authored an amazing book called Blitzscaling, which talks about how to grow a company really fast. One of the counterintuitive things that he says in the book is, “In order to scale, you need to do things that don't scale.”

I've noticed this in your approach where, at this stage, you're trying to build the foundation of the business. For example, you're roasting yourself, like you said. I know for a fact, out of experience, that you're very involved with the customer service. There’s a very personal touch to it. I mean, I've been a beneficiary of that, with the advice and everything that you gave me. 

TonyFor me, a business is a brand and it's a reputation. It's, “how am I projecting myself in this business?” This is how I view it.

There are different ways of viewing business. And it's so important for me to, as much as I can, to know my market, help my customers and grow organically that way.

In anything you do, even in a relationship, building the right foundation and the right dynamic from the beginning is crucial. Once you miss that sweet spot, you can't go back.

Collins: Let's talk about your vision for Ambros Coffee.  Where are you driving this ship?

TonyThe vision is to grow the company; have fun growing it, communicate differently.

A big part of the company is also making coffee accessible, making good coffee accessible. And I want people to understand that even with coffee, you don't have to be a complete “coffee nerd”, let's call it that, to have good coffee. You just have to make certain adjustments.

I love marketing. I love making things fun. I love playing with classic traditional coffee culture and combining it to the modern ways of serving coffee. This is a huge theme in my branding, something we didn't touch on before because we're talking about some intangibles. This is something that you're going to see a lot of my brand. I always merge classic traditional coffee culture with modern coffee culture.

So, better coffee, roasted thoughtfully, roasted the specialty way. But, you know, consumed with the rituals of the past.

Collins: I mean, earlier on, you said you love history, and you went to University to study History. This taps into the idea that we can’t just throw away the past. You are a person who's very grounded in where we're coming from, but also looking ahead to where we're going. And you are kind of that “bridge between two worlds”, if you will.

Tony: Yeah! That's very well put. That’s exactly what I’m looking to do. I love that. It's so important to me. I need… I'm thirsty for that. That's what quenches my thirst - bringing things together, and to communicate it in a (certain) way. I love that old style.

Collins: You know what? We change “coffee” for “suits”, and we're talking about the same business, right? This is why it's always so amazing to like work with you and chat about our business/life philosophies.

Tony: There's parallels when there's passion. And when there's attention to detail and appreciation for things, there's parallels everywhere!

Collins: Absolutely, absolutely!

Tony: I think this is what draws me to your company as well.

Collins: There you go. I love it, I love it. So, let's finally end with something that I think is just absolutely incredible! Let's talk about your best friend - your dog - and the work you're doing with Rescue All Dogs Co.

Tony: It was really important for me; it was one of my 2021 goals.  

After I set the first layer of my foundation, it became really important start giving back. It was important for me take action, and to show people that giving back is not only about giving money to a charity; it's about setting an example.

So, I decided, the ethical treatment of animals has been something that really drives me. It brings out a lot of emotion in me.

And it’s also, you know, my relationship with animals, it's something I struggle with. And it's something I've been struggling with a lot in the last few years. I can't say I made any big adjustments (yet), but I'm conscious of it right now. And I was looking into something to help certain animals. They have so little control over their environment and how they’re treated. They are completely at our mercy, and we must be accountable for that.

I mean, we can talk all day about this, but I was looking for an organization where I can make a difference in, even if it's not in a major fashion yet. So, it was important it was something local. Something that I can have a direct link with, and I know where the money is going. 

I found this organization that’s based in Canada - in Montreal and Vancouver – Rescue All Dogs Co. What I liked about them is that they're very proactive. They literally send volunteers to places like Lebanon to retrieve dogs in the midst of the pandemic. They rescue these animals that were living in disarray over there, they bring them back here, and they help find them homes. They went to Manitoba where to were certain communities where dogs were in a difficulty and were being neglected.

I thought I could make by difference by raising awareness, showing people that organizations like this exist, dogs are being rescued and they can be helped. I'm also raising money for them in certain ways. I made some merchandise and designate a “Coffee of the Month”  where proceeds go to help buy supplies keep rescued dogs comfortable and healthy while they await adoption.

Collins: I'll tell you one thing, your action has definitely had an effect on me (like you said, part of it is sending out that message and motivating people to do more in other ways).  

Your actions have put “supporting a local charity” top of our agenda here at Maison Leporem.

That's something that we have always talked about but never acted on. We've been in business for almost six years since when I started it from my apartment. Yet, seeing you in less than a year in business already starting off - you know, acting, and not just speaking about it - is very inspiring and it forces one to look at oneself in the mirror and think, “you know what? I should also do better.” So, thanks for that reminder.

Tony: I'm happy to hear that.

When I was looking for an organization, there were so many people that need help, but there's only so much you can do. Yeah, it's a little depressing because, I mean I wish I could help everybody. Like, why this over that? And why an animal over a person? But you do what's close to your heart.

Collins: I love it, and associating it with a brand too is powerful. 

Tony: Yeah, it's important and it was something that I really wanted to do. And I did it quickly because I want to display how easy it is and how little it takes. You don’t have to be a big multinational company to make an impact. You don’t have to be rich to help.

My mom always told me, growing up, that “those who give, will always have.” I try to live my life and run my company that way.

Collins: I love it, man, this has been so much fun. Always a pleasure chatting with you, Tony.

Follow Ambros Coffee Co. on Instagram: @ambroscoffee

Follow Rescue All Dogs on Instagram: @rescuealldogsco

ALL PHOTOS BY DANY DAO - @dapper_cards

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