Though he began his career as an engineer, Konstantinos Konstantinopoulos has now found himself working in a growing niche industry, one that combines scientific precision with pure passion: artisanal coffee. The CEO of Coffee Island, Konstantinos initially joined the company as network development and commercial manager. This position, which exposed him to a range of different aspects of the growing company, was something of a steep learning curve.
“The biggest challenge was that I wasn’t familiar with the food sector at all,” he recalls. That knowledge gap was quickly addressed, however, with Konstantinos going on a thorough fact-finding mission, visiting coffee suppliers and businesses to observe best practice firsthand. He was also lucky to have a great mentor in Coffee Island founder Dr Evangelos Liolios. “In fact, he continues being my mentor,” Konstantinos says. “We’re very good friends and he’s always supporting me in the decisions I make.”
Konstantinos Konstantinopoulos is all about quality coffee
Upon becoming CEO, Konstantinos quickly developed a comprehensive understanding of Coffee Island’s market position and identified significant scope for growth. “I spotted a gap in the market for finer-quality coffee and better value-for-money products,” he explains. “I developed a vision to introduce an innovative coffee concept, which would be oriented toward not only selling the best coffee products but also providing the customer with a unique coffee experience.”
A key part of this vision is taking artisanal roasting to a wider audience. This method of roasting is painstaking and labour intensive, requiring workers to taste each variation, monitor environmental conditions, meticulously check variables, and modify the roast in response, but Coffee Island is firmly committed to it: “That’s how you achieve the finest quality; it’s all about the flavour and the aromas of the product.”
I spotted a gap in the market for finer-quality coffee and better value-for-money products.
Konstantinos took on the CEO role when Coffee Island’s home country, Greece, was in the throes of a major recession, but under his leadership the brand has bucked the national trend and continued to grow quickly. Founded in 1999, it has already expanded to include 377 outlets, including a new flagship store that opened in the UK last year.
Coffee Island is built on collaboration
While Konstantinos has achieved individual accolades such as the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of Europe (SCA) Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, he emphasises the collaborative nature of his work.
“Every challenge that came our way was overcome thanks to the commitment of my team,” he says. “They share my passion for excellence, and we’re all on the same page of wanting to turn the craft of making artisan coffee into a science.” As a reflection of this, Coffee Island won the European Coffee Symposium’s award for Best Coffee Chain – Southern Europe in 2016.
Working with external suppliers is essential when their know-how and tradition outweighs your own.
Collaboration is also at the heart of Coffee Island’s MicroFarm Project, which involves producing a range of limited-edition specialty coffees. Konstantinos says the initiative taps into the considerable expertise of Coffee Island’s supply network. “Working with external suppliers is essential when their know-how and tradition outweighs your own.”
The process begins with Konstantinos and his colleagues searching for limited-edition, single origin Arabica coffee beans graded SCA 87+. These are sustainably grown beans that have been ranked in the upper echelon of the grading process, which rigorously measures every aspect of a coffee’s taste, appearance and aroma.
“These specialty coffees originate from individual farmers who put tremendous effort and passion into their crops and work,” Konstantinos explains. “They are the growers who strive to protect the soil and the water, who care about the living conditions of their labourers and other labour issues, and who support their local communities.”
Committed to constant improvement
Konstantinos says a key pillar of Coffee Island’s success has been its commitment to constant improvement. It has invested heavily in R&D to create new blends, and places a premium on upskilling its staff. “Training doesn’t stop once they are already on the job,” he notes. “It keeps evolving, because a business with knowledge and innovation is one that keeps developing.”
To this end, Konstantinos says that Coffee Island will continue combing coffee-producing regions the world over to find sustainably produced specialty varietals. It also has plans to extend its corporate social responsibility initiatives with a not-for-profit in London, and is eyeing further expansion in Europe and even North America, having recently opened its first Canadian store.
Konstantinos himself embodies the love of learning he is instilling at Coffee Island. In addition to his engineering qualifications, he has earned an SCA Coffee Diploma and become an accredited trainer, judge and board member. And he has no intention of stopping there. “I’m always eager to learn new things, and I find this keeps me going,” he says. “I try to learn something new every day.”