New Greek TV's featured Greek of the Week is business mogul Kosta Dionisopoulos.
In his early twenties, the first generation Greek-American established Delta Produce out of his home. Delta Produce has vastly expanded over the last five years, and now delivers fresh goods all over the Washington, D.C. area to a plethora of venues, that even includes the White House.
Forbes Magazine recently hailed Dionisopoulos as one of their "2015 30 Under 30". In our interview below, the successful entrepreneur reveals how he got his start, what led to his success, his own Greek-American upbringing and more.
Maria Athens: At the age of 22, you founded Delta Produce; what were your catalysts?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: At the age of 22 I founded Delta Produce. Unfortunately I turned the age in one of the worse economic environments our country had ever seen in 2009, when families and individuals were facing extreme hardships, as did I. When I was 21 I finished my educational career at the University of Maryland, but did not graduate (nicer than saying I dropped out), because I felt that I needed to take a turn in a direction to help both myself and my family; I really had no option. There was a need for an aggressive approach on my end, and someone that could provide some income during some hardships.
My first move was to press the gas on my existing food brokering business my dad had me in my entire life, but learned quickly that I needed to press the breaks. In the same year I was offered a job as the operations manager at one of the most prominent and successful tomato repacking/distributors on the East Coast, Pete Pappas and Sons Inc. I loved my job there, the management, and obviously my boss. It was an amazing experience, though I still felt I needed to do more for both my family, and myself at the time. So with the idea that I was 22 and full of energy and extremely hungry, I began my journey building what is today, Delta Produce. If there were any catalyst at all, it would have been my need to succeed for both myself and for those who made me who I was.
Maria Athens: Can you offer an overview of Delta Produce? What were the challenges when initially starting out?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: Delta Produce is a food service distributor located in the heart of Washington D.C., with a specialty in produce. We are fully staffed 6 days a week, from 2:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with part time and after hours operations filling the gaps. Our customer base ranges from inside the city, as well as Maryland and Northern Virginia, with routes extending to the Eastern Shore and Delaware. Our customers range from multi-unit operators, single unit operators, hotels, country clubs, government buildings, and college campuses. We will distribute to anyone who buys and/or sells produce.
As far as challenges, starting any company when you're 22 is extremely hard. I was blessed to have a partner for the first 2 years in my business, who has now furthered his education and is doing amazing things throughout the financial industry. I was broke, had bills I was behind on, and really didn't have the luxuries most entrepreneurs have when they start up; I was completely on my own. I had no credit, so I was never able to get any kind of small business loan or sign on any kind of agreement allowing for a large credit line. Being in the foodservice industry you have a lot of money going out every day, so I had to be trusted and because of the support of my previous employer, I was able to slowly gain the trust of growers and re-distributors to support my growth and business.
My business was and still is, sustained by the daily work we put in, decisions we made, and continuous attention to detail. In this industry, your word is the foundation of any future progress you aspire to have. You cannot default on people, and you cannot have a bad reputation because word travels faster than the speed of light. So for a very long time, I had to sacrifice my life and basic luxuries, like heat, in order to make sure that I maintained the name and business I was aspiring to have. That being said along with the support that slowly came from people because of my age, I also had doors slammed in my face and businesses default on their payments completely, which obviously made growth that much harder.
Maria Athens: Can you recount your company's expansion over the past 5 years?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: Absolutely! In 2009 I started working out of the small office next to my bedroom with me and my partner; later getting 1 then 2 employees in and out of my home at 2:00 a.m. every morning. In March 2010 I leased a small building in the historic Washington D.C. Union Market (Florida Ave Market) and continued with just another 3 employees.
From 2010-2011, we grew from 1 truck to 3 trucks and another 2 employees. I was named Bloomberg Business Week Top Entrepreneurs Under 25. From 2011-2012, I continued to grow with new office employees and no partners.
By 2012-2013, I added a 4th truck to our fleet, now managing multiple routes per truck daily, as well as some wholesale accounts to other distributors. I signed a lease for an expansion into the finest wholesale/warehouse space in Washington D.C. that had new large coolers, productions space, and logistic friendly space for our growth.
In 2013-2014, I moved into our new location adding another 2 trucks to our fleet as well as several salespeople, office employees and a full time book keeper. The company experienced a record year in 2014 and we are now developing plans for our newest location that will be triple the size.
Maria Athens: Why did you choose the name Delta Produce?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: Delta Produce's name was chosen for the "Delta's" obvious powerful reputation-Delta Force, Delta Airlines, etc. Delta has always had a powerful presence in my life for some reason. It is also a great representation of myself and my family's last name initial which is Delta-Dionisopoulos. The Delta is for the D in my last name, which is very important to me. I love my last name.
Maria Athens: Where do you source your wholesale products? Do you offer any Greek items?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: I source my products from all over the world, local terminal markets and farmers. I do carry some basic Greek items, Feta cheese, Extra Virgin Olive Oil from Sparta (I wouldn't sell anything less), and olives from Sparta, and the occasional pita bread.
Maria Athens: Can you tell us about your Greek-American background?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: I am definitely a Greek-American; proudly born American, of Greek decent. I am a first generation American here in the Washington D.C. area. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland and was born in the capital. Both of my parents were Greek immigrants here in the metropolitan area. My father was born in the center of Sparta, Greece and then immigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was 20 years old. He then soon after came to Washington D.C. My mother's entire family hails from the beautiful island of Cephalonia in Greece. I speak, read and write in Greek thanks to my parents, grandparents and the wonderful Greek school at Sts. Constantine and Helen in Washington D.C.
From the age of 8-18, I was blessed with the opportunity to go to Greece every two years and loved every minute of it. I took a little break due to natural growing pains and adult life, but was pleased to visit this past summer after 9 long years of not being there. I travelled to Greece this past summer with my girlfriend Marina, and proudly proposed to her in the town of Fira, Santorini, 2 days after we arrived. My most recent trip to Greece was by far the best; after all I came back with my wife-to-be, Marina. After this trip, I was inspired to make a point of traveling to Greece more frequently with my fiancé as often as possible. Considering we are getting married in September, she will be my wife during our next visit.
Maria Athens: Can you describe your upbringing and education?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: My upbringing was very traditional; we had about a 70/30 split with speaking Greek at home, 70% of which being Greek. At a very young age, I'd say 8, even earlier than that, my father made sure I went to work with him whenever I had a free day, afternoon, or an hour. Work was engraved deeply into my childhood and upbringing.
I always felt that I didn't have a life, because I was either forced to do my school work or go to work. I was always involved in school activities and sports but one thing that never changed was the fact that if I had a free day, it was to work. So much so that I became accustomed to it, at one point I was going to school, working in a restaurant, doing produce brokering with my father, and also working in a nightclub.
I carried my education on my shoulders, but wore my work ethic on my chest. It is one of my only doubts but sometimes circumstances can make your grow a different way. I do credit my education and surroundings for my presence in the market and success, but my father's relentless attention to my progress and work ethic really deserves the credit. I would not be conditioned for the work, hours, lack of sleep, and patience put forth in my first few years without the experience and support he had given me.
Maria Athens: Your company is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; do you ever get a break? What do you like to do in your spare time?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: Thankfully 6 years later I only need to be here for a maximum of 12-14 hours a day, so I do slightly get a break, though my phone is never off AND in any event where I'm needed, I can still be here for 24 hours, and it happens on occasion. In my spare time, I love spending time with my fiancé and her family. I also have an amazing group of friends, that I could see every day and in my opinion are the real 30 best people under 30 around. I love my friends and family, so any time with them is well spent. Though for spare time, with Marina, we love to go out and enjoy a meal together, cook together, and just spend time with one another. But, if we had the choice, you'd catch us on the beach on the beautiful island of Cephalonia.
Maria Athens: What is the Greek scene like in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: The Greek scene in D.C. is just that; there are several "Greek Nights" throughout the year, and more elaborate events thrown to go along with associations like The Laconian Society of Washington D.C. (proud member), AHEPA, House of Kefalos and several others. There are a good amount of Greek owned restaurants doing a magnificent job here in the city, along with several night clubs and lounges, and now even some break through fast casual options!
Most of the owners of these places went to the same church as I did and it's really wonderful to see. The community is full and probably consists of close to half a dozen church communities each boasting festivals, live Greek music for events, and continuous support for the Greek youth associations like GOYA in the area. The city is filled with remarkable people, many being Greek, and I couldn't be more proud to be amongst them.
Maria Athens: What is your advice to other entrepreneurs who are trying to make his/her dream a reality?
Kosta Dionisopoulos: If I were to give anyone any advice I would stress the importance of really understanding reality. Who you are, where you are, and what you're capable of. Most importantly, Who do you want to be? On so many occasions I've seen people try to get into business, because they want to be "business people." That's wonderful, and everyone should aspire to be something, but I think really taking a step back and telling yourself, "I want to be better," can take you much further.
Don't strive to be a billionaire overnight, more so try and be better every day. Walk into your office, job site, kitchen, room next to your bedroom, and try to be better than what you are. You will see results. Be relentless in your goals, and never stop trying. After all, the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes, so keep it moving.