The Greek-Australian “King of Coffee”

John Lazarou, the son of Greek immigrants, worked long and hard to realize his dream in Australia. His efforts and persistence paid off handsomely, and he has even been dubbed the “King of Coffee in Australia” as director of “The Coffee Club” international chain.

John’s parents and three of his older siblings left Rhodes and migrated to Australia in 1958. He and two later siblings were born in Brisbane. Young Lazarou was restless and started working at the tender age of 11.

He left school to start an apprenticeship at a hair salon at the age of fifteen. He opened his own hair salon at seventeen, while still an apprentice. Amazingly, he soon became the boss of the senior hairdresser to whom he was apprenticed.

Lazarou was 27 when he came on board as duty manager of The Coffee Club in 1989, which was then a brand-new business. Two years later, he bought into the concern, and through hard work and a keen eye for business he helped founders Emmanuel Drivas and Emmanuel Kokoris build one of Australia’s largest franchise operations.

Today, The Coffee Club has over 500 stores in Australia, Asia and the Pacific, and employs 8,000 people.

According to the Rodiaki.gr news portal, the Greek-Australian entrepreneur visits his parents’ homeland of Rhodes every year. He says he feels grateful for his life and his family. He basically never stops doing charity work, because besides a successful entrepreneur, he is also a born philanthropist.

“I am Greek, but I feel more like a native of Rhodes,” he told Rodiaki.gr. “My father left the island for Australia in 1958. He hails from Salakos village and my mother is from Istrio village. She followed him later with three children,” Lazarou explains.

“I was born in Australia in 1962. My first language was Greek, as we stayed in a Brisbane neighborhood where most people were Greeks. We had clothes to wear, food to eat, a home, but something was eating me inside to go to work, make a better life for myself,” the businessman continued.

“I did not have bad life, but I knew others who were living better,” he added.

“Family is everything,” Lazarou with his wife Maria and their sons, daughters and grandchildren. Photo: Facebook

“I was 11 years old when I got a job in a restaurant with my godmother. I was working from three in the afternoon until seven, squeezing oranges and lemons to make juices. My godmother was taking me home afterwards. I was getting 50 cents for every afternoon I worked. It was very little but I saved it,” Lazarou relates.

The Greek-Australian businessman says that the secret of success in the coffee shop/restaurant industry is to know what customers want, and to become friends with them.

“You need to know what the place of business needs in order to make the customer happy. A satisfied customer is a loyal customer. The secret is to make the customer your friend… I like to see young people advance in their work. We have 8,000 staff. I watch them, and if someone is good, I offer them opportunities to advance,” Lazarou said.

And he remembers vividly the very first day the first Coffee Club opened, thirty years ago. “I remember, we gave our first coffee to a customer on November 2, 1989, and I took a picture with her. I don’t know why, but I took a photo with her.”

“That day, we had opened at 6 AM and the first customer came at nine! I went crazy and it was not even my own coffee shop then, I was an employee. From then on, in every new coffee shop we take a photo with the first customer,” Lazarou says.

Today, the Greek-Australian enjoys the life of an extremely successful businessman, but he remains grounded by his deep love of family. He says that even though people view him as a very rich man, for him, his family is his biggest asset.

Lazarou is married to Maria and has two sons and two daughters who have given him grandchildren. He says that his family makes him happier than anything he has achieved so far in business, and he feels extremely fortunate in that.