Siblings Angela and Con Vithoulkas own and operate the award winning VIVO cafés in Sydney’s Central Business District. A successful business owner for more than two decades, Angela Vithoulkas is in high demand as a motivational speaker and gave generously of her time to share some of her hard earned wisdom with Australian Women Online.
Angela Vithoulkas was born to conquer the world, one coffee at a time. Her mother literally went into labour with Angela as she was serving coffee to a customer. Her parents owned a milkbar in Liverpool, NSW at the time and it was there that Angela caught her first shop lifter at the tender age of three.
Needless to say, Angela’s mother never worried whether she was really ready for business when her daughter decided to become a business owner after leaving school. “I never really thought I would do anything else,” Angela said in a recent telephone interview with Australian Women Online.
Angela and her brother Con, owned several successful businesses before taking on a virtually bankrupt cafe in 2003 and turning it into a profitable small business. Over the next four years, the siblings opened two more VIVO Cafés in Sydney’s CBD. The VIVO Group also includes a busy corporate catering business.
“We didn’t start VIVO assuming it would become as big as it has. For us it was going to be another business in a long line of businesses. But there was just something magic about it. It was a very different kind of spiritual feeling the minute we walked into this business.”
With more than twenty-four years and several successful businesses under her belt, Angela has seen many changes in the business world, among them the changing face of the workforce.
Angela recalls, “Twenty years ago bosses were a lot harsher. We really didn’t take into account our team had feelings or lives, or that they needed anything more from us than a job description and a pay cheque.”
“Now it’s very different. I found it’s all about supporting your staff. It’s supporting them when they’re not well. It’s supporting them when they’re not happy. It’s supporting them when they need to learn a little bit more in a different way and identifying their needs. Sometimes it is just a matter of a kind word or saying, can I help?“
As owners of a chain of profitable cafés, you might be surprised to know that Angela and Con are still very hands on in the business, working along side their staff, serving customers and making coffee at any one of the three VIVO Cafes on George Street, Sydney.
“When they see the boss getting in and helping them with their work, I think that gives them the incentive to want to be here and maybe go that little bit further,” said Angela.
Take note business owners because the VIVO Cafés are very popular, due in part to the exceptional customer service provided by Angela, Con and their dedicated team. And I’m told the coffee is sensational and the food is delicious too!
But what really makes VIVO stand out for me is the siblings’ commitment to social responsibility and the environment.
It cost Angela and Con an additional one hundred thousand dollars to open their third VIVO Café on George Street in 2007. The café features timber veneers which were produced using a strict forest management program. The upholstery is a LIFE textile which was manufactured in plants which must meet strict environmental criteria, and the dining chairs used throughout the café have a 100 per cent recyclable shell and contribute to the Green Star Rating.
“It’s not cheap to have a belief. But it’s not always about the money,” said Angela.
“When we became aware that many coffee growers overseas are taken advantage of, we made a commitment to purchasing organic fair-trade coffee from a supplier who only buys coffee beans from farmers who are paid a fair price.”
Angela says despite the higher price tag, her customers are beginning to support organic fair-trade coffee. But more needs to be done to make people aware of abuses in the world coffee trade to drive down the price of this coffee on the world market.
“When it’s addressed more in the media and organic fair-trade coffee becomes an easier choice for customers, VIVO will only have organic fair-trade coffee.”
Angela and Con are also passionate supporters of the Nelune Foundation, a not for profit organisation that provides assistance and care for public hospital and underprivileged cancer patients in the community.
Angela told me that she became involved with the Nelune Foundation when she became aware that some people who are under going chemotherapy can’t afford to buy the special food they need to stay healthy. So when they opened the third Vivo Cafe in 2007, Angela and Con donated the first week’s coffee sales to the Nelune Foundation.
“I’ve become aware that a lot of our customers support small charities that have not achieved national recognition, but are important to them because something has happened to them or someone close to them and they want to help,” Angela said.
So VIVO has donated their cafe for small charities who needed a venue to hold a fund-raising event.
“Even raising a thousand dollars for a charity can make a big difference for a small charity. It’s not just big business and people who are super rich who make contributions to charities. I’ve learned that every little bit helps in the community. Some people give up their time for charity and that doesn’t cost anything and yet it means so much.”
VIVO has also supported several other charities including OzHarvest and the Make a Wish Foundation.
With a dynamic personality, boundless energy and strong business acumen, Angela is regularly asked by businesses around Australia to speak on topics such as, how to succeed in business, increasing performance and motivating staff.
“They’re finding a lot more in the corporate world that small business owners have a greater insight into how business works than managers and CEO’s who are far removed from the everyday running of the business.”
Angela says to be successful in business, the person in charge needs to keep in touch with the roots of their business. “It’s not about having pretty stationery and having the right logo, unless you’re delivering what you stand for.”
“As a business owner I have to understand that having clean dishes and clean glasses is one of the most important things I can do. Whilst I want great customer service, I’ve got to have clean glasses. The guy who washes the dishes maybe the lowest member of my team in other people’s perception, but he’s actually a key person.”
In addition to earning the respect of the Sydney business community, Angela Vithoulkas has won several awards for her work with the VIVO Group, including the Yellow™ Business Owner prize in the 2007 Telstra New South Wales Business Women’s Awards.
In her acceptance speech Angela said, “Family support is crucial in running a successful business. I am very lucky to have a supportive team of people around me. My brother and I have worked so hard to build our business. Our staff are part of our extended family. VIVO has experienced extraordinary business growth over the past three years and is still expanding. I have plans to conquer the world – one coffee at a time!”
Angela isn’t able to release any specific details about the small company’s plans for expansion. But let me just say the lady’s ambition knows no bounds. “We are definitely hoping for a big future. I’ve decided on a personal level that when there’s one in Las Vegas and one in New York, I might stop.”
I would like to thank Angela Vithoulkas for taking time out of her very busy schedule to speak with Australian Women Online.