NEW YORK – Greek-American Tim Tassopoulos, President and Chief Operating Officer of Chick-fil-A, the nationwide chain of restaurants, took time out of his busy schedule to speak with The National Herald about his life and work. All four of his grandparents were born in Greece, Tassopoulos told TNH and his roots are “three quarters” from Peloponnesos and one quarter from Skopelos. His father’s mother was from the island of Skopelos. His wife Maria is also Greek-American and her parents are from Peloponnesos. The couple have two sons, Luke and Nicholas who have both attended the Ionian Village camp and love visiting Greece.
When asked if he always wanted to go into business as a career, Tassopoulos told TNH that business was not originally what he was interested in. He said, “My father was a pharmacist, a professional, he did have his own pharmacy for a period of time and then he closed it and went to work for another small, family pharmacy. My mother had been in business, in retail, with a family department store here in Atlanta called Rich’s Department Store but she retired to have children in her late 30’s so she and my father were parents older than most of their contemporaries, and so there was business and retail influence but I was interested in history and politics.”
Tassopoulos continued, “And so I studied those not only in high school, but in college. I went to a small liberal arts college called Oglethorpe University… when I finished Oglethorpe [with a Bachelor of Arts in history and political science], I had already been working for Chick-fil-A as a restaurant team member for 4 years and I was uncertain if I wanted to pursue business or politics or something in that general area, so what I thought was if I go to graduate school and get a master’s in business administration I could have a chance for either. Fortunately, I had a chance to go to Georgetown University in Washington which obviously exposed me to both business in the classroom and politics from being in DC.”
While studying at Georgetown, he came to the realization that, “I really like business, the on the ground retail aspect as well as the strategy part I learned about in grad school. At that point I had a 6-year association with Chick-fil-A and decided I wanted to come home to Atlanta and begin a career in the restaurant business with Chick-fil-A.”
“I still follow politics a lot,” he added.
When asked if he might go into politics later on, Tassopoulos said, “I think I’ll keep following it. I plan to finish my career in business at Chick-fil-A and probably pursue community service after. I started at Chick-fil-A as a 17-year-old senior in high school and it was not intentional, it wasn’t as if everybody around me had said all Greeks are in food service and you gotta get into the restaurant business, I actually was looking for a part-time job knowing I needed to get ready to pay for college expenses.”
He noted that after applying to Rich’s department store where the lady who took his application was not very encouraging about his prospects, he went to lunch at his favorite place, Chick-fil-A, “As I walked up to order my Chick-fil-A sandwich, there was a poster… applications for employment accepted today and I thought, maybe this is a good back-up application to get, so I asked for one, met the owner/operator of that Chick-fil-A, he was dynamic and enthusiastic, and I said I want to work for you, so this is my 40 year back-up plan.”
Tassopoulos told TNH that growing up, his family was very active in the church, and there was an emphasis on service, high standards for work, helping others, “when I started at Chick-fil-A, even as a 17-year-old restaurant team member, the same values were represented by Chick-fil-A, by S. Truett Cathy, the founder, and the owner/operator I worked for, that you put other’s interests above your own, you take pride in work, you do your work with honor, and you treat others well and with dignity and respect and I was so fortunate to find a place to work consistent with how I grew up and what was important in my family, in my household. I’ve been very fortunate over these forty years to have continuity between heritage, faith, and the culture that I found at Chick-fil-A.” “When I leave home and come to work and when I leave work and come home I never feel like I have to separate or delineate how I think, feel, and behave in either place and part of that is Chick-fil-A really cares a lot about the whole person and the family. My heritage and my faith and my purpose and principles, I want to bring it to work and I feel 100% comfortable expressing those at Chick-fil-A. I think I was maybe the first or one of the first Greek-Americans to be part of Chick-fil-A and now we have multiple Greek-Americans who are owner/operators of restaurants around the country, also a number of Greek-Americans on our support center staff, our home office staff here in Atlanta and the alignment is very strong between the things we consider to be Greek ideals that are consistent with Chick-fil-A’s core principles.”
About the company’s well-known policy of being closed on Sunday, Tassopoulos noted that “it is for a day of rest, spending time with family and friends and a day for people to worship if they should choose to do so, but it communicates that there is something more than the dollar and you’re putting purpose and people over profits and Truett used to say, and this is fascinating, that the best business decision he ever made was for non-business reasons, I think that really reflects that commitment to principles.”
He observed that in the restaurant business having a day off also attracts people to Chick-fil-A who might not go into the business. “The customers kind of like it,” Tassopoulos said, adding that “we say the food tastes better on Monday if you don’t get it on Sunday.”
Of the company’s continued success and expansion across the country, Tassopoulos said, “Chick-fil-A has clearly moved in the last couple of years from being a strong regional chain to a national chain… even as we’ve moved to being a national chain, it’s still privately owned and operated, it’s still family owned and operated, and in fact, Chick-fil-A is the largest family owned and operated restaurant chain in the United States and it’s that consistency, that sense of service, that community involvement that gives customers not only great tasting food and actual service, I think they enjoy doing business with Chick-fil-A because it is part of their community.”
He also noted the company was the first major chain to move towards “no antibiotics in their chicken products,” highlighting the commitment “to healthy and nutritious menu items and thinking about kids and the community.”
Tassopoulos grew up in the Annunciation Cathedral community in Atlanta and he and his wife are active members of the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Marietta, GA since early on in their marriage and have raised their sons in the church. He noted that the family has visited all of the grandparents’ villages in Greece. “Our heritage, our faith, our ethnicity they are part of who we are as a family, our boys are active in the life of the church and it is just who we are and we are so grateful for the fact that we have the church, that we have our family, and we have our heritage that defines who we are.”
He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Oglethorpe University and on the Board of Advisors at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. Tassopoulos is also a member of the Advisory Board of the Atlanta Area Council for the Boy Scouts of America.