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Entrepreneur juggles business, family life by waking at 4 a.m. daily

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Entrepreneur juggles business, family life by waking at 4 a.m. daily

He does not define his life with his businesses
Entrepreneur juggles business, family life by waking at 4 a.m. daily
Frank Figliomeni sits for a photo at Million Air at Albany International Airport.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

For Frank Figliomeni, it’s all about balance.

The successful regional entrepreneur, a Saratoga Springs resident, manages three unique businesses, he has three children, and he hikes regularly with his wife of 21 years and his three rescue dogs.

Figliomeni, 51, boxes twice a week, plays and coaches soccer, and his business stretches across the Northeast.

He does not define his life with his businesses.

“There’s more to life,” he said while doing some prep work for the day at his café on Wolf Road with classical music in the background. He delegated the work to two employees to make sure everything was just the way he wanted before the first customer of the day. “Building a life is everything.”

He learned a lot about finding this balance early in his life since his family owned a restaurant, called Figliomeni’s Restaurant, on Western Avenue in Guilderland. The site is now home to a Greek restaurant, Athos.

“My family was in the restaurant industry. My father worked in construction and in customer service. I was raised on that,” Figliomeni observed, adding that his father left the construction industry to establish three restaurants.

Figliomeni’s Restaurant was open from 1982 until 1999. Figliomeni left the restaurant in Guilderland in 1995 to build Professor Java’s Coffee Sanctuary. The name came from a running joke he had with a family friend who actually came up with the name. The friend was a professor in Michigan. After years of joking about starting the café, eventually Figliomeni did start the café.

“I hated the restaurant industry. I wanted to do anything else,” said Figliomeni, who started looking into other business ventures in the early 1990s and found himself enthralled by the coffee scene in Seattle.

“My wife, Dana, had a strong influence in getting me in the coffee business because she was out in Seattle and she brought me out there,” he said.

He explained how running a café — even a café with a full menu — is less stressful than working at a restaurant.

“The business model works better,” said Figliomeni, whose formal college education was two years at UAlbany. “A restaurant is volatile, with only one or two hours for lunch and one or two hours for dinner. You need to make all of your money in the day during those times.”

When he was researching coffee, he found that people would drink tea or coffee anytime; you weren’t locked in for particular times of day. Now, the busy café, located just a couple blocks from a Starbucks in one direction and a couple minutes from Dunkin’ Donuts in the other direction, sees an average of about 400 to 500 customers daily.

He emphasizes: “I love Starbucks. Howard Schultz is a genius. A coffee house is a great element for any community to have.”

Expansion

The café’s proximity to the airport was a main impetus for his second business — a private-jet-catering company, now out of the Million Air terminal at Albany International Airport.

“I always expected to expand. I just thought I would expand differently,” said Figliomeni of his time in the service industry, which has included helping royal families of Europe and the Middle East, and he deals with every major corporation in the United States.

The catering business hit its peak between 2000 to 2008, before the economy crashed.

To make up for the business he was losing, the catering company expanded to include over two dozen airports — from the Quebec border in Plattsburgh to north of New York City, and into New England. All of the food and supplies comes out of the 3,500 square foot café. They serve about 30 planes each week.

Nearly all of his business, he said, is from referrals. The key is his focus on customer service and his work ethic. “I’ve been called at 2 o’clock in the morning by a very wealthy client for a can of Diet Coke and a milk,” he said matter-of-factly. “I’ll get that for the client and I might not even charge them. Orders can be tiny but we’ll have a lot of them coming through.”

The private jet catering company is growing slowly, but it is still down from where the business was before the recession.

Figliomeni said he’s noticed a pocket of “ultra-wealthy” people in Saranac Lake in the Adirondacks, where his business also caters. While, he said, he notices many of these clients will spend the day elsewhere, like maybe Saratoga Springs at the track in the summer, they will spend a bit more time around Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Since Figliomeni is an avid hiker, this works out well for him — and his three dogs — who all enjoy a good five mile trail, with nice vistas, before heading back to work. He said he makes a point of going up to the Adirondacks, only an hour and a half drive from his house, at least a handful of times each month.

His wife, Figliomeni said, is very involved in philanthropy work which is one of the reasons they adopted rescued dogs. “She’s the backbone to my new ventures – always moving me forward.”

Robotics

For his most recent business, Figliomeni said, he needed to do something a little different. Three years ago, he started Javian Robotics, which works in manufacturing humanoid robotics. He hopes to eventually work in humanoid holograms as well, but that technology has not yet become cost-effective.

The robotics manufacturing, he said, is currently for pharmaceuticals, the car industry, and solar. That tech could also become a bit more cost-effective.

So what’s next?

Figliomeni said that evolutions in the robotics field will take a while and he looks forward to doing more with that before beginning another venture.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s evolutionary,” he said of robotics.

Though, he admitted, he has a love-hate relationship with much technology, especially smartphones. “I hate what phones are doing to our society,” he said. “You have to be careful with it.”

He has this mentality especially with his three children, who are 10, 12 and 15 years old. He doesn’t allow smartphones in their bedrooms and he asks them to spell things out, and use proper grammar and punctuation when texting.

“There’s no FaceTime with friends in our house,” he said. “It’s an intrusion. You need some privacy and boundaries.”

Balance

Figliomeni said he prides himself on having and maintaining balance in his life and his workday. To accomplish everything that he wants to in the day, he starts at 4 a.m. He said he has a great team of 40 people, and hopes to expand to about 60 people in the next couple of years.

With changes in technology, he said that he has been saving a lot of money on marketing by directly communicating with customers on platforms like social media. He also really enjoys working on the marketing and other aspects of his businesses.

“I go in liking what I am doing and I leave liking what I am doing,” he said. “It’s all about energy. It enables me to be with my family.”

While the restaurant industry could be fun at times, with national chef competitions and trips to Las Vegas, he said he saw what the business did to his father and his uncle.

“The restaurant industry taught me that you can work all day and it doesn’t mean [expletive].”

Along with his businesses, Figliomeni also does some local guest lecturing on business to help the next generation of entrepreneurs. He sums everything up with needing two things to be successful in business – stupidity and passion.

“Everybody wants to know what the formula of success is," he said. "There is no formula. But I can say you need two things: absolute stupidity and absolute passion.”

Figliomeni said that he has translated a feng shui mentality for life and his business. This does not mean there’s a certain Oriental spatial arrangement at his café. He said it’s the way he has interpreted feng shui. And that, along with Figliomeni’s philosophies on life and business, just might explain the bright sign behind the counter at Professor Java’s that reads: “Drink Coffee: Do Stupid Things Faster and With More Energy.”


Frank Figliomeni’s 4 things to look for

  • Businesses and people moving forward in economic stability
  • Emphasis on phones slowing down
  • More industry with robotics
  • Anything that makes life more convenient
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