Central MA Up + Comer: The Owl’s Zack Photakis
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Keeping it in the family
His son, John Photakis joined the family business in the late 70s, and brought with him his knowledge of pipe making learned from old world pipe makers from the New York City pipe shops. After purchasing ancient tools of the trade, John began making his own line of custom-made pipes and sold them exclusively through the store. In 2002, John passed on in a fatal car accident. With John's passing, his son Zack then joined the family business full time. As the third generation, Zack has grown up in the store with an insider’s knowledge of the product and industry. Traveling to foreign countries, studying the tobacco process from start to finish, Zack has established an amazing variety of the best tobacco grown throughout the world. His love and passion for the tobacco industry has helped to make the Owl Shop stand out as one of the premier tobacconists in New England.
A Conversation with Zack Photakis
SW: We are introducing some of the younger generation who is starting to or is making their mark on the Central MA. community. As the third generation owner of the Owl Shop, would you describe the Owl Shop?
ZP: The Owl Shop is a time capsule of awesome! There is a great deal of old school appeal with things to look at everywhere. We offer tobacco; cigars; smokers accessories; gentleman’s gifts such as flasks, money clips, desk pieces and shaving sets; swiss movement music boxes; high end binoculars; and cutlery. Everywhere you look there is something new that catches your eye.
SW: How have you put your own imprint on the business following that of your grandfather and father?
ZP: I tend to do things the new school way. I know this business inside and out as it has always been a part of my life. I have been through all the products and put my own stamp on everything. We only carry boutique brand cigars where the owners have dirt under their fingernails and are intimately acquainted with what they sell. Nothing is mass produced. I sometimes do special events and educational seminars to introduce the cigars and from time to time take customers out to the country to see the fields and factories first hand.
SW: Can you describe a typical day in your life?
ZP: I get up like everyone else and then open the store. The day always starts with a coffee and a cigar. I spend most of the day with customer relations, ordering and educating clients on product. Then a couple of smokes, a couple of jokes and I am closing to head home.
ZP: I am doing it. I love the industry and have learned so much. There are limitations to applying the knowledge because of being located in downtown Worcester. which is becoming a ghost town. I would love to see folks unplug, put their feet on the pavement and explore their downtown. There are a lot of hidden gems just waiting to be discovered.
SW: What Piece of Technology can’t you live without?
ZP: Definitely my phone. It is a mini office for me. I am always on it with emails, checking product and keeping a presence online.
SW: What do you listen to?
ZP: I have no cultural boundaries, I love music from all countries. I listen to Taj Mahal and Tribe called Quest and everything in between.
SW: Social networking site?
ZP: I use Facebook a lot but probably like Instagram the best. I use it to see what is going on with different people and to see art and different products without seeing them in an ad.
SW Favorite saying?
ZP: It is what it is…
SW: What do you do away from your career?
ZP: Winter sports when I am not in a cast or having surgery, golf, riding my motorcycle or playing with my cars and yard work that is never ending.
SW: Who has been the biggest influence in your life?
ZP: My father. Before he passed, he taught me to stand on my own two feet. He was an out of the box thinker who lived the example that you can do anything if you just go for it. He invented the Tee-Gar to hold a cigar when golfing and over 2 ½ million have been sold. He tried to bring racing to the streets of Worcester to provide a boost to the economy but that is one thing that he never made happen.
SW: What is something few people know about you?
ZP: There is nothing hidden. I am a completely open book. I always tell it like it is.
SW: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
ZP: Definitely with grey hair, probably a few pounds heavier, cigar in my mouth and doing exactly what I do now. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I will be working to expand the business and maintain the reputation.
SW: Any thoughts about Worcester since you spend every day downtown?
ZP: Before you can shine an apple, you need to make sure the core is not rotten. Downtown is a ghost town. All the attention given to development on its outskirts has just knocked the legs out from under it. It used to be a thriving downtown with department stores, restaurants, and wonderful small businesses that people from all over Central Ma supported. Now the city has let the retail slip away. Parking is difficult in most areas. The city needs to work from the inside out and pick a project and stick with it. There needs to be a plan that will actually revitalize downtown and support businesses like the Owl Shop that have been supporting the city for almost 7 decades.
With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Susan Wagner has been known for driving events, initiatives, launches, and openings through her company Susan Wagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media, grassroots outreach and PR campaigns.
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