By Wenhao Ma
In little more than eight years, John Tsunis’ Gold Coast Bank has gone from one location in Islandia to a publicly-traded company with six branches on Long Island, and another opening in downtown Brooklyn.
Now he’s contemplating the bank’s first branch in Manhattan, because many of the customers and stockholders on Long Island are also residents of New York City.
“I don’t want to build a wall between us and New York City,” Tsunis said.
Tsunis, 65, has multiple business interests. He is not only the chairman and chief executive officer of Gold Coast Bank, but is also on the board of directors of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Association, and the founder and CEO of Islandia-based Long Island Hotels. He opened the first Holiday Inn Express franchise on Long Island in Stony Brook in 1991, which was the first in the United States.
According to Gold Coast Bank’s 2016 second quarter report, its net income reached $573,000, a 178 percent increase compared to the same quarter last year. Its assets, deposits and loans have all increased compared to 2015.
The bank also reported year-to-date net income of $991,000.
Gold Coast Bank went public in June, issuing about $9.5 million in shares.
“We are encouraged by our original investors who continue to support our community bank, as well as new investors who have come aboard,” Tsunis said in a statement.
After his first bank, Long Island Commercial Bank, was taken over by New York Community Bancorp in 2005, many clients felt the new, larger bank no longer offered a personal touch. So Tsunis created Gold Coast Bank.
“We used the same model [as we did for Long Island Commercial Bank], almost like a private bank, where we could meet with our neighbors and help them,” Tsunis said. “The bank has a tremendous opportunity to help the development of the growth and the success of the neighbors in our community.”
He said Gold Coast Bank reinvests clients’ deposits right into the community where they are located.
“You deposit money here and we don’t send it to Europe, China or South America like a multinational bank,” he said.
Tsunis remembers when he and his bank helped a Stony Brook restaurant that had trouble funding an expansion.
“That’s not a big enough fish for them,” he said, explaining why the big banks wouldn’t lend money to the restaurant. “For small banks like ours that are in our community, every fish is a big fish.”
Tsunis said he was familiar with the owners, who had been in business for a long time.
“We took that as an opportunity to support the community and a local merchant,” he said, adding that he responded right away.
Tsunis said his father worked in a restaurant in Manhattan. When the son was 12 or 13 years old, he used to go to work with his father every Saturday. His job was to bring coffee and egg sandwiches to the customers, which helped him develop a good work ethic.
Growing up, Tsunis always wanted to be a lawyer and get into the real estate business. He graduated from New York University with honors in banking and finance in 1973, and earned his doctor of law degree from Syracuse University College of Law two years later. Before long he started his own law firm with a personnel comprising himself and a secretary.
“By being a lawyer, I thought I would understand the language of the real estate world and legal world,” he said. “I have tremendous passion for whatever I did. I didn’t want to do anything just for the sake of doing it. I enjoy law, I enjoy practicing land use and I enjoy developing real estate.”
A blueprint for a happy life is what Tsunis would most like to pass on to the next generation.
“Whatever it is that you want to do,” he said, “make sure that you have a smile on your face and the passion for what you want to do because you are going to spend an awful amount of time at work.”
Tsunis is establishing a scholarship at the College of Business at Stony Brook University to help young people who want to enter the business world. He is personally donating $25,000, and the bank will add to that.
Andrew Polan, president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce, said that Tsunis, who is a very active board member in the chamber, likes to get the community involved, recalling that two years ago Tsunis spent $1,000 on tickets to a barbecue at West Meadow Beach, and gave them out free to guests at the Holiday Inn Express.
“Currently, he wants to get all parts of our community, including the faculty, staff and maybe students of our great Stony Brook and Three Village community together to do a huge New Year’s celebration — maybe centered at the new sports arena on campus,” Polan said.
Cris Damianos, vice chairman of the bank, said that Tsunis is a charitable person and a big donor to charitable organizations, adding that he understands doing business is not a one-way street.
To help the community, Damianos said that the bank lends money not only to businesses, but to religious institutions as well.
Tsunis said he believes that his and the bank’s efforts to help the community will pay off.
“I think if we germinate those seeds, those young students, the residents of the New York metropolitan area and international students as well, will help this economy, this county, this state and country to be a better place to live,” he said.