Angelo K. Tsakopoulos was born to a farming family in the village of Rizes, in Arcadia, Greece. His father, a butcher, struggled to feed five children.
He first came to the United States in August 1951, sailing past the Statue of Liberty on his 15th birthday. As a college student at Sacramento State University, he waited tables at night in the Johnson’s Del Prado restaurant and sold real estate on weekends. He would eventually leave Sac State a few credits shy of graduation to work full time. At 21 years of age, he had already stockpiled experiences likely unfathomable to many of his fellow undergraduates: war, deprivation, emigration and stints as both a shoeshine boy in Chicago and a farmhand in Lodi. And he had begun laying the groundwork for his future, arguably becoming the most significant force to shape Sacramento since John Sutter. He boxed in college. His former boxing teammates say the elements of his larger-than-life persona were present even in the days when he was studying business, philosophy, and history under the Americanized surname of Chicos, a name he later dropped to reclaim his family name.
Tsakopoulos has since climbed to prominence through uncommon business acumen and sheer tenacity. He turns on the charm with politicians, plays hardball with environmental regulators, and promotes big ideas for the region. In recent years, he’s offered to donate farmland he controls in Placer County for a private university, and to help fund its construction by developing adjacent acreage. He has proposed that the region open thousands of acres of ranchland he controls along the Sacramento-El Dorado County line for development, using some of those proceeds to fund a new arena for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings. He also grows wine grapes in Borden Ranch and walnuts at an orchard outside Wheatland.
In late 2010, his family purchased Conaway Ranch, a 17,244 property of farming and ranching land as well as wetlands and water resources west of Sacramento. The Sacramento Bee reported the family already held 18,000 acres of farmland and vineyards and 40,000 acres of cattle grazing land in Northern California.
Tsakopoulos’ older brother George, who passed away in 2009, followed him to Sacramento, and also went into real estate. George’s family controls thousands of acres in the region. Angelo is founder of AKT Development Corporation, now headed by his son, Kyriakos, which controls about 40,000 acres of land in the region and neighboring San Joaquin County.
He has also carved out a niche for himself as a major player in and fundraiser for the Democratic Party. His daughter, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, is currently U.S. Ambassador to Hungary. Tsakopoulos and his family have established Hellenic Studies chairs at several major American universities across the country, Georgetown, Stanford and Columbia among them.