I hate repeating myself on my blog, so if you’ve been reading for me a while, you know that Joe is my favorite coffee shop in New York. The location on Waverly is where I wrote my first book and most of my second; it’s where I’d meet friends to chat about projects or lives, it’s where I first laid eyes on Craig before we started dating. The place positively glows with good energy and the coffee is always top-notch, some might say (and I’d agree with them) the best in town.
Now Jonathan Rubinstein and his sister Gabrielle have collaborated with food writer Judith Choate on “Joe: The Coffee Book,” a charming collection of essays and pictures and how-tos that demystifies the process of making excellent coffee at home. What follows is a Q&A with Jonathan about the book, the process of writing it, and how he stays relevant in a city swarming with new coffee shops.
Jonathan, congrats on your beautiful new JOE book! What was your experience like working on it? Was it harder to do than you thought?
The experience was amazing! We had so many ideas rattling around in our heads for the last 9 years, that we always wanted the opportunity to put them in one place and share them. This book, which is basically a slice of our Joe life (barista culture, home brewing, etc.) was the perfect chance to do that. We were lucky enough to team up with James Beard winning author, Judith Choate. Let’s just say she made the actual writing easier than it should have been.
One of the charming things about JOE that you talk about in the book’s intro is that it’s really a family business. Can you talk about working with your family? Does everyone always get along? Who makes the coffee at family gatherings?
I think we are one of those blessed families who have always gotten along super well, and always been on the same page. It’s beyond fantastic to work together, because we all have the same goals, a lot at stake, and we know we are relying on each other. Joe is basically run by my sister and me, who started the 1st shop, where you were one of our 1st favorite regulars, in 2003. Our parents, who are retired, handle a lot of the things that are beyond our scope of understanding; insurance, taxes, and lawyerly type things. They were our 1st investors, thus they are equal partners. As I think about it, I don’t think we’ve had major disagreements in our 9 years as partners. Gosh, by the time we get together for family functions, we are coffeed out, and I don’t think anybody makes it.
As you say in the book, “When Joe opened in 2003, there were just a few trained baristas working in New York City…[now] the coffee ‘scene’ has switched to New York.” How do you keep up with such a growing industry? What new coffee trends excite you the most? Which do you enjoy the least?
The coffee world is a completely different place than it was when we 1st opened, and that’s really an understatement. There are easily 50 coffee shops in the New York City area doing an excellent job, and treating coffee as a culinary art. The truth is this is the best thing that could happen to us, and it constantly makes us reevaluate, push ourselves harder, and force ourselves to innovate. In coffee, there seems to be a new trend every Tuesday. We roll our eyes at some of these, but some of them we have embraced, and probably started. I love the new trend of people weighing their coffee both before being brewed and after, and we have found enormous qualitative differences once we started weighing each espresso shot before handing it to a customer. Trends like the necessity that all baristas wear fedoras or newsboy caps? Not so much.
I love how you feature your regulars in the book (and I’m proud to be included in their number). Can you talk about the community at JOE? You know I first saw Craig (my partner) at Joe on Waverly; I’m sure you’ve had all kinds of stories like that. Can you tell us a few?
We certainly have had at least a half dozen marriages come out of Joe–some between customers, and some between customer and staff. In fact my sister met her husband through the Joe running team, which is a big part of the Joe community. We strive to ensure that each of our locations becomes part of its local community, and continue to have events and design spaces to foster that. We might be more proud about this aspect than anything else. We want the magic we captured when we only had one shop to be part of each location.
Finally: when are you opening the L.A. branch? Can I get my own dedicated table?
You will always have your own dedicated table. With us opening shops so fast lately (we just hit 9!) I think I’ve lost track. I think the LA branch opens in August. Maybe September? Just kidding, I think you have enough good coffee there already!