Joe Coffee Gets Into the Roasting Business


When Jonathan and Gabrielle Rubinstein opened the doors 10 years ago to their first location of Joe Coffee on Waverly, they became forerunners in the coffee renaissance that was about to blossom in New York City. And as neighbors fell in love with well-pulled espresso shots from quality beans and cups of coffee that transcended what you’d find in the corner deli, the siblings began to expand into several locations across NYC and Philadelphia, continuing research and innovation and eventually building a coffee lab to continue to raise the bar.

What they didn’t have, though, was their own roastery.

“We realized 10 years into having Joe that we’d done it backward,” says Jonathan. “When we had one little shop 10 years ago, it was our dream to roast our own coffee. Most people in coffee want to go bean-to-cup. As we kept organically opening stores, we kept saying so great if we can roast. But the bigger we got, the more daunting it sounded.”

Running a coffee shop and running a roastery, Jonathan explains, are two vastly different endeavors that require vastly different skill sets. So the duo put the plan on the back burner, vowing to revisit it if they ever found the right person to launch the operation. And then two years ago, they started talking seriously with Ed Kaufmann, a Stumptown roaster who’d been a friend of the Rubinsteins for several years. “The stars aligned,” says Jonathan.

The team began looking for a suitable facility, but found nothing that fit until they met Steve Mierisch, who was gearing up to open the Pulley Collective, a co-op roasting facility, in Red Hook. “He pitched the idea to us, and it took just a couple of days for us to commit and move forward,” says Jonathan.

Kaufmann got to work creating a house blend and four seasonal coffees for Joe, a process that started with developing relationships with importers to source high quality beans and then roasting, blending, and tasting with the aim of creating a diverse menu. “The Ethiopian is very floral and fruity while Guatamalan is very sugary and caramel-y,” explains Kaufmann. “Then you compare those to the house blend, which is very approachable and balanced.”

To keep the shops supplied, Kaufmann will have to roast 4,000 pounds of beans per week, though some of that will also go to a small number of restaurants and Joyride Coffee, which supplies offices with quality beans. But as for expanding the wholesale operation, Jonathan says the company plans to take things slowly. “We want to be sure first that the coffee tastes amazing,” he says “We waited 10 years to start roasting, so if it takes us six months to roll out wholesale, that’s fine.”

But from here, he does hope to engage the public more in coffee education. “We’d like to push the envelope on what we’re doing,” he says. “A lot of consumer education focuses on how to brew at home. We’d like to do roastery visits and teach people how to roast at home.”

Taste the new Joe Beans at any Joe Coffee location beginning Monday.