Zagat: Why Philadelphia?
Jonathan Rubinstein: There are a lot of reasons we chose Philly. Proximity was a huge factor - it takes me just about the same amount of time to get from my home in Brooklyn to our Columbia University shop as it does for me to take Amtrak to the Rittenhouse store. The second reason is that Philly is known for being a great culinary city, and the coffee scene is excellent. Oliver Strand came down specifically to do an article for the New York Times on it.
Zagat: Have you explored the Philly coffee scene yourself?
JR: Yes! We’ve been doing research and visited several cafes. Ultimo is already well-known on the national scene. We also went to Elixr, Shot Tower, Bodhi, OCF and more. Our Rittenhouse store manager, Amy, has been living here since January and she keeps saying the sense of community is so much greater than in NYC. She’s been running into all the other cafe owners, manager and barista all over, in bars and things. Everyone’s really accepting and welcoming. Even Todd [Carmichael] from La Colombe, he’s been very friendly.
Zagat: You feel like Joe Coffee belongs in Philly?
JR: Exactly. We don’t want to be perceived as a big, flashy interloper. That’s just not what we’re about - even in New York, we’re not trying to be the cool, trendy place. We just want people to like coming in and getting great coffee. We are so not Starbucks.
Zagat: Are there any differences between your NYC shops and the one in Rittenhouse?
JR: Not many, at all - the drink menu is the same, even the prices are closer than we originally thought they’d be. The main difference - which is huge on our end - is the size. In NYC, our cafes average 500 square feet. The Walnut Street space is 1,200 square feet, which feels like such a luxury! Designing a shop where you can have ample seating, comfortable counter space, a designated drip area... it sounds rather pedestrian, but it’s not. The Philly store feels spacious and happy and relaxed and the whole experience of getting your coffee it going to be much more - not refined - but the right word might be, more civil.
Zagat: Are you using the same beans for the coffee here as in New York?
JR: Actually, Philly is going to be the first store where all coffee drinks will be 100% self-roasted. A few years ago we brought on Ed Kaufman, former Stumptown head roaster, to lead our roastery, and we’ve used our own beans for regular coffee since then. [You can buy bags at the store.] Doing an espresso roast is different, and up to now we’ve been using a special custom blend from Echo Cafe, which was then bought by Intelligentsia. But... we’re going to take the plunge this spring, and by July 22 everything in the Philly cafe will be house-roasted.
Zagat: You’re also serving food that’s unique to Philly, right?
JR: Some of it is, yes. We did a lot of tasting to choose pastry providers; we wanted great stuff that you couldn’t necessarily find elsewhere, which is where Brûlée Bakery fit right in. We’re also going to sell some stuff from Metropolitan Bakery - I know it’s right across the park, but it’s so good! And we have a contract with Ovenly in NYC for custom sandwiches. We found a Brooklyn-based bakery that makes daily deliveries to Philadelphia and the sandwiches will hitch a ride down each morning.
Zagat: So, what city are you expanding to next?
JR: Oh, there are no plans yet! It took us 10 years just to get to our second city. Ask me in a year - the two stores in Philly could be the best thing and working so well that we’ll consider other markets, but then again, this situation could be unique to Philadelphia. We have no ambitions like that. I’m just concentrating on Rittenhouse right now - you really couldn’t ask for a better spot. It’s a location for a cafe.