No Ordinary JoeJonathan Rubinstein, co-owner of nine-store NYC chain, discusses the shop’s new book
By Chris Ryan
Jonathan and Gabrielle Rubinstein have come a long way in nine years. Since launching the coffeehouse Joe in New York City in 2003, the siblings have grown the business into a nine-location chain with shops throughout the Big Apple. In that time, Joe has helped usher in a new era of quality coffee—in New York and beyond. Now the Rubinsteins have celebrated Joe’s success with a book, titled “Joe: The Coffee Book,” released June 5. The tome tracks the path of the coffeehouse and highlights some of the techniques and trends that have helped it stay on the cutting edge. The fast-talking Jonathan Rubinstein spoke with Fresh Cup about the writing process, the aim of the book, and how he and his sisters handled the balance between words and images.
Q: Why did you and Gabrielle want to write a book?
A: I think in the last couple years we realized that most of the books we were recommending to people or using as references were written a fairly long time ago—before the enormous explosion of specialty coffee in these major cities, and before anyone was talking about things like direct trade and barista culture. A very good customer of ours named Judith Choate—who happens to be a pretty prominent food writer—approached us and asked if we would be interested in doing a book. The idea was that my sister and I would drive the content, Judith would take care of the nitty-gritty and her husband, Steve Pool, would handle the photography. We said yes, and it just seemed like the stars aligned. We found a great agent really quickly and she sold the book, and then it was just happening. It took about a year-and-a-half from when we got our deal to the release date.
Q: What did you want the book to communicate?
A: We didn’t want to write another coffee book that was just seed to cup. Initially we wanted something that spoke to the New York coffee scene and to the culture of our brand in terms of the community aspect and the barista culture. We wanted it to be very visual, but we also wanted people who are not part of coffee culture and don’t live in New York to feel like they could get something out of it. So we did feel it was important to do some seed-to-cup and geography of where coffee comes from, but we also included some home procedures and recipes so there was something tangible that could be taken from it.
Q: How did you write it? Would you and Gabrielle throw out ideas and then Judith would shape them?
A: It really was a collaboration—it was definitely not a ghost writing scenario where she wrote it and we read it. Gabrielle and I put in maybe 80 hours in total together, putting fingers to computer.
Q: Was it challenging writing a book with your sibling?
A: No, it was great. We have been doing this together for nine years. We run the company so closely together that we almost have one mind. There were no disagreements. And Judith was really open to the way we wanted to drive the through-line of the book. I don’t think there was one moment of tension or disagreement about what we wanted to say anywhere. It was easy.
Q: How did it end up being so photo-heavy?
A: Originally we thought it would be even more photo heavy—that it would almost be a coffee table book. It was going to be a hard copy rather than a soft copy, with fairly little text—because to communicate something like barista culture, you have to see the pictures of throwdowns and tattoos and people making coffee. But as we got further into it, we realized that without giving some backstory of what’s happening at origin or showing people how to use some of the brew methods, it wasn’t going to mean anything. But having the writing and photography helmed by a husband-and-wife duo who have collaborated before made it so easy; they almost think as one person. It was a bit like a music collaboration, where someone composes the song and the other person handles the lyrics.