Written by Jordan Michelman.

I don’t want to throw around the word “icon” lightly, but Joe Coffee of New York City really is one of those iconic 21st-century American coffee companies with a legacy and cultural reach that’s hard to neatly surmise. Founded in the West Village by Jonathan Rubinstein and his sister, Gabrielle Rubinstein, in 2003, the coffee bar quickly became a favorite of New Yorkers of all stripes, with ordinary neighborhood regulars who just so happened to be film and TV stars and a growing fanbase of coffee obsessives. Now partnered with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, Joe has grown to 20 cafes and counting across Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, with a very well-regarded in-house roasting program. I have my own must-visit Joe locations every time I’m in New York, including the original Joe location at Waverly & Gay in the West Village and my personal favorite Joe on the Upper West Side, close to the park. 

Operation and workflow are essential parts of the Joe equation, and to learn more about how espresso fits into it all, I spoke with Jon Freihofer, Joe’s Director of Coffee Services. 

Hi Jon, thanks so much for speaking with me. Joe Coffee now has more than 20 (!) locations and counting now across New York City; I’ve been to many of them, and they’re each a little different. I’m curious to ask — how similar is the workflow and barista experience between each cafe? Do you have baristas who work at multiple cafes for Joe, or do baristas tend to just work at one place on your team? 

Jon Freihofer: We’ve actually done a lot of work to standardize the workflow and barista experience in our cafes, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Some stores are older than others, some with more optimal design than others! 

There are some baristas who are “floaters” in the company and love to pull shifts at other locations. We have a pretty good eco-system of shift swapping…there’s always work elsewhere if one so desires, which is great for locations with a more seasonal business pacing. But I’d say most of the staff prefers to stay at their home store in their comfort zones.

 What role does the espresso machine play in standardizing workflow? Are you working with the exact same LM machine model in each cafe, or do some cafes use slightly different gear? 

It plays a huge role, especially since all of the training in the whole company takes place in a central hub: our training lab in Long Island City. We train everyone on a Linea PB AV although some of our newer stores have a Linea Classic S AV. The workflow and recipes are more or less the same, though.

How dominant is espresso for you in terms of the drinks you serve — like ballpark, around what percent of the drinks served at Joe come from your espresso machine? 

At least half! We have a lot of die-hard espresso fans, even though many customers are trending with cold brew and iced coffee orders nowadays. 

Do you have a personal favorite Joe cafe? Is there one you think speaks truly to Joe as a brand here in 2024? Obviously, there are hardcore Waverly & Gay fans (I am one of them), but maybe there’s another location you kind of love and want to shout out?

I love Waverly dearly, it was the first place I worked at when I moved to New York. It’s a quintessential NYC neighborhood community hub. But I also really love our new 72 & Broadway location (secret meeting table in the back with pigeon wallpaper takes the cake), Park Slope with its continuation of the Waverly community spirit and totally blue-painted facade, and probably my number one right now, our new location on LaGuardia Place near Washington Square Park. It just has the magic–a great place to linger, converse, and daydream.

Thank you.

Visit Joe Coffee Company’s official website and follow them on Instagram