[C]ustomers walking into Joe Bean are greeted by a barista, then guided to a table where menus await, offering selections ranging from coffee and oatmeal, to cabernet sauvignon and a cheese board. The Rochester, New York, roastery, kitchen, and bar has all the makings of a specialty coffee shop, but takes a page from fine dining when it comes to menu and service style.
“We built our business model to be about the experience,” says Kathy Turiano, a partner at Joe Bean. Customer experience has been the driving force behind every business decision, from starting with a quality specialty coffee program, to adding beer and wine, to developing and building out a full food program. Last year, Joe Bean hired chef Christin Ortiz and focused on savory items and full meals—rather than pastries and bagels—for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner.
“Two years into having coffee, we started noticing that our customers wanted to explore craft beer and wine as much as they wanted to explore coffee,” Turiano says. They dove into local craft beer, and with that came light exploration into food—Joe Bean would invite a food truck to the café if they were doing an event.
As the beer and food truck program continued its rollout, the landlord approached Joe Bean, offering the space next door at a good price. It wasn’t huge, but it opened access to a warehouse and retail space, doubling the café’s existing square footage. Turiano says they took the space with plans to expand their food program exponentially, evolving from the occasional food truck to having a commercial kitchen, a chef, and back-of-house staff.
The expansion is set to be fully completed in the next year, but the first phase—the kitchen build-out, roaster relocation, and service model shift—was completed last September.
The decision to hire a chef came naturally—it’s how Joe Bean has built their team from the beginning. When they decided to build a beer program, they created an in-house position and hired someone with expertise and a vision. “Our customers come to us for the knowledge we have around coffee, and we wanted to make sure that we had just as strong a team around beer and food as we do around coffee,” Turiano says.
Chef Ortiz’s background is somewhat unorthodox. She’s not a classically trained chef, but comes from a huge Cuban and Italian food-centric family and has cooked professionally since her early twenties. Most recently, Ortiz worked for a chef at an Italian restaurant, making pasta day-in and day-out, quickly realizing she’d found her professional calling. “It was the moment when I transitioned from being a cook to being someone who curates and creates experiences,” she says.
Her experience as the creative foodie voice for Joe Bean has been instrumental in the company’s journey to doubling as a community space. And with lunch options like the cured salmon (black pepper-cured salmon with cream cheese and roasted garlic scapes, served with house-made pickles) and the roasted chicken bowl (Thai-rubbed roasted chicken served over garlic kale greens), it’s easy to see why.
As Joe Bean adds more events—such as Thursday night Jazz and Saturday night family meal—they’re establishing themselves as an integral part of the Rochester food and beverage community. Saturday night family meals are hosted by members of the local food scene, where guests gather around one large table. “Eating together brings people together,” Turiano says. “If you eat with someone and then see them at the café later, you have a connection.” So far, the hosts have been mostly food bloggers, but there are plans to extend the invitation to host to include chefs, growers, farmers, bartenders, and sommeliers.
A coffee bar first and foremost, and a leader in Rochester’s specialty coffee scene, Joe Bean’s seasonal coffees are roasted in-house, fully traceable to the farm or cooperative, and available in a variety of preparations. The espresso menu is simple, offering a choice of espresso, americano, macchiato, cappuccino, and latte, each available in one size (latte is a twelve-ounce), made with Ithaca dairy or soy milk, ground on a Mazzer Kony, and prepared on a Victoria Arduino VA388 Black Eagle machine. The robust pour-over menu includes Hario V60, Bonavita dripper, Chemex, french press, and siphon brews. Iced lattes and a shaken cold-brew round out the menu, perfect for New York’s long summer days (and nights).
The vibe in the morning is somewhat typical of a coffee shop—Joe Bean isn’t the go-to place for laptop-laden customers, but they don’t discourage it. At night, Joe Bean looks and functions more like a bar. “The concept translates more obviously at night when people are eating and drinking and enjoying music together,” Ortiz says.
The café has transformed dramatically in the last year and a half, and with the help of careful communication and a cheery attitude, customers are adjusting to the shift. “Most people aren’t used to having the barista coming out from the bar, but overall, the customers have loved it,” Ortiz says. “It’s a fun surprise when the barista or chef comes to their table and takes their order.”
—Rachel Sandstrom Morrison is Fresh Cup‘s associate editor.