For decades, a corner of West 16th Street in Manhattan’s Union Square featured a coffee shop, which was replaced in 1990 by a noisy, sceney, all-night restaurant that called itself Coffee Shop. But the newest occupant, which opened Tuesday, is a little less colorful: it’s a Chase Bank branch, the financial giant’s 346th New York City location.
The new tenant’s identity, which hit the city’s news blogs months ago, prompted considerable digital eye rolling among online commenters mourning the location’s former occupants.
“There will probably be offerings of stale coffee for customers, served in 6-ounce styrofoam cups adjacent to congealed non-dairy creamers, so tradition will be regally retained,” was a typical remark. “I can just taste it now.”
But the branch, it turns out, also includes a surprising subtenant: Joe Coffee Company, the New York City mini chain. The bank envisions its financial advisers escorting clients to the cafe area for a cappuccino.
I was startled when the people at Joe told me the plan. Joe has long been my favorite coffee spot. Chase is my bank. They’re good on their own, but do I want them teaming up?
“It’s like my dog getting together with Amazon !” I said when I met Joe founder and CEO Jonathan Rubinstein at the chain’s Brooklyn Heights location last week.
“I can see that,” he replied.
Had he been approached for the partnership when he opened his first cafe in Manhattan’s West Village in 2003, “I don’t think I’d even be able to wrap my head around it,” Mr. Rubinstein says.
The Cleveland native was 32 years old at the time and had just left an unhappy career as a talent agent. His modest goal: a gathering place with great coffee.
He succeeded. Back then, Manhattan’s coffee options were limited largely to Starbucks and the deli. People like me would walk out of their way for a Joe. It was fun to watch the business expand to locations in Chelsea and even Grand Central Terminal.
Mr. Rubinstein fondly recalls a time when he knew every employee and zipped around town on his Vespa to visit each cafe daily.
But he wasn’t satisfied. Over time, Manhattan’s soaring retail rents and construction costs ended the expansion, he says.
Meanwhile, regional chains such as Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Oakland’s Blue Bottle Coffee were making inroads in New York City thanks to private equity and corporate backing.
“We wanted to keep growing but didn’t have the capital,” Mr. Rubinstein recalls. “I started to feel competitive with some of those brands.”
His opportunity came in 2017 when Enlightened Hospitality Investments, an equity fund associated with Union Square Hospitality Group that includes famed restaurateur Danny Meyer as one of the managing partners, made Joe its first investment. It sunk more than $10 million into the chain.
And it was Mr. Meyer who came up with the idea of pairing Joe with Chase.
The restaurateur says he broached the subject when he ran into JPMorgan Chase CEO James Dimon at the U.S. Open in 2017. He knew banks were looking to lure more traffic to their branches, and a Joe-Chase combo seemed like a natural fit.
“I think Chase is a great New York brand and Joe is also New York,” Mr. Meyer says. “This is a really cool and proud celebration of New York City.”