By James Doyle, Computer Engineering and Art History student at Northeastern University
Josh Gerber’s family has a history of business ownership. Upon arrival as immigrants to the United States from Germany during the 1940s, owning one’s own business was the “way immigrants made it.” Starting with actions like cleaning cars for money and building up from there, business ownership has allowed Josh’s family upward mobility, and it has allowed them to firmly root themselves and their businesses across the country.
As such, following naturally in these footsteps, it makes sense that Josh’s uncle would come to open the first location of the 1369 Coffee House in 1993. Having grown up in Worcester along with Josh’s mom, his uncle spent a lot of time moving around. After serving in Vietnam and going to school in New York, he found himself working in restaurant consultation. It was only coincidence that a number of restaurants he was working with happened to be in the Boston area, bringing him back home to Massachusetts. And after having considered working at the old George Howell-owned chain, the Coffee Connection, it seemed the coffee industry was calling.
The 1369 Coffee House has been heavily tied to the city of Cambridge from its inception. It opened its first location at the Inman Square site of the former 1369 Jazz Club, and its second site followed two years later in Central Square. Though the coffee shop scene was drastically different when 1369 was founded, with the original location even including a smoking room, the core message has stayed constant throughout the years: to offer a “third place,” beyond home and work, for people to come together, relax, talk, and be a part of their community.
Like his uncle, it was circumstance that led Josh to become the current owner and operator of the family business. Having grown up in North Carolina, Josh found himself similarly far from Massachusetts at the start of his career. He had participated in Teach for America, and was working in education consulting, and about to pursue a graduate degree, but he had some dissatisfaction about his life’s trajectory. At hearing that his uncle planned to leave the business in 2005, Josh figured that he might as well take a shot in the dark and try working at the coffee house for a stint.
Ever since that start, Josh has wonderfully continued the legacy of the 1369 Coffee House started by his uncle, and further fostered the sense of community that buzzes through their patrons. Through caring about their products, their employees, and their community, Josh and his team have managed to continue the palpably warm and welcoming air started decades ago by his uncle. The atmosphere of the space, the “reason this place still looks like 1993,” makes it known that it’s a place that has been and will be here to welcome patrons, new and old.
A lot has changed in the coffee scene since Josh’s uncle opened the doors, but it’s that development and growth that seems to have Josh hooked. Discussing the “living, breathing, dynamic thing” that is business ownership, Josh seems to truly enjoy building upon and iterating ideas, facilitating growth.The work Josh does at the 1369 Coffee House has further extended itself to be a method of community building and community engagement. This level of involvement is not unknown to Josh, as even in his free time he is chair of the board of On the Rise, a non-profit organization that offers outreach and services to Cambridge’s homeless women. Through the 1369 Coffee House, Josh has managed to create an atmosphere that draws in a crowd as diverse as Cambridge itself. The interaction that goes on within the coffee house, the connections made, are what, as Josh says, “make a neighborhood special.”