People often ask if there was a real Joe Jost that founded our celebrated tavern.
Yes, Joe was a real man who remains a part of the folklore of Long Beach. Meanwhile, Joe Jost’s remains a family business, with his grandson Ken now running the show.
So who was Joe?
What was he really like?
How did he make Joe Jost’s the landmark it is today?
Back around our 70th anniversary in 1994, Ken’s wife Cathleen wrote a great article about Joe, his life and his legacy, that we think answers all those questions and more. Keep reading to find out more about Joe Jost the man.
WHO WOULD IT BE?
Three years ago I joined the Rancho Los Cerritos School Docent Program to teach California history to fourth graders. Volunteers conduct four-part tours by playing real or fictitious characters in a make-believe 1878 setting.
During our eight-week training session, each morning usually began with an icebreaker question. One day the question posed was, “If you could spend half an hour and have a cup of tea with someone who is no longer living, a famous person or a family member, who would that person be?”
Fellow trainees and docents stood up and rattled off well known historical and flamboyant figures such as Queen Victoria and Marco Polo. As my turn quickly approached, all I could think of was, “Who am I going to choose?”
Then, in an instant, the name came to me. I jumped up and said: “It would be Joe Jost; he was my husband’s grandfather. I’ve heard so much about him, both true and untrue, that I wish I could have met him.” He was a man’s man, yet sensitive and a genuine humanitarian. Unfortunately, he died 19 years ago.
Joe Jost’s is still considered by many to be a Long Beach landmark, the old-time, no-frills eatery and pool hall endures, much unchanged.
To commemorate this occasion I have been researching Joe Jost’s life. So what was he really like, this man who took up snow skiing at 65 years old and conquered dirt bike riding at 75? Though he’s gone, I see his spirit of adventure, confidence, self reliance and sincere disposition living in other family members.
Strange how some Americans clamor for role models to admire. They look to athletic heroes and movie stars, yet fail to consider the value of assimilating the positive qualities of their own relatives. Remember the old saying you can pick your friends but not your family? Well, after my investigation, Joe would have served as a terrific role model for any age group and many of us would have selected him as a family member.
Joe was born in a small Hungarian town called Istranfold, now in Yugoslavia. At the young age of 12 he was given a choice of either becoming a priest or getting a job. Off he went to live with an uncle in a nearby village to serve a four-year apprenticeship as a barber.
You see, Joe had a dream of his own. Fascinated by the books he had read about the United States, he romanticized about journeying to America. In those days, I’m told that you had to have a skill or trade before coming to the U.S. This being a part of his plan at the age of 16, he sailed a steamer that landed in New York Harbor. He never forgot the moment he first gazed upon the Statue of Liberty, a memory he kept close to his heart for his entire lifetime.
Accompanying Joe was a new found friend, also named Joe, from his uncle’s barber shop; family members later call him “Uncle JoJo”. Uncle JoJo, somewhat brokenhearted, was lured by Joe’s enthusiasm to travel west and asked if he could go along. Although, Uncle JoJo was at least 10 years senior to Joe Jost, there was never a question of who took care of whom. Joe was clearheaded and exuded self-assurance; plus, he was a strong personality and just plain fun.
After he landed in New York, Joe got a job as a barber, but he always had the wanderlust.
Even in his old homeland he took many trips, usually on a bicycle, exploring the picturesque countryside. (His favorite trip was to Vienna to see the opera.)
He was excited to see the rest of the U.S. His method of operation was to get established in a place, then send for his uncle JoJo. The first thing he did when he arrived in a new town was buy a freshly-starched collar, clean up, and go get a job. Joe scouted barber shops with the best clientele and told his daughter Pat, “I always got a job immediately.”
Not to get too far off the subject, but I was in a local specialty shop a few weeks ago when in walked a couple in their late teens dressed in beach attire and reeking of suntan lotion. I could hardly believe my ears when the girl approached the salesman and asked for a job application.
I said to him on the side, “She’s got to be kidding. Does she seriously think she’ll get hired, dressed like that, with her boyfriend in tow?”I might add I know it’s the style, but the boyfriend was wearing those now popular, ever-so-attractive size-40 clown shorts clinched below his 28-inch waist.
Perhaps, Joe Jost could have given them some helpful advice on dressing to get the job.
Joe worked his was westward, venturing from New York to Chicago to Denver. He eventually wound up in Upland, California where he met his future wife, Edith McKean. With each city, Uncle JoJo followed up the trail.
Yearning to see the world, Joe hopped a Spreckles freighter bound for Australia. Stopping off in the island paradise of Hawaii, he was the first blonde curly-haired man to be presented to the Queen of Hawaii. Traveling on to Australia, where he arrived with only a $5 gold piece, Joe quickly landed a job.
By the time Joe set foot in New Zealand he wired Uncle JoJo, who was still stateside, for some money. What he received was a one way non-refundable ticket back to the U.S., which ended his intended world tour. Apparently, Uncle JoJo knew he would have kept on the move.
After returning to Upland, Joe married Edith in June 1917. He worked as an insurance agent for a short time, but then enlisted in the Army. During World War I, he drove a supply wagon and served as an infantry foot soldier in Europe. After an honorable discharge, Joe went back to Upland and dabbled in the insurance business once more.
But in 1920, Joe truly found his niche when he opened up a place of his own. Unknown to many the original Joe Jost’s was located on Main Street, Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. He sold candy, ice cream and cigarettes, along with other sundry items and Eastside Near Beer. For the gamesmen, billiards and poker were played in the back.
In 1924, Joe sold his Balboa location and moved to Long Beach. He established Joe Jost’s on Anaheim Street as a combination barber shop/pool and poker emporium.
Various sundry items continued to be sold: corn cob pipes, razor blades, headache remedies, etc. When prohibition was repealed, Joe started to serve cold beer in addition to some sandwiches. Hence, the beloved “Special” was invented along with Joe’s pickled eggs.
During that time he also sold fresh eggs and slab bacon to go. Soon thereafter, the Barbering Commission informed Joe that it was much too dangerous to cut hair where alcohol was served and consumed. So, out went the barber chairs and in went the now-old initial engraved booths.
Joe was a tenacious worker and managed to cut costs during the Depression years by using his business savvy. Electricity costs were high, so he turned the lights off and turned them on again when he heard potential customers in approaching traffic.
As the years passed, Joe Jost, Jr. became a partner at “the store”. This title, given by Edith, a proper teetotaler, referred to the family business. Joe was able to take even more time off having Joe Jr. in charge in his absence (of course, there were some squabbles about the rearrangement of the bread stock and other condiments). But Joe had a passion for camping and fly-fishing. He would take long trips for 2-3 months at a time.
In spite of his great love for people, Joe cherished his solitude. For the first few weeks he enjoyed setting up camp and being alone. After that time all friends and family were welcomed. He also acquired the nickname “Sierra Joe.” It seems an appropriate name since he had a pure reverence for all animals, nature and the beauty of the stars.
One of his favorite camp haunts was Witchipec, where he bestowed gifts or jewelry to the Hoopa Indians. They reassembled the stones and gems into other beadwork or used the pieces to adorn their clothing.
Joe spent his retired years first in Desert Hot Springs. There he learned to ride dirt bikes and spent a lot of his time swimming and taking saunas. He also fed the coyotes. His daughter Pat said, “My Daddy wasn’t afraid of anything.”
When he quit driving, he moved to Leisure World in Seal Beach. There he played billiards and cards and attended all the dances (I forgot to mention on his Atlantic crossing he rode steerage but spent most of his nights on the upper decks, when the ladies found out what a fabulous dancer he was).
Of course, he made a lot of new friends with his magnetic personality and the mini-Joe Jost’s he set up his patio. Books and music were always very important to him. Forever an opera fan, he continued to listen to all kinds of music. The only novel he ever read was “The Old Man & the Sea.”
So back to the cup of tea, “Who would it be?” Maybe not a famous person, but a family member. Perhaps a role model that is still here; the opportunity awaits you while there is time.