The owner of a South Philly-based coffee company is looking to earn his spot in Harrisburg in the upcoming 2022 elections.
Will Gross, the owner of OX Coffee, launched his campaign for state representative in the 182nd District, which stretches across Center City through the 2nd, 5th and 8th wards, on Sunday, Dec. 15. He made the announcement at his coffee shop in Queen Village.
Gross, who has served as a Democratic committeeperson in the 2nd Ward since 2018, expressed his eagerness to fight for policies that he believes will help uplift families and businesses that have been hit the hardest by the pandemic. Increasing wages, expanding access to healthcare and affordable housing as well as improving school conditions, he thinks, are the keys to that.
“It’s about the idea of strengthening the community,” Gross said. “These are certain things that I think can push towards real progress.”
It’s a community that’s deeply rooted in Gross’s lineage. Gross’s father was a longtime Philly native and his mother immigrated from Taiwan to the city in the early 1970s. The family had owned numerous small businesses over the years, including a jewelry store on Jewelers’ Row and a furniture store in Manayunk that was in operation for over two decades.
Though the elder Gross later relocated the family to Vermont when Will was 5, he later returned to his hometown to attend Drexel University.
Upon graduating in 2005, Gross made his way to New York, where he first got involved in the coffee business as a barista. He later became a full-time roaster and trained other baristas at various coffee shops throughout New York City.
But after Hurricane Sandy made landfall in 2012 and destroyed the roastery he was working at in Brooklyn, Gross made his way back to Philly for a fresh start. Returning to his roots, to him, was the right decision to make for his future.
“Philly, to me, is the place where you can come and follow a dream,” Gross said. “You can’t do that everywhere.”
Gross, along with his friend and business partner Max Cudworth, founded OX Coffee in 2013. Over the years, it has expanded to offer wholesale accounts throughout the city, many of them in the South Philly area.
Through his time as the owner of OX, Gross said he started to feel an urge to play a bigger role in the neighborhood.
“I saw a community forming at OX, and I saw that meant more to me than just being friends with folks,” Gross said. “That’s great and that’s the basis of it, but what else is there? How are we helping?”
Politics were entrenched in Gross at an early age. Having grown up in what he remembered as a “politically charged” household, he recalled his father raising him on the ideas and visions of notable figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
“There was always this feeling of not just living life for yourself, but what you can do for other people,” Gross said. “How can you help, what are you doing to help, and what are you doing to make things better?”
Those values became driving forces behind him running for committeeperson in 2018. Since being elected, Gross has taken on leadership roles, including serving as chairman of the fundraising committee. His wife, Lindsey, has also been active in the community, serving as the VP of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Union.
For his part, Gross has done what he can to act on the policies he is campaigning on. At OX, he implemented a $15-per-hour wage for all of his employees, something he called a “moral obligation” in an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer. To Gross, the state’s $7.25-per-hour minimum wage is not nearly sufficient enough.
“In the state of Pennsylvania, it doesn’t matter where you live, that’s not going to cut it,” Gross said. “I don’t know anybody that wants to pay $7.25, but maybe that’s all they can pay. We have to figure out how we can help small businesses get to the spot where they’re paying someone a wage that they can go home and live a life with.”
Gross strongly believes his firsthand experiences as a small-business owner can assist him in his push for the things that will help those who still are feeling the effects of the ongoing pandemic.
But above all, Gross is confident that he can advocate for the kind of change that can restore some semblance of faith in government.
“My dad always likes to say, ‘The role of government is to do what otherwise would not be done,’ ” Gross said. “I’ve seen how government can help in a real way. I’ve seen that it can work. If I plug myself into that, with that experience, I think we can generate some progress.”