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The opening of Aroma's first location in Canada at an intersection with a Starbucks, Second Cup and Tim Horton's shows that the Israeli company has a little hutzpa and a lot of confidence.
"If we can't compete with local chains, what's the point of being here?" asked Anat Davidson, the operating partner of Aroma Canada.
Before opening in the Annex, a trendy community in Toronto just a few blocks north of the downtown core, Aroma staff worked endlessly to ensure that the newest franchise would embrace and replicate the atmosphere, style and quality of food that continues to be Aroma's recipe for success in Israel.
"This is the nicest branch I've ever seen," said Lior Ranan, who previously worked at an Aroma in Afula. Ranan is one of eight all-star Aroma shift managers sent to train the Canadian staff and operate the cafe during its infancy, ensuring a high level of professionalism and efficiency.
As pedestrians walk by Aroma's giant windows, the smell of freshly baked pastries wafts out the open door, drawing customers in to a warm and welcoming ambience. Before opening, the location was renovated to accommodate Aroma's open concept design, which gives customers the ability to watch as their food is prepared in front of them.
While the pastry dough and coffee beans are imported from Israel, the cheeses Aroma uses in its hit sandwiches were not as easily brought from Israel due to concerns of freshness. Davidson complained that she couldn't find cheeses in local grocery stores that matched the quality and taste of the cheeses Aroma uses in Israel. Only after scouring the Toronto cheese market was Davidson able to locate cheese up to Aroma standards.
This style and dedication to perfection have already won over the hearts and taste buds of members of the Annex community.
"When I walked in, I noticed there was a different feel, much more European, with lots of space and more selection than other places," said Nelson Lopes, a local coffee drinker and previously loyal Starbucks customer, now hooked on Aroma. When asked about the taste of Aroma's beverages, he proudly held up his Ice Aroma and said: "I was actually downtown, and I felt like one of these, and there were tons of Starbucks and Second Cups, but I drove all the way here so I could have this one."
While Israelis and Jews living in Toronto have started to come to Aroma to be virtually transported to Jerusalem's Rehov Hillel, most of its patrons, such as Lopes, have no clue of Aroma's Israeli citizenship. "When I came here on Saturday [when the store opened], I didn't know where they came from, so I went on the Web and did a search and found that they were an Israeli company. I think we need places like this in Toronto," said Lopes.
Although Aroma is not hiding its Israeli character, it is definitely not broadcasting it. "We are a private company not involving ourselves in any political dispute," said Davidson, obviously rehearsed.
Aroma's international character, however, is definitely an added bonus in Toronto, arguably one of the world's most multicultural cities. It fits in perfectly with the Japanese sushi bars, Indian buffets, Korean grills and Lebanese felafel stands, only a few of the flavors found in the Annex. And although Toronto has an increasingly large selection of Jewish, kosher and Israeli-style restaurants, this is the first franchise with roots in Israel.
If Aroma Canada's strategy is to test the Canadian market for viability, it's opened in probably the most ideal location in the country, and at a cost considerably cheaper than Aroma's first expansion store in New York's Soho district.
After being open in Canada for less than a week, it seems as though Aroma is settled in and here to stay. B'te'avon Canada!