Meet the woman running an American-style café in Arad, Israel

Studio Coffee, located in Arad’s Artist Quarter, offers American-style baked goods like cinnamon buns, brownies, coffee cake and chocolate chip cookies, plus Israeli-style salads and toasts. 

 Anna Lane (photo credit: Anna Lane)
Anna Lane
(photo credit: Anna Lane)

Did you know that coffee tastes better, stays fresher and is easier on the stomach if the roaster takes the time and trouble to remove moldy or rotten beans – and that few roasters do so?

Anna Lane did not know that until she spent a month in Jeju Island, Korea, studying the science of coffeemaking with a master. 

It’s rare for an aspiring coffee shop owner to go to such lengths to learn the tricks of the trade. But Lane felt it was essential as a new immigrant to be as knowledgeable about her product as possible. 

“Israelis don’t think Americans know how to make coffee. I knew I had to change that perception if I wanted my doors to stay open,” she explains.

Three years later, her Studio Coffee establishment in Arad has gained fame locally and even internationally for its coffee and bakery items. 

 Studio Coffee (credit: Anna Lane) Studio Coffee (credit: Anna Lane)

Arad is not a typical destination for American immigrants. Neither is there anything typical about Lane’s story.

The oldest of four siblings from a Massachusetts family, she came to Israel in the summer of 1991, at 15, to volunteer as a nanny. 

“I didn’t want to leave,” she recalls. “I finally felt like I’d come home, and I loved it here. I told my parents this and they said, ‘Okay, we will meet you there by Hanukkah.’ They sold their house and their belongings, and they came. And they’ve been here ever since.”

Ariel and Devorah Berkowitz had long been amenable to the idea of aliyah. Their daughter’s enthusiasm gave them the confidence to do it.

The family she worked for let her stay with them until her family arrived. She enrolled in a home-school program to finish high school, and then entered the IDF at age 17.

Her siblings weren’t as excited about making aliyah, “but they all grew to love Israel,” says Lane. “All of us left Israel to study and then come back in our own timeframes.”

FOR HER, that return happened only 20 years later, in 2018. That’s why she is, for all intents and purposes, a new immigrant even though technically she was a returning citizen.

“I went back to the US after the army, to go to university, and I meant to come back but I ended up getting married and 20 years went by,” she says. 

She and her husband, Jonathan Lane, agreed from the start that they would raise their future children in Israel “so they would assimilate to the language and culture. It had been hard for me at 15 and I didn’t want our children to face that. I wanted them to feel this was their home.”

And even though their son, Aden, didn’t arrive until 12 years later, they stuck with the plan. By the time Aden was ready for preschool, he was in Israel. 

“And now, four years later, he corrects my Hebrew,” his mother says with a laugh. “He really feels this is his home.”

Home, on a micro-level, is the Arad apartment building to which the Berkowitzes moved from Jerusalem about 15 years ago. Lane’s brother and sister live in the building too; one sister remains in the US for now.  

“It’s like a dream come true. My child and my brother’s child can go up and down in the elevator to visit saba and savta, and we all have Shabbat dinner together,” says Lane.

Arad is known for its good air quality, affordability, and proximity to the Dead Sea. It is also a popular stopover for travelers to Eilat. But there’s not much of a café culture here. 

Lane, who taught college anatomy and physiology in Cincinnati, didn’t come back planning to open a coffees hop.

“My focus was to get my son here and I didn’t think about what I wanted to do. But my Hebrew had deteriorated over 20 years, and I was approved for ulpan. The immigrant absorption center tried to help the students find a job or go back to school or start a business,” she says.

When she told the authorities that she was interested in opening a coffee shop, they discouraged her because most such establishments close within a year. However, when Lane would not be deterred, they gave her a loan and directed her to a couple who helps new immigrants file papers for new businesses. 

“They helped me so much with the bureaucracy. It took about eight months after ulpan ended to open the shop. I didn’t know anything about coffee so I really had to research. I found a specialist who roasts coffee in Jeju Island, and he agreed to mentor me.”

STUDIO COFFEE, located in Arad’s Artist Quarter, offers American-style baked goods like cinnamon buns, brownies, coffee cake and chocolate chip cookies, plus Israeli-style salads and toasts. 

“The first six months were really quiet. Every time a customer came in, I asked if they wanted to be on our WhatsApp group for specials and events. I would post pictures of cupcakes or shakes on social media and within the hour people would come in and ask for exactly that. Word of mouth grew among locals – first kids and then their parents,” Lane said. “Now we ship our coffee all around Israel and the world.”

The house blend is from Colombia and Ethiopia, with notes of wine, fruit, flowers and cocoa. “A very balanced flavor on the tongue,” Lane says.

A year into her venture, the first COVID lockdown hit. She had to lay off employees and limit her business to deliveries. 

“I didn’t think I’d survive on deliveries, so I started to go to places in Tel Aviv that I knew were allowed to stay open, like gourmet food shops, and I gave them samples of our keto cookies, which are sugar-, gluten- and dairy-free. I sold them our coffee beans and keto cookie line and that helped supplement our local business,” says Lane. 

Soon she found herself being interviewed for Israeli magazines, newspapers, and the Channel 12 news. “We had some bloggers come too, and that was really powerful on social media. People started coming from all over.” 

The shop is not certified kosher Mebut serves no meat and is closed on Shabbat and holidays.

“I love creating a space where people feel they have a second home,” says Lane. “We even have an art gallery here where Israeli artists can exhibit, and when the pandemic passes we hope to get back to hosting live music events.” ■