Showing posts with label Aroma Toronto. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Aroma Toronto. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Aroma Here, Aroma There....

Aroma Espresso Bar - Israel
The Aroma Espresso Bar chain is Israel's largest chain of cafes.  With more than 125 locations in Israel, it sometimes feels like there is an Aroma everywhere.  These cafes are in shopping malls, hospitals, street corners and gas stations.  The coffee is quite good.  In my view, it probably tastes better than the offerings of most Canadian chains, other than Second Cup.  Of course, that is also probably true of most other Israeli coffee chains, some of which I mentioned in my blog post about coffee culture in Israel in January 2012. 

The difference between Aroma and many North American coffee chains is the emphasis on fresh food to go with the coffee.  Aroma features a variety of salads and sandwiches which are made on freshly baked bread.  In Israel, some of the Aroma locations are Kosher but most are not.  The non-Kosher locations add chicken, roast beef and other meats to the menu.  The Kosher locations are generally all dairy.

The main location in Ra'anana, on Ahuza Street, was a Kosher location.  However, it burnt down in a fire last year.  It has still not reopened.  The place is still boarded up, creating quite the eyesore on a very main Ra'anana thoroughfare.  So Ra'anana residents looking for an Aroma coffee need to drive over to the nearby mall or enjoy coffee from one of the many other fine cafes in the city.

Aroma - Fairview Mall, Toronto
The fascinating thing about Aroma has been its worldwide expansion.  In 2007, Aroma landed in Toronto.  It now has 18 locations in Toronto and seems to be faring quite well.  The menu is somewhat different from Israel.  None of the Toronto locations are Kosher.  But the emphasis on fresh salads and sandwiches is what gives Aroma a huge edge over its Canadian counterparts and U.S. chains.  None of the Canadian competitors in the espresso bar field (chain locations) offer fresh food and salads.  The food in Starbucks is generally pre-made and unappetizing.  Second Cup offers a very minimal selection.  Timothys is even worse.  This gap has probably contributed greatly to Aroma's Canadian success.

In Canada, Tim Hortons, a coffee chain, has locations across the country.  While Tim Hortons is known for a wide variety of food offerings at very reasonable prices, its coffee is not of the high end variety.  Tim Hortons appeals to an entirely different clientele than the various espresso cafes.  Interestingly, a chain like Tim Hortons might stand a chance in Israel.  There are few places, if any, in Israel where you can get a bagel and a coffee for $3 (10 Shekels) like you can in Tim Hortons.  Then again, although Israelis might like the cheap bagels, they would probably not enjoy drinking Tim Hortons coffee..

Starbucks made an effort to open in Israel.  But it was very pricey and Israelis did not enjoy the coffee.  As well, it did not serve quality food.  Its stay in Israel was short lived.

Aroma has been opening other locations around the world.  There are apparently four now in New York and a few in different countries in Europe.  Looking at the current situation in North America, Aroma should be poised to continue its growth and success.   The combination of high end coffee and fresh food still occupies a unique market segment.  In Canada, Second Cup, Timothys and Starbucks would all need to reinvent themselves to compete for that type of business.  Or they could simply try to continue counting on their own marketplace niche.

The success of Aroma may well provide other Israeli cafes with the impetus to try their luck in North America.   Arcaffe, Ilan's, and others also serve quality coffee and fresh food.  But they will probably need to hurry.  I can't imagine that it will take too long before existing North American coffee chains begin to catch on and realize something that Jews seem to have known for a very long time - quality food is important at any get together... 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Coffee In Israel

The first few times I visited Israel in the 1980s, it was a struggle to find a decent cup of coffee. At the time, many Israelis drank "botz" ("mud"), which meant a cup of finely ground coffee prepared Arabic style in a small cup. Others drank "nescafe," used as a generic Hebrew word for any instant coffee. I wasn't a fan of either. There were a number of places where you could find a decent "cafe hafuch" (a latte) but it was a challenge.

The Starbucks chain thought this was a huge opportunity. They opened a number of cafes in Israel in 2001 but they were not successful. Israelis didn't particularly like Starbucks' burnt taste and found the coffee to be way overpriced. Starbucks wasn't interested in tailoring its menu to Israeli sensibilities and was not interested in investing heavily in marketing. It closed its six outlets in 2003.

But since the mid 90s, there has been an explosion in the growth of Israeli coffee chains and many of them offer fantastic coffee. It seems to me that these chains can also offer a good lesson to North Americans since they often offer high quality food to go along with the coffee.

Aroma Cafe is the largest chain in Israel with more than 120 cafes. Many, though not all of them are Kosher. They offer a range of European style coffees - lattes, capuccinos, espressos as well as some cold beverages. Aroma's real attraction is the excellent quality of the food that it offers to go along with the coffee. It has a range of salads and sandwiches on its menu which are mostly made up of fresh ingredients, breads baked on the premises and full nutritional information supplied at all of the restaurants. Each coffee comes with a signature chocolate, though the chocolates are all milk chocolates. I've always thought that Aroma would do better to offer the option of a piece of high quality bittersweet chocolate. The milk chocolates just aren't that tasty.

Aroma now has franchised locations in other countries as well. There are 7 in the Greater Toronto area and more are apparently planned. Picture something like a Second Cup or a Starbucks with slightly lower prices and a range of fresh, healthy food items. For now, the major Canadian and American upscale coffee chains have resisted providing a wide ranging, fresh, healthy food selection. Tim Hortons, at the other end of the spectrum has provided some great food but an entirely different type of coffee that is not in the same class. Chains like Aroma will give Canadian and American chains quite a bit of competition or will at least force them to consider adding decent food.

Another big chain in Israel is Arcaffe, with locations across the country. Arcaffe emphasizes the high end, Italian style quality of its coffee. It carries a range of espresso based beverages. The premises are usually a bit more upscale than Aroma and some have really nice outdoor seating areas. The Arcaffe breakfasts are great with fresh cheeses, warm toasted breads, a variety of spreads and eggs, made to order.

One of my favourite chains is Ilan's, which also does a brisk business selling pre-packaged whole beans and ground coffee. Like the other chains, Ilan's uses dark roasted Italian-style coffee but its coffee is slighly milder in taste than some of the other chains, though it is still quite full-bodied. The food menu is not as wide ranging though some of the Ilan's locations have a broader selection.

Other coffee chains in Israel include Cup O'Joe, Cafe Hillel, Cafe Neto, Cafe Cafe and a few others. These are all cafes with multiple locations in different cities. There are also many smaller establishments, modelled on European cafes that offer terrific coffee.

Overall, Israel has seen a huge growth in coffee culture and the proliferation of cafes across the country. The quality of the coffee is great and the days of having to settle for botz or *gasp* "nescafe" are long gone. The weather can also be quite conducive. Much of the year, the cafes are filled with Israelis sitting outside enjoying the coffee, the view, the weather and the bustle of the location, especially at the centrally located cafes.

Of course, sometimes its also nice to bring the fresh beans home and turn on the Gaggia...Inspired by a Toronto colleague, I'm trying to be a high quality barrista as well as barrister...My work is at the top of the article. The beans...from Ilan's.