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Aroma spreads across the GTA and beyond

It seemed an unlikely addition to the mix at the time, but Aroma is quickly finding its place in Toronto’s evolving coffee ecosystem.

It started out in 2007 with a single shop on the northwest corner of Bloor an Albany, an intersection already populated by both a Second Cup and a Starbucks, with a Tim Hortons a block away and one of the city’s most established independent cafes just two blocks east.

In the early months, you were as likely to hear Hebrew as English at the tables, but soon people started coming who didn’t know it from trips to Israel, where Aroma is the No. 1 chain, with about 150 locations, and the unlikely addition survived.

"When you do have other coffee shops in the area, it does mean the market exist," says operating partner Anat Davidzon, explaining the company’s lion’s-den strategy, "and the question becomes whether or not you can shift people’s purchasing behaviour."

With their breakfast and lunch menu, along with bread baked on site, and confections new to the Toronto scene like the dulce de leche cookies called alfajores, people's behaviour did shift sufficiently to prompt a second opening about two years later. And now, seven years in, a new one is popping up every couple of months, for a current total of 18 Aromas in Toronto, two in Vaughan, and plans for 10 more across the Golden Horseshoe – an area roughly the size of Israel – by the end of 2014. Their first Little Italy location just opened, and the next on in the pipeline is at the MaRS building at College and University.

Though you might have expected the chain to open in an area with strong connections to Israel – some place like Lawrence and Bathurst, for instance – Davidzon says the business plan was ambitious, and with a relatively small Israeli and Jewish population in the city, if the first shop couldn’t survive in a more typical part of town, it wouldn’t survive in the long run at all.

A franchise operation, each of the 20 locations has an owner-operator, working under the master franchiser, which bought the Canadian rights but is otherwise wholly separate from the Israeli company.

Canada has the second highest number of locations after Israel, and ahead of the US. Aroma also operates in Kazakhstan, Romania and Ukraine.

After MaRS, the company – with its head office in Forest Hill – has plans to open four more locations in Toronto this year, and another six across the GTA and as far as Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Writer: Bert Archer
Source: Daniel Davidzon, Anat Davidzon
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