WARSAW — On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Aroma cafe on Warsaw’s main boulevard is almost full. Some customers are enjoying a coffee or Mediterranean salad, while others prefer the refreshing frozen strawberry and mango smoothies. The restaurant is decorated simply, with the menu written on the wall above the counter.
No obvious signs or symbols identify the cafe with Israel. The reason, according to Netzach Mashiach, an owner of Aroma Poland, and Shay Cohen, the recently departed CEO, is that “Aroma is now an international chain.”
The Israeli coffee chain entered the Polish market in November 2011, after extensive market research showed great potential for the company to develop there. One and a half years later, there are three branches in Warsaw, a fourth is under construction in Krakow and further outposts are pending, as Polish customers show no sign of abandoning their love for its coffee and shakshuka.
Mashiach and Cohen say the chain is another Israeli success story abroad.
“It was a long process. First we had to find a good location, then we had to design the place to make it look like an Aroma in Israel. The menu is also very similar to that in our branches in Israel, but we did adjust it to Polish tastes,” says Mashiach. “Poles don’t like everything [on the Israeli menu], and there were some things that we had to add, like toasted sandwiches with ham and cheese, which are very popular among Poles, especially during the cold winter.”
Poland’s black-and-red Aroma signs are not the first to appear outside Israel, although the country’s outposts are different from Aromas already dotting cities in the US, Canada and Ukraine.
In Israel, Aroma is run by two companies that use identical menus and branding and have split the international market between them. One, Aroma Tel Aviv, has rights to operate in its namesake city and most of Europe, while the other, Aroma Israel, covers the rest of its home country, plus North America, where it opened its first New York branch in 2006. (In accordance with the agreement, Aroma Israel also boasts locations in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.)
For Aroma Tel Aviv, the Polish chain is its first venture abroad.
Its ham-and-cheese sandwiches mean the Polish restaurants aren’t kosher, of course, but that’s hardly hampering the company’s success.
“The beginning wasn’t easy, but it became clear to us that everyone who came to Aroma once came again and again,” says Mashiach. “Once we realized that our customers were enjoying what we were offering them, we decided to move forward.”
“We didn’t come here to only open three or four branches — the plan is to open branches of Aroma in every major city in Poland, like Krakow, Wroclaw, Lodz, Gdansk, Poznan and more, and tens of branches across Poland in the next few years,” says Mashiach.
Cohen adds, “I believe that we can open about 15 branches in Warsaw alone, and many more around Poland. I think the secret to our success in Poland is that we don’t just sell coffee and food — we sell a lifestyle. This includes the design of the place, the high level of service and the fresh and healthy food we offer.
“Poles,” he goes on, “are used to cafes that sell coffee and cake, and suddenly they discover that a coffee shop can also offer salads, shakshuka, sandwiches and more – this is one of the reasons for Aroma’s rapid success.”
Eleven workers are employed at each Aroma branch, receiving training from the chain’s Israeli managers, including information about Mediterranean and Israeli foods that are less known to Polish customers.
Aroma’s Polish branches are among the few in the world to offer wine and beer, and also offer a Polish borscht. Mashiach and Cohen say the most popular foods among Polish customers are sandwiches with haloumi cheese; Caesar salads, shakshuka and the various hot and iced coffees.
‘You won’t find hummus in Aroma branches in Israel, either. We don’t sell “Israeliness” ‘
Aroma sells a universal cafe experience and doesn’t go out of its way to announce it’s an Israeli company.
“You won’t find hummus in Aroma branches in Israel, either: We don’t sell ‘Israeliness.’ If people ask, we tell we are from Israel and that we were founded in Jerusalem — we don’t hide it. But now we are operating all over the world, and Aroma has become an international chain. Anyone who visits our Facebook page can read about us and discover that we are from Israel,” says Mashiach.
Aroma reaches Polish customers primarily through traditional advertising, new media and by sponsoring events. A few weeks ago, the company served as a key sponsor of a fashion show on Warsaw’s main street, with billboards bearing its name prominently displayed to thousands of onlookers.
Israeli tourists in Warsaw are often surprised to find the familiar Aroma insignia, and frequently enter the café for a moment of Israeli atmosphere.
“I didn’t know that it was an Israeli coffee shop, but I really like the design — I think this is exactly how a coffee shop should look. They also have really tasty food here,” says Magda Malecka, a student of philosophy of law at Warsaw University, as she enjoyed a coffee and salad.
Finishing her coffee and sandwich, she added, “I am definitely going to come back, and I will bring my boyfriend with me.”