Espressing support

Hundreds back pro-Israel NYC coffee shop as baristas quit

Owner’s mom and volunteers keep the doors open at Caffe Aronne after resignation of staff, some of them who wore Palestinian flag pins to work

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Customers pack into Caffe Aronne in the Upper East Side after staff members quit due to the store's pro-Israel activities, November 7, 2023. (Luke Tress via JTA)
Customers pack into Caffe Aronne in the Upper East Side after staff members quit due to the store's pro-Israel activities, November 7, 2023. (Luke Tress via JTA)

New York Jewish Week via JTA – After Aaron Dahan, the owner of a New York City cafe chain, saw his fifth employee quit in recent weeks due to Dahan’s public support for Israel, he decided to close his Upper East Side location for the day.

Two baristas had shown up at the Caffe Aronne branch on Lexington Avenue and 71st Street wearing pro-Palestinian pins on their aprons on Tuesday morning, leading to a dispute with the manager. One of the employees quit on the spot.

Dahan was catering a private event and unable to come to the shop, so he told his mother, Peggy, that the store was closing. She decided to keep the doors open, heading to the cafe herself and putting out a call for volunteers to join her.

“I just came,” Peggy Dahan said. “I learned how to use the cash register. I learned how to pour a cold brew and use the espresso machines.”

She wasn’t alone: Friends and family, including Peggy’s daughter’s friends and her assistant, who had barista experience, showed up to keep the shop running. So did hundreds of customers, who formed a line spilling around the block as a demonstration of their own support for Israel — and repudiation of those who would oppose it.

“When I got on the line, part of me was so upset that we have to do this to show other Jews that we support them,” said Danielle Posner, a first-time customer who went to the cafe after a friend sent her a message about what was going on. “And part of me was so overwhelmed with joy that we came together so quickly as a people.”

Some in the crowd carried Israeli flags, and others put up posters of Israeli hostages on a street pole, adding to the fliers scattered around the neighborhood – some intact, others torn or defaced with graffiti.

Customers line up outside Caffe Aronne in the Upper East Side after staff members quit due to the store’s pro-Israel activities, Nov. 7, 2023. (Luke Tress via JTA)

The cafe joins a handful of other restaurants that have seen business surge amid concerns that they were suffering because of their support for Israel. On Long Island, for example, a Greek diner has become a hotspot for pro-Israel diners after initially seeing traffic drop off after the owner hung hostage posters. There, too, social media appeals have driven a flurry of new customers concerned about the fallout from the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel and surging antisemitism in the United States.

Aaron Dahan, a 25-year-old graduate of the city’s Orthodox Ramaz School, said his trouble had started last month when he began raising money for Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency services provider, in the wake of the Oct. 7 devastating assault in which Hamas terrorists blew through the Israel-Gaza border fence, killed some 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 240 people hostage to Gaza.

The Upper East Side location also has posters of kidnapped Israelis taped to the front window, and miniature Israeli and American flags stand by the register. Peggy Dahan said her husband’s step-cousin was killed in the Hamas assault.

“Our staff was not for it,” Aaron Dahan said of the chain’s support for Israel, describing much of the staff as progressive students from local colleges, where criticism of Israel has been prominent since Oct. 7. “They think that we’re supporting genocide, that we’re supporting colonialism.”

Across the chain’s three locations, five staffers quit over the course of several weeks, with the latest resignation on Tuesday proving too much to keep operations running at the chain’s Upper East Side location. (It also has outposts in the West Village and on the High Line, as well as a catering truck.)

Dahan said he had tried to discuss the conflict with staff over dinner, telling them, “Let’s realize that we’re not all here trying to kill each other.” But it wasn’t enough to head off frustrations.

“I wish it would’ve never happened,” he added about the staff fissures, adding, “We had a beautiful family, a really great team. It’s sad, you make a lot of friends and it’s just all gone over this.”

The appeal for help on Tuesday quickly ricocheted around the city’s pro-Israel and Jewish community. Posts about the cafe were widely shared on social media and the WhatsApp messaging platform, drawing crowds to the shop. Peggy Dahan said that, as she struggled to keep the store open, she received messages of support from strangers telling her, “We’re coming.”

Some of the volunteers who came in to work had previous experience as baristas, she said, while others were learning on the job, as she was. Customers offered referrals for baristas who would be willing to work for the chain.

Many of the customers who came in contributed to the store’s fundraising efforts for Magen David Adom, bringing in cash for the effort. The company had intended to buy the medics a $36,000 “medicycle,” a modified motorcycle used to rush to emergencies. Now, Peggy Dahan said, Caffe Aronne hoped to buy two of the vehicles.

“This is a complete community thing,” she said. “It just shows what a great and amazing community we have.”

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