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NEWS: Aroma suddenly shuttered (Jan. 2020)

January 31st, 2020 · No Comments

Closure leaves customers shocked

Locally loved, this Aroma Espresso Bar location (the first in Canada) was locked out by the landlord, unable to meet its rent obligations. Brian Burchell/Gleaner News

By Brian Burchell

A bailiff, acting for the landlord, has changed the locks at Aroma Espresso Bar (500A Bloor St. W.) having posted a notice stating rent in arrears of $24,538.70. The landlord is Harbour Sixty Steakhouse Inc., and the first Aroma Cafe location in Canada was beloved by many members of the Annex community. 

“A franchisee buys a dream, which like any dream has a bit of a nightmare all wrapped up in it. You have to hit the ground running and eventually you run out of breath…” 

—Philip Kuntz, longtime loyal customer

Philip Kuntz claims he was the first customer of this Aroma location. 

“Aroma Canada came to have its own direction after a number of years trying to fulfill the original vision of the founder, who is based in Tel Aviv, Israel,” says Kuntz. “Aroma Canada sought to source local foods instead of having everything flown in as per franchise rules as it would be more economical given the high rent at the place. [The location], except perhaps for the first year, never made any money.” 

For Kuntz, the story of Aroma Canada illustrates how difficult it is for many franchisees to cope with high rents and a highly competitive marketplace for food and drink while concurrently trying to toe the strict corporate line dictated by their agreements with head office. 

He says the first operator of the cafe was so popular that people would stand in line just to be ignored by him. 

“A franchisee buys a dream, which like any dream has a bit of a nightmare all wrapped up in it. You have to hit the ground running and eventually you run out of breath. I have lived through at least six administrations which never made money and eventually would pass it on, selling the dream. It was an unsustainable trajectory where the incoming management did not do its due diligence.”

Compounding the problems, he says, were  strict rules from Tel Aviv requiring food to be imported. Kuntz says those rules began to be strictly enforced about a year ago, a point which he describes as “the beginning of the end”.

The last operator, Levi Tobe, confirmed to the Gleaner Kuntz’s background information for  the reason for closing. 

Tobe regarded the corporate requirement to import food from Tel Aviv as “untenable, and as things inside Aroma were changing [those rules being enforced], things did not work out.” 

There are unconfirmed reports the location may become a wine bar venue. 

The Tel Aviv headquarters for Aroma did not respond to a request for an interview for this story. The landlord, Harbour Sixty Steakhouse Inc., also did not reply to a request for an interview.

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