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Brewing the soul of Machane Yehuda

by greg July 16 2008
FoodCity planningNews

Aroma in the shuk

Jerusalem's internationally successful espresso bar chain, Aroma plans on opening its doors in Shuk Machane Yehuda tomorrow afternoon, following years of rumors and weeks of construction. The beloved market has undergone many changes in recent years, with photo galleries and clothing boutiques now located in stalls next to fishmongers and spice grinders. Many have argued that the gentrified Machane Yehuda lacks the blue-collar romance that it once held, and those of us who believe in balancing "progress" with "character" have defended the market's renaissance. But with an international franchise eatery moving in, we have to wonder how slippery the slope may be after all.

Ready to brewAfter spending more than ten years working in a lawyer's office in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem native Yatsor Nachmias was looking to come home. Nachmias wanted to open a coffee house, and, "Aroma was the name." As part of the Aroma franchising process, he spent a half year working and learning all the ins and outs of the business. "The beginning was difficult," he recalls. "Eight hours on your feet, making things, working in the kitchen."

Manager Eli Cohen claims that Aroma "brings something new to the shuk – something European, to upgrade the shuk and bring something back for tourism. Just like the Kotel, tourists go to the shuk. There's no place to really sit and enjoy your juice or coffee. We're bringing something to the shuk where people will come sit and enjoy." Perhaps Cohen simply isn't aware that Aroma will not be the first place where one can sit and enjoy a coffee in Machane Yehuda.

Sharona Zohar, owner of Hamsa, a bag and clothing boutique next door to Aroma, says she is, "very happy" about the opening, and understandably so. "The name Aroma can help here, work and help those in the shuk."

Similar but more equivocal sentiments were voiced by Assaf Barashi, who sells clothing nearby. "The shuk was once food for the house; now people are coming to pass the time.... Of course [Aroma can help business], but on the other hand it's a bit bothersome – what will happen with the rent?"

Back at the almost-finished Aroma construction site, Cohen defends his infiltration. "To be a chain is not something bad," he says. "You bring in a name and level of service and cleanliness and quality. We think forward. The goal here is to raise the level of the shuk."

The new branch has encountered difficulties with City Hall, as the municipal government has recently decided to remove all tables and chairs from the area – all of them. The issue is now a court matter. "Of course we are in a war over this," says Cohen. "We're working on it and hope to win."

Aroma's new branch is located at Machane Yehuda St. 26 and can be reached at 02-622-2833.

Photos of the signature red awning and black logo in the context of the open-air market (top) and of branch owner Yatsor Nachmias by Greg Tepper for Jerusalemite.

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