At 6:30 a.m. on November 7, Aaron Dahan walked into Caffé Arrone on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. As the owner, he was coming off a rough few weeks in which five employees had quit their jobs. Nevertheless, everything seemed fine when he checked in with the two baristas who had shifts that morning before he left to run an event. Little did he know it, but Caffé Arrone was about to become much more than a small neighborhood café.
Dahan went to Instacart’s office, where he set up and operated an espresso bar, a fairly normal service that he provides upon request. After a few hours, he received a call from his mother. As soon as he picked up, he knew something was wrong.
“Her voice was trembling so badly that I assumed there had been a death in the family,” Dahan recalled. “Once she started asking about the café, I relaxed a little.”
The Dahan family had recently experienced some truly horrible news. Their cousin and his girlfriend had been at the Supernova Sukkot Gathering, the music festival in Re’im that was brutally attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7. It took eight days for the IDF to identify their corpses due to mutilation.
Immediately after October 7, Dahan had placed an Israeli flag at the register. It was next to the American flag that had been there since September 11. He also put up a sign that said the café was donating money to Magen David Adom, an organization he picked for its humanitarian aid for all people. After the news regarding his cousin, he took the additional step of putting posters of those kidnapped by Hamas in the window.
As the month progressed, those steps caused staff members to quit one by one. But until November 7, he was still getting by. He had a policy about not talking about politics to customers and he was planning a dinner for his staff to discuss the conflict.
But the call from his mother featured some strange news. She had read on a Facebook group for Upper East Side moms, that somebody had walked into Caffé Arrone that morning. The person said that the baristas were wearing Palestinian pins and telling customers to boycott the place. Dahan was unable to leave the event, so he called his manager. While not on site at the time, the manager said that they would check it out.
When confronted about the story, one of the baristas quit on the spot and the other would not speak about it. After getting the info from his manager, Dahan called his mother back to tell her to go down and close the place for the day.
“You’re not closing,” said Peggy Dahan flatly, according to her son. “I’m on my way there right now.”
Upon arrival, she did not know what to do. She had no training in making coffee. Even using the cash register was something she had to pick up on the spot. Apparently, it showed. A customer asked her why she seemed out of place. No uniform, no barista skills… red flag.
She explained to the customer the circumstances of the day. And that customer shared those circumstances with the internet.
Soon enough, posts were all over every social media platform. Word travels pretty fast in 2023. Peggy had called her daughter, Sophie, a student at NYU, to come help. But as the crowds started showing up, the mother/daughter duo would prove insufficient.
In just a few hours, the line for coffee was around 100 people deep and two hours long. Luckily, customers were not the only ones who had heard about the situation. The Israeli owners of two other local places, The Coffee Inn and Matto Espresso, showed up with baristas in tow. They told Peggy that their staffs were now Caffé Arrone’s staff and that their original employers would be paying them to work with her.
“We are so thankful that everyone came to support us so quickly,” a slightly overwhelmed Sophie said that day. “We have nothing else to sell at this point.”
Obviously, Caffé Aronne was not prepared for this circumstance. They sold out of pretty much every food item in minutes, and that news made its way online. That caused people to show up with packaged items of their own. Not to eat, but to donate to the cause. Caffé Aronne was able to sell the donated items with 100% of the proceeds going to Magen David Adom.
The line became a gathering place for those on the Upper East Side, and the police showed up to help deal with crowd control and make sure that there were no negative events stemming from the positive story.
Ellen Lasko heard about the situation from her sister-in-law, an employee at The Ramaz School. With Dahan being a graduate, word spread like wildfire in the school community. “I think we all feel that if we can’t be in Israel and be hands-on there, we can at least show our support here,” Lasko remarked about her fellow line-standers.
“No more Starbucks. This will be my newfound coffee spot.”
But while some heard about the events through local means, others were put on notice from more distant locations.
Robert Barrack lives a few blocks away, but he heard about it from his daughter. She is married to an Israeli man and lives in Israel now.
“My daughter sent me the post and I felt I should show my support,” he said. “I didn’t even want coffee.”
Others ventured from much farther away. One woman from Long Island drove to Brooklyn to see a friend so they could take a walk together. Upon hearing of the events, they took the time to go to stand in line instead.
And yet there were plenty of people who could not simply make it to the café itself. Luckily for them, some of the social media posts included a link where people could buy gift cards. Dahan has since sold a ton of gift cards to people all over the world and from all different walks of life. Some are from Jewish people in communities abroad like in Israel, England, or Australia, but he also had an order from a pastor in Alaska.
Many of those from far away instructed him to donate the money to Magen David Adom, and many who showed up in person decided to forgo the coffee and instead donated money to the cause.
Almost a week later, a few things have changed at Caffé Aronne, but there is still a line down the block to get a cup of coffee. The story has caused a media stampede that included the front page of the New York Post (headline: Bar-ista Mitzvah) and an appearance by Dahan on Fox News. There were people bringing their own cups because the café was running out. They were running low on beans as well, but their distributors not only rushed production to send more supplies, they told Dahan that the extra deliveries would be made free of charge.
There is also at least one new barista. A woman walked in after hearing about the situation and told Dahan that she had just gotten off a plane from Israel, had five years’ experience as a barista, and her house had been destroyed by a rocket just days earlier. He hired her on the spot.
One other big change is Caffé Aronne’s hours of operation. One might think they would need to be open for more hours to accommodate the demand, it’s the opposite, and not for lack of staff.
Dahan keeps Shabbat, and had been operating Caffé Aronne under shtar mechira (a contract of sale). His non-Jewish manager took official ownership and profits for the hours on Shabbat (which was their busiest day). But starting last week, he put a sign in the window stating that they were going to close at 2:00 p.m. on Friday and reopen on Sunday morning.
“I felt it was the right thing to do, given the immense support of the religious community,” Dahan explained.
Caffé Aronne sells a selection of packaged pastries that are kosher certified, alongside fresh ones that are not. As they transition to a wine bar in the evening, all of their wines are both kosher and mevushal. Dahan has recently had discussions about switching the supplier of fresh pastries and getting kosher supervision for Caffé Aronne as he plans on continuing to stay closed on Shabbat.
“With everything that has happened in the last week, everybody always asks me what I have to say,” Dahan offered. “What I tell them is that this is truly a ‘mi k’amcha Yisrael’ situation. What other community would make all this possible?”