People rally to support a Jewish-owned UES Café After Pro-Palestine Baristas Quit

Aaron Dahan, the Jewish owner of Cafe Aronne said two baristas on Nov. 7 informed him they were quitting in support of several other baristas who resigned earlier when confronted about the “Free Palestine” pins they were wearing to work. Left with no staff to run the café, he said he was thinking of shutting down. But the Jewish and neighborhood community rallied around him.

| 09 Nov 2023 | 07:03

A line of customers stretches down the block from the northeast corner of 71st St. and Lexington Ave. outside the UES coffee shop Caffe Aronne. The queue is fast-moving but also continuously growing as scores of people joined all day, in a show of support for the Isreali owner Aaron Dahan. It was an amazing turnasround for the owner who only days earlier thought he might have to shut down after several of his pro-Palestine baristas walked off the job when confronted by Dahan over the “free Palestine” pins they were wearing.

But residents turned out enmasse to pitch in behind the counter, while publicity brought unprecedented attention and an outpouring of support.

Amidst the crowd, a mix of old and young people gathered–some came with family and friends, wearing Israeli flag pins or carrying mini Isreali flags while others ditched their regular coffee shops for, as one person told Straus News, “a greater cause.” There were high schoolers, rabbis, social workers, mothers and aunts, doctors, influencers, and New Yorkers from all walks of life. Several joined the queue as strangers and, by the time it was their turn to enter, had already become acquaintances over a shared love for coffee and brownies, the café, or, in some grim instances, the loved ones they’d lost when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7.

Mingling with the crowds, 25-year-old owner Dahan greeted everyone and thanked them for their support, with several people clapping and cheering him on as he moved around; some others also stopped by to thank him for his “great work” or the “amazing brownies.”

There was a touching element of solidarity amongst the crowd outside Caffe Aronne, but how did this café go from a quiet UES coffee stop to a crowded, much-loved establishment on the block?

Dahan said it all began when he put a small Israeli flag next to an existing American flag “in a basket of beans” at the billing counter in his Upper East Side café. “I’m personally Israeli. I have an Israeli family. I have a cousin who went to this music festival with his girlfriend. And we were not able to identify a body until eight days later. So, I put a small Israeli flag with the American flag.” He added that the flags received a mixed reaction from customers, with some expressing dislike while others asking, “How can we support you.”

“We didn’t have anything going on at the time,” Dahan explained. “So, we figured out an idea and contacted the Israeli Red Cross, which is an organization that does not discriminate on race, religion, sexuality, color, or anything. And we told them we want to work together,” he continued. The Israeli Red Cross shared a list of options with Dahan, and he decided to “raise for [them] $36,000” to buy a three-wheeled ambulance. “We put a QR code in all the windows of our cafes. And we told customers, you know, you’ve been asking, what can you do? This is what you could do.”

Apart from the donations, Dahan noticed some people tearing off posters of people who had been kidnapped by Hamas, “and I got very upset about it. So, what we did was we took them all and put them in the windows of our cafes. For the pro-Palestian employees at the café, he claims, that was the last straw. “The staff didn’t like it. And one by one, people left. Dahan said that he had lost a total of six employees since Oct. 7. Two of the six came to work on Tuesday morning, wearing Palestinian flag pins, when Dahan asked them to take their pins off–to abide by what he stated as the “policy that when you’re working for the company, you don’t wear anything political, or you don’t talk politics, sex, race, or religion,”— the last two baristas quit.

However, a source–under anonymity – spoke to Straus News and expressed that while this is one side of the story, there were also other underlying issues that staff felt were left unaddressed. Some staff members felt unsafe after the flags and signs were put up, the source told Straus News. Others, who did not want to engage with customers politically, felt like they were suddenly put in a position where they had to. And while they raised these issues with the management, no concrete actions were taken per the source. When asked if attempts were made to address staffers’ concerns, Dahan says, “There were conversations about different concerns. And we addressed them. One concern was like, well, are we becoming political? And we said, no, we don’t find it to be political.” He also added, “We posted a sign by the register that said the opinions of management do not apply to the staff. And please refrain from political conversation, from engaging.”

Apart from recent events, the source also shared staffers’ issues with salary delays, not receiving the entire tip amount given by customers, and, in some cases, “bearing the brunt of Dahan’s frustration and resulting passive-aggressive behavior towards them.”

Straus News reached out to employees who quit, and they have not responded to requests for comments as of press time.

Since the baristas quit and its news first spread, Dahan’s business has received an immense boost. In an exclusive with Daily Mail, he shared that the cafe has served over 15,000 customers in a day–with several bringing in baked treats to give away as donations–and raised over $50,000 in donations. “I’ve learned that our community is a lot bigger than we thought it was. And, you know, the love goes long and far,” said Dahan.

Outside the café, people are as divided in thoughts as they’re connected in person over the cause. “I hope they don’t get another job,” said Naomi Eisenberg, 53, commenting on the baristas who quit. In front of her, Yossi Khebzou, a 23-year-old Mexican-Jewish exchange student at Columbia, who has frequented the coffee shop before, refused to engage in hate and instead said, “I don’t have any comment about the baristas walking out, but I would like to show support for the owner of the cafe, and I hope the baristas use this situation to rethink their posture and engage in peaceful conversation together.”