Barista is in revamp mode. Apart from rapidly expanding in tier II and III towns, the Indian coffee chain is revising its menu to suit the Indian palate, in addition to unleashing new formats like Barista Diners \u2014 all-day diners with a live kitchen. The aim is to promote its coffee shops as cultural hubs. The coffee chain, launched in 2000, has also recently forayed into chocolates, cookies and instant coffee, with plans to sell through general and modern trade. Once perceived as a premium coffee chain, the brand had lost its mojo over the years as both local and international chains opened shop in India. \u201cBarista grew rapidly in the initial years; but because of the management changes, it lacked consistent direction. That\u2019s where crucial time was lost,\u201d says Ankur Bisen, senior VP, retail and consumer products, Technopak. But the rest of the players have not got the model right either. \u201cStarbucks is just about breaking even, while Caf\u00e9 Coffee Day (CCD) has integrated its operations, so a lot of stores get subsidised with revenues from other operations,\u201d Bisen adds. \u201cThis business is about sustainable existence.\u201d Currently, Barista has 210 outlets and is planning to open 35 more in the next three-four months. \u201cThis is the fastest growth any caf\u00e9 chain has seen in India,\u201d claims Puneet Gulati, CEO, Barista. From operations in 35 towns in 2017, it has now expanded to 47, driven by tier II and III cities. In the `62,000-crore organised caf\u00e9 market, Barista claims to have 10.5-11.5% share. Brewing experiences The focus at Barista now is to recreate its coffee shops as light snacking hubs, and offer an all-day dining menu. It has launched meal options such as Mediterranean grilled sandwiches, momos, pastas, seekh rolls, biryani, cakes and desserts. Its Indian food menu, launched two-and-a-half years back, has been a hit, says Gulati. \u201cThe lines are blurring between caf\u00e9s and QSR\/fast food chains. Not just the ticket prices, but also the average time spent per person at our outlets has grown to 50-55 minutes, from 38-40 minutes two-three years ago, after the new menu was launched,\u201d Gulati shares. Barista\u2019s revamp strategy is built on four key pillars, the first being innovation in its food menu. With coffee and quenchers as its backbone, Barista is looking to become a serious player in celebration cakes, pastries and the all-day dining format. The second is franchising to expedite rapid expansion, and the third is growth via Barista Express \u2014 kiosks that have lower capex for franchisees \u2014 Barista and Barista Diner formats. Currently, there is a Barista Diner in Noida, Hyderabad, Kapurthala and Gurugram. The focus is to extend its presence across institutions, hospitals, food courts and highways. Lastly, the company aims to make Barista a cultural hub by hosting book launches, reading sessions, crooners, exhibit photography and affordable art. \u201cWhen Barista started, it had a guitar on its premises; like it were a place where visitors could express themselves creatively. After having managed to make food an attraction, which is not usually easy, it is attempting to create \u2018cultural belongingness\u2019,\u201d says N Chandramouli, CEO, TRA Research. These could be distinct differentiators for Barista in the long run, he says. However, how Barista positions itself in this competitive landscape will be crucial. \u201cBarista always had a premium play compared to CCD,\u201d shares Rohit Kulkarni, senior consultant, chemicals, materials and foods practice, Frost & Sullivan. \u201cBut given the current scenario, it should follow the Chaayos model and position itself in the middle segment between Starbucks and CCD. Being a me-too in this category doesn\u2019t make sense.\u201d A sip of growth With an aim to open 500 stores in the next two-three years, Barista is going the franchisee way. Almost 60% of its stores will be franchises, while the rest will be company owned. \u201cThe franchise model works well especially when looking for properties in premium locations. It is less capital intensive and can speed up the expansion plan,\u201d says Dhanraj Bhagat, partner, Grant Thornton India. He adds that the tier II and III towns offer immense opportunities for domestic caf\u00e9 brands as international players such as Starbucks are likely not headed there, due to their higher price points.