[SINGAPORE] The coming months herald big changes for homegrown Gelateria Italia.
Firstly, it will rebrand itself as "Casa Italia" to reflect its move to expand its offerings beyond artisanal gelato to include premium coffee.
Secondly, it will sign off on its first overseas franchises within a month, with these outlets being in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
The three-year-old company's new name translates to "Italian home". After its first coffee-serving store opens here in August as a franchise, it will progressively rebrand its existing stores over the next six months.
The three overseas franchises will carry the coffee line right off the bat.
The company has high hopes for its foreign franchises. It approached its overseas foray with a minimum of three stores per franchisee in mind, but it has considered as potential partners only those who are willing and able to invest in a factory with a capacity to support at least 20 stores.
The franchising model has largely driven Casa Italia's growth in Singapore; 11 of its 15 stores are franchises. Casa Italia chief executive Phippo Hardegger already has a vision of his 100th outlet in 2016.
He told The Business Times that the really successful concepts in the food and beverage market have complementary products on offer.
"We're doing our gelato business mostly in the afternoon and ... night. We want to add to our business the morning segment, with the perfect coffee."
The coffee served at Casa Italia will, like its gelato, be made from "honest ingredients", he said, given that buyers are increasingly conscious about food ingredients and demanding quality food.
He added: "We want to do something real. That is our approach to gelato, and we want to do the same with our coffee."
He observed that coffee culture has had three waves: the first was birthed in espresso bars in cities such as Milan.
The second wave transformed coffee-making into an industry, spread world-wide by chains like Starbucks.
The third wave is washing over cities like New York, he said, "where big tattooed guys make handcrafted coffee - very serious, fair trade, organic coffee. They care about the sources, the environment … they roast the beans themselves because they want to make the process very controlled".
Closer to home, Chye Seng Huat Hardware and Forty Hands are examples of third-wave coffee places. He said: "These guys do exactly what I'm talking about… They understand their coffee."
He added: "To make a coffee like Forty Hands does in one store, I can promise you that the owner is there every day. This is his heart; this is his baby. He takes care pretty much of every single cup going over the counter."
Casa Italia will, however, bring scalability to this artisanal approach to coffee, so it will run on a larger scale - and yet not give up that artisanal feel of each cuppa, he said.
The difference is that it wants to establish that high quality of coffee "in a systemised business concept", just as it has done with its gelato.
"There are stores that make very wonderful gelato. Usually there is just one guy ... coming from a family tradition and then he opens one store, but when it comes to scaling this up into a concept in a structure ... operable all over the world, they fail because then it becomes industrial and they lose this sense of producing handcrafted stuff."
He is confident that Casa Italia's coffee line will avoid this pitfall because of its success in systemising gelato-making.
"We did it with the gelato. We have today, in our gelato stores, this real, real gelato that I can ... compare with the best gelatos in Italy."