Steeped in family tradition, Café Barbera’s Italian Coffee House can be found from Dubai to Denver, Accra to Athens, and soon across Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. Representing the sixth generation of the family business, Managing Director Elio Barbera speaks to World Coffee Portal about introducing new trends to the brand’s traditional coffee house concept, how smaller stores will help the company grow and why the Middle East remains its focal point.
With a history dating back to 1870, Café Barbera is one of Italy’s oldest coffee companies. Founded as a small coffee roastery by Domenico Barbera, the business has been led by five generations of the Barbera family and evolved from a local roaster in southern Italy to a truly international brand with a distribution reach across more than 60 countries.
Current CEO Enrico Barbera, who took control of the business in 1982, launched a new concept of café chains called ‘Cafè Barbera – The Italian Coffee House’ in 2004 – a network of stores which now spans 35 sites across the Middle East and North Africa, Europe, the US and Brazil.
Managing Director Elio Barbera, the sixth generation of Café Barbera, speaks to World Coffee Portal about applying a fresh lick of paint to the traditional notion of Italian coffee culture, fusing heritage and innovation and why Dubai remains central to its growth aspirations.
Cafè Barbera is a brand with more than 150 years of history. What does Italian coffee culture mean to you and how are those values manifested in Café Barbera?
For us Italian coffee culture means ‘enjoying the moment’. Our goal is to create an inviting sanctuary filled with the tastes, aromas, art, design, comfort and friendliness of a classic Italian coffee house. Our coffee menu includes pillars of the Italian tradition but also new trends, such as cold drip coffee, which are often not found in Italian cafés. The vision is to convey Italian coffee culture with a fresh look.
As a custodian of Café Barbera’s family business and its strong heritage, how do you plan to introduce innovation in the future?
Several initiatives are currently bringing our 150 years old history into the next generation era. For example, our supply chain journey is showcased in selected products with a QR code that shows the coffee origin journey. We make documents such as certificate of origin, invoices and farmers profile visible to customers.
Additionally, our coffee roasting production is powered by 100% renewable energy and we recently launched our Cafè Barbera Mini concept in Greece with the aim to bring a 25sq m compact unit with a strong coffee offering. We are keen to expand this new model across our markets.
“We believe that the UAE coffee scene will continue to grow, followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar which are both moving towards more specialised coffee habits”
The Middle East has become a global magnet for international coffee businesses in the last 10 years, but Café Barbera entered much earlier. What gave the business the foresight that the UAE and the Middle East would be important global coffee markets?
A good friend showed our CEO Enrico Barbera the potential of the UAE market nearly 20 years ago and we opened our first location in Dubai in 2004. Dubai’s role as a key hub in the Middle East was clear. The city, and the coffee culture within it, grew very quickly.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is our main market, and we plan to double our locations in the region by 2030. We believe that the UAE coffee scene will continue to grow, followed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar which are both moving towards more specialised coffee habits.
How do you select franchise partners? And how do you maintain the integrity of your brand as you scale across diverse markets?
We primarily engage with multi-unit franchisees which have experience in managing several other brands. Maintaining standards is the toughest aspect of our business and is where we invest most of our time and resources. Cafè Barbera has a team of barista trainers, head chefs and architects that ensure standards of construction and operations are followed throughout our franchise network.
You currently have 18 stores in the pipeline, including first stores in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Do you have a growth target for the next five years?
2023 has been a stable year for Cafè Barbera after the turbulence of Covid-19. The pandemic, however, renewed interest in hospitality investment. We plan to add more than 18 stores in 2024, most of which will open in the first and second quarters. We are very excited by the expansion in southeast Asia which we believe will be the perfect arena for our Cafè Barbera Mini concept.
Our European outlet growth will focus on the UK and Greece, which we have identified as fertile market for our concept expansion.
World Coffee Portal. 2023. “Italian coffee culture with a fresh look”. Retrieved from https://www.worldcoffeeportal.com/Latest/InsightAnalysis/2023/December/Italian-coffee-culture-with-a-fresh-look-Cafe-Barb