It is the emptiness that hits you first. The Beer Cafe almost always has room. It is never overflowing with people. There are rarely any queues. Irrespective of time, day and geography. You can always count on it, even if every other place is taken.

The five-year-old alco-beverage chain The Beer Cafe is after all, one of a kind. A cafe for beer, not coffee.

Nobody before bet on beer as much as The Beer Cafe did. And it has been at it for a good five years, painstakingly adding one cafe after another. Today, after 40 cafes spread across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and a few other cities, the company says it has had enough. There is a natural limit to the number of beer cafes this country can take. At least for now. So The Beer Cafe is doing the next best thing it knows. It is getting into the beer business. If you indulge Rahul Singh, the founder of The Beer Cafe, he’d tell you it is the next best thing. After all, how difficult can it be? He already owns the real estate, now he just needs to bottle his own beer, get people drunk, and roll in money. But is it that simple?

“A beer brand is the most obvious extension of The Beer Cafe,” says the 48-year-old Singh. In his office in Gurugram, cramped with book and beer shelves, Singh apologises for the bad coffee. “Beer is our forte,” he says. “It only makes sense to start making one now.”

That could be true. Except it isn’t. Beer isn’t the company’s forte. Building restaurants is. And for a while, even this hasn’t played out well.

The dining business in India faces multiple issues. There is not one problem but a whole bunch that hinder the growth and scaling of businesses—high rentals, inept pricing, changing regulation and laws. Pressured by these, many dining companies have had to shut shop over the years. The Beer Cafe is no different. Post the 2016 Supreme Court-mandated liquor ban near highways, the company had to close nine outlets. In the process, it lost about Rs 8 crore ($1.1 million). In the year ended March 2017, the revenue of BTB Marketing, the company name of The Beer Cafe, stood at Rs 78.1 crore ($10.7 million) with losses of Rs 21.6 crore ($2.9 million), according to RoC documents sourced from Paper.vc. In the current financial year, Singh claims that his company has turned profitable, but says there isn’t much more room for growth. “After all, how many The Beer Cafes can I open?” he asks.

And so, the allure of beer.

The company’s beer will be called Indie18. Indie for the music, and 18 for the 18 years of Generation Z.

AUTHOR

Harveen Ahluwalia

In her last assignment, Harveen was at Mint, the business daily published by HT Media. At Mint, where she spent about two years, she wrote stories on retail, food and the media business. Harveen is a B.Com (H) graduate from Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi. She has a diploma in journalism from the Times School of Journalism. Like many folks at The Ken, Harveen talks and tweets a lot. When she isn’t writing or reading, she likes to sketch and doodle. She can be reached at harveen at the-ken dot com.

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