With 80 franchised and company-owned units operating in 18 states, Dallas-based Frullati Cafe aims to make hearty expansion moves through the turn of the century. According to Ziad "Zack" Dalal, Frullati Cafe president and chief executive officer, the healthy-fare food court tenant will remain focused on its core customer and product as it reaches for its 200th location by 2000.

"We do very well with female shoppers," he says, adding that the company's positioning is important, since female shoppers are major shopping center patrons. "We have a following from other shopper segments, too, but the female shopper always has been more health conscious and looks for better quality food than the male shopper."

After founding Frullati (Italian for "fruit drink") in 1985, Dalal altered the retailer's menu over the years by restricting foods that did not fit within the scope of the concept. Today, the menu offers moderately priced, healthful edibles including garden and fruit salads, made-to-order deli sandwiches, soup and muffins, natural fruit juices, frozen yogurt, and blended fruit smoothies.

After various product testing and alterations, says Dalal, "we have arrived at a menu that's tasty, fast and healthy for our customers. We tweaked the concept to see what the customer liked; some things were a little too healthy, so we took them out. The taste was what customers wanted, and along with a fast delivery time it ends up being a better bang for their buck."

According to Dalal, one of the keys to Frullati's expansion has been and will be its strategic mix of franchised and company-owned locations. With approximately 60 percent of its stores franchised and 40 percent company owned, he notes, maintaining that balance will help Frullati Cafe attract mall owner attention while not diluting its corporate interest.

"Mall developers were [looking] for a product like ours because their research showed that their customers wanted it," he says, adding that, from infrastructure to operations, expansion is difficult for a smaller company. "So we decided to answer back those requests by going the franchise route while still opening company-owned stores. One of our biggest selling points [to mall owners] is that we believe in our concept and we don't want to be just a franchise. We enjoy running our stores, too."

For the future, Dalal is looking to strengthen Frullati Cafe's presence in nontraditional sites, such as universities, hospitals and airports (the company now has five locations at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport and is in negotiations with other airports around the country). The company also is looking in Dallas to unveil and test its first strip center prototype store sometime this fall.