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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Great Frozen Yogurt Boom

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On a family trip to Arizona a couple of years ago, Becky Berger and her husband, Scott, couldn't help but notice the frozen yogurt shops that seemed to be everywhere, and how popular they were. “The kids just loved it,” she recalls. “It was one of those things where every time we went we'd think, 'Why don't we have these back at home?' So when we got back we started doing some research, then opened up our own.”

A lot of others had the same idea. When the Bergers opened their Yo Mama shop in Wauwatosa last June to lines that often stretched out the door, they were one of the first new frozen yogurt stores in the Milwaukee area. Just a little more than a year later, they already have a lot more company. Berry Me Frozen Yogurt & Café opened last July on Brady Street, followed this year by the Yo Factory on North Farwell Avenue; the Frozen Ladle in New Berlin; My Yo My! in the Third Ward; and two locations for the chain Orange Leaf, one in Waukesha and one in West Allis. Even more are on the way: The Dallas chain Red Mango will open its first southeastern Wisconsin location in Fox Point this August, and the Bergers, who opened a second Yo Mama location in Brookfield this spring, are planning a third in Shorewood for next year.

So what makes these new frozen yogurt shops different from the forgotten TCBY stands that quietly disappeared from food courts around the Midwest 10 or 15 years ago? In a word: selection. Most of these new shops are self-serve, allowing customers to customize their own bowls with their pick from about 10 yogurt flavors and an array of toppings, including the usual ice-cream syrups, candies and fresh fruits, as well as some much more unusual choices like tapioca balls, shredded coconut and cereal. Most shops charge using a weigh-and-pay system, for about 45 cents an ounce, or about $3 or $4 a bowl.

Despite the sudden inundation of frozen yogurt shops, Berger says that there's still room for growth and that she'll explore opening additional Yo Mama locations. “They're popping up everywhere now, and obviously that makes the logistics a little harder,” she says. “So many have already opened up on the East Side and North Shore, but there are still a lot of areas left. It just depends on how well run your operation is. If you're just looking to jump on a trend and open up a location real quick, it's not as easy as it looks. I've noticed that a lot of these new shops are small, which might be a problem in Wisconsin because of the winters, which makes it tough to operate a grab-and-go shop. So we try to have a warm and inviting atmosphere, a place where people will want to stay and to visit year round.”