From Tulsa World

By KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Published: 3/13/2011  3:49 AM
Last Modified: 3/14/2011  9:51 AM

Within two weeks of opening their first CherryBerry self-serve frozen yogurt shop in Broken Arrow, Robyn and Dallas Jones were getting requests to franchise the concept.

That was May 2010. They opened a second location in August in Owasso. Then they licensed the brand for stores to open in Glenpool and Claremore.

Solicitations soon came from McKinney and Victoria, Texas, as well as Springfield, Mo. In only 10 months of business there are 11 stores open, with locations set to open in Arkansas, North Dakota and Illinois.

“People see the concept and say ‘why don’t we have this in our town?’ ” said Robyn Jones, who runs the operations side of the business while husband Dallas spearheads franchising.

On Friday, the couple opened their third company store, another in Broken Arrow, that also has a franchise office.

To say the least, the concept has been very popular – and the competition is growing.

In less than a year, 14 self-serve yogurt stands have opened in and around Tulsa, and five more are under construction.

“There’s this really big interest in frozen yogurt right now,” said Eric Giandelone, director of food-service research for Mintel, a London-based business analysis company. “It’s almost as if it’s overtaken cupcakes as the hot novelty product.”

In Tulsa, some frozen yogurt shops have opened within a few hundred feet of one another or at adjacent sides of an intersection.

The growing list of frozen yogurt shops is led

by a bevy of local companies, including CherryBerry and Oklahoma City area-based Peachwave and Orange Leaf.

Business filings indicate that Encino, Calif.-based Menchie’s plans to open a local store at 5355 E. 41st St., and a local businessman, Michael D’Onofrio, is opening a concept of his own called Yolotti Yogurt, a hybrid self-serve frozen yogurt shop and cafe.

Self-serve frozen yogurt restaurants are the coolest dessert trend in the restaurant market.

The shops charge by the ounce and have a host of frozen yogurt flavors and toppings to pile high on the dairy treat. Toppings include fresh fruit, candy, granola, chocolate and nuts.

But with the number of self-serve frozen yogurt shops exploding, during the next year they will have to fight for customer loyalty as the competition grows.

Local “fro-yo” sellers imported the trend from Southern California, where the trend burst on the scene in 2008.

Kevin Moon, founder of Peachwave said he got the idea for his chain after visiting similar stores during a trip to the Los Angeles area.

But frozen yogurt had already been undergoing a resurgence. PinkBerry, a West Hollywood-based company, took off in 2005 after importing an Asian concept for a slightly bitter soft-serve yogurt with fresh fruit and other toppings.

Tulsa-based Beautiful Brands International opened FreshBerry in early 2008 in Jenks with a similar concept of fresh fruit on top of soft-serve yogurt.

Then came the do-it-yourself competitors across California.

FreshBerry opened two self-serve frozen yogurt stands in Fremont, Calif., and Raleigh, N.C., late last year.

It didn’t take long for Oklahoma to develop a taste for frozen yogurt, with Orange Leaf and Peachwave stores opening in 2009.

The first stores started opening in Tulsa in mid-2010, and the influx of new eateries haven’t stopped.

Neil Devoe opened a Peachwave frozen yogurt store earlier this month at the KingsPointe Village shopping center at 61st Street and Yale Avenue.

“It’s a lot of fun, but they are not easy to run,” Devoe said. “You have to … get health department approval. There are lot of restrictions.”

He said business has been surprisingly good in the first week of business, but he expects the real rush to start when sunny days return in spring and summer.

Beautiful Brands president and CEO David Rutkauskas said the Tulsa market has become too saturated with self-serve frozen yogurt shops.

“There is literally not enough people in Tulsa with … discretionary income to sustain all of these frozen yogurt shops,” Rutkauskas said.

Beautiful Brands has two FreshBerry stores in Tulsa, neither of which offer self-service.

But with frozen yogurt demand dropping dramatically in winter, Rutkauskas said most new FreshBerry stores will have a cafe and sell a Smallcakes, a brand of gourmet cupcakes franchised by Beautiful Brands.

The company is also skeptical of opening any new Freshberry stores until the competition “shakes out and most of these stores close,” he said.

According to building records, most frozen yogurt restaurateurs spend between $100,000 and $250,000 on interior renovations at shopping centers where they build the restaurant.

Then there are franchising fees, hiring employees, acquiring food and health department regulations.

Still, it can be far cheaper than opening a fast-food or family-service restaurant, which usually requires more than $1 million in capital.

Jones said the competition has made her focus more on store quality. The company has ice cream shipped frozen from a dairy and yogurt plant in Arkansas.

CherryBerry has been aggressive in expanding its brand by offering a licensing model that comes with fewer restraints than franchising. The licensing fee is also low at $5,000, with 2.5 percent of revenues going back to the CherryBerry corporation.

“A lot of people opening CherryBerry stores are school teachers and police officers,” said Robyn Jones, who served 16-years with the Tulsa Police Department before she quit last year to open the first store.

It will be hot soon, but self-serve frozen yogurt is ready to make summertime easier.

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