Escalating the Cold War

Written by Linnea Covington on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.


On A RECENT afternoon, one of the East Village’s newest frozen yogurt joints filled up with New York University students, parents and local kids all tightly clutching their cups, deciding among the 16 choices of frozen yogurt and sorbet at their disposal.

As they swarmed around him, the store’s owner, Solomon Choi, talked about the philosophy of his store, 16 Handles. “I really want 16 Handles to be more then just another yogurt shop,” the 28-year-old entrepreneur said. “I wanted to build a brand, which is why I came to New York.” He paused and excused himself to get up and help a man and his son. A moment later he sat back down and explained the two customers came in a few days ago asking if the yogurt had any contact with tree nuts. Choi admitted he didn’t know, so he called the supplier and found out that they were tree-nut
free—the kid could have his dessert.

“It must be so hard to be a kid with those allergies,” he said. “When you’re young, you really want ice cream.” Over the past two years, Manhattan alone has become home to dozens of new frozen yogurt shops.There are 14 Pinkberrys, six Red Mangos, standalone stores like Sace in the East Village and the bodegabased Yolato empire.

According to the market-research firm Mintel, frozen yogurt sales in New York

16 Handles in the East Village offers self-serve fro-yo options.

City will rise 12 percent from $177 million to $200 million in the next four years.

For anybody who remembers the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Yogurt and TCBY invasion of the 1990s, it’s hard to believe that all of these outposts will survive. In all likelihood, they won’t. The stores that do make it, though, will do so because of the fanatical
devotion that frozen desserts inspire in (seemingly) otherwise sane New
Yorkers. “I do not like Pinkberry,” declares Claudia Quinones, as she
chows down a cup of yogurt at 16 Handles. “It leaves a weird after
taste.”

Sitting next to her, her friend Crystal Robles
disagrees, “Pinkberry is my favorite, but 16 Handles’ tart flavor
tastes the same and it’s cheaper.”

“But the selection here is
amazing,” replies Quinones. “I guess I would come here over going to
Pinkberry if it was closer,” Robles finally concedes.

Location,
of course, is everything. For Choi, moving into a frozen yogurt
saturated neighborhood where his store competes directly with
Pinkberry, Sace, Tasti D-Lite and Red Mango—all within a one-block
radius— shows moxie. But with only one shop thus far, competition might
favor the chains.

“The first and foremost thing we like to do
is embrace that our product is superior to other products out there,”
says Red Mango founder Daniel Kim. “Our number one criteria is
location, we don’t immediately look at who’s there, we look at the
customers.

“We have a couple locations that are close to our
competitors,” he adds. “But we have taken a much more mainstream
approach, you don’t see lots of colors and plastic furniture. It’s more
of a lounge.”

Indeed, one way each store makes its mark is by
establishing an identity, beginning with its interior. Pinkberry has an
Asian pop-culture theme, which includes plastic furniture and swirled
patterns, which has won fans like Jerry Seinfeld
and Paris Hilton. Red Mango goes more for a homey atmosphere—“a place
people can relax in,” says Kim—interiors at old timer Tasti D-Lite vary
at each location, but generally fall between hospital chic and almost
welcoming, Williamsburg’s /eks/ feels like a futuristic cafe full of
hipster ice cream from the great beyond and 16 Handles remains
self-serve, with a small staff and earthtoned decorations.

If
this all sounds a bit calculated for frozen yogurt, you’ll be pleased
to know that this trend has come our way from—of course—Los Angeles.

New
Yorkers were late bloomers in the frozen yogurt craze, which popped up
a little over a year ago when Pinkberry opened up in Manhattan. The
first Red Mango touched down last December, and now 16 Handles is all
ready scouting out other locations.

“I had a strong image from the get go,” said Choi. “It’s been very rewarding.”

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