Frozen yogurt not stuck in the '80s

ST. PETERSBURG

Five years after it swept Los Angeles and New York and about three years after coming to Tampa, St. Petersburg is joining the self-service frozen yogurt craze.

My Yogurt Cafe is opening at 234 Beach Drive in December or January, while Yogurtology is opening at 3131 Fourth St. N near Harvey's 4th Street Grill.

Miami Beach entrepreneur Matt Pizzi is simultaneously opening My Yogurt Cafe stores on Duval Street in Key West, Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach and Espanola Way in Miami Beach.

"I went and studied Beach Drive over a couple nights," Pizzi said. "The foot traffic and the number of people, I was really impressed. Over the next few years that is going to be an incredible area."

His store will have six yogurt machines dispensing two flavors of yogurt each along with a toppings bar with 35 items ranging from fresh raspberries to M&Ms. Classic flavors like vanilla and chocolate flow all the time with more exotic flavors such as pomegranate rotating in and out.

Yogurtology, which is owned by a sister-and-brother team from Tampa, will have seven yogurt machines with two flavors each and 60 toppings. The most popular flavor at the Yogurtology store already open in South Tampa is its signature oatmeal cookie, and two of the most surprising toppings are chocolate-covered sunflower seeds and baklava.

"People really like the idea of being able to mix and match and get as much or little of whatever they want," said Grant Levy, Yogurtology co-owner. The Tampa store has steady business throughout the day and lines five to 10 customers deep after school and on busy evenings.

There are close to a dozen frozen yogurt stores, independents and national franchises, in Tampa. Yogurt Mountain opened days ago in Clearwater. Across the country, there are hundreds of stores offering full and self-service frozen yogurt with a plethora of toppings. California-based Pinkberry has 100 stores nationwide and is largely credited for the frozen yogurt resurgence.

The yogurt business received a strong endorsement of sorts when Starbucks founder Howard Schultz's venture capital company became a major backer of Pinkberry three years ago. Perhaps he foresees frozen yogurt stores popping up on corners across the world like Starbucks?

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To understand this frenzy over frozen yogurt you must know this is not the same frozen yogurt you ate while wearing your pink leopard leggings and listening to Madonna back in the '80s. Today's yogurt isn't trying to taste like ice cream by adding artificial sweeteners. It has that slightly tart taste that comes from active yogurt cultures. It's also full of probiotics, known as "friendly bacteria," that aid in digestion and help the body's immune system.

"The new yogurt is very refreshing," Pizzi said. "It has less than 20 calories per ounce." That's about half the calories of ice cream but only before the yogurt is loaded with candy and cookies as toppings.

But it's not just the nutritional components and taste that separate 21st century yogurt businesses from their 1980s predecessors. Instead of mirroring ice cream shops with soda fountains and sweetheart chairs, the yogurt shops of today look more like nightclubs, or at least way-hip coffee shops. They have flat-screen TVs, neon lights and sleek furniture.

Along with the kids stopping by after school and swim team practice, addicted customers are businesspeople in suits, women who lunch in designer jeans and couples going out for yogurt before, or instead of, cocktails.

Yogurtology will have several 50-inch flat screens. My Yogurt Cafe's interior will be painted violet and lilac. There will be a standing bar wrapping around the perimeter of the store so that customers can mingle while they eat. Prices range across the country from 35 cents to 60 cents an ounce.

The self-serve feature is another difference. It allows customers to make more healthy choices by filling their bowl with just 3 or 4 ounces of yogurt to mix with fruit or sunflower seeds. In the same respect, heavy-handed diners can end up with a caloric fate worse than a triple-scoop fudge sundae.

Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or kssmith@sptimes.com. News researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Frozen yogurt not stuck in the '80s 11/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 12:43pm]

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