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Cupcakes, frozen yogurt shops aim to jump-start faded trend

Times files (2008)
Published May 20, 2014

A few years ago, we couldn't get enough cupcakes and frozen yogurt. Shops were popping up all over the place. Having frosted cupcakes at corporate events was fun and hip. Froyo quickly became a cool, new word.

Today, that obsession has dimmed. No one eats cupcakes or frozen yogurt every day or even every week. Local stores such as the Cupcake Spot in Tampa and Pinkberry, the froyo of Hollywood stars, closed.

But that hasn't stopped a few entrepreneurs from jumping into the market with new concepts.

Sweet Arleen's and Yogurtland — both based in California — are opening stores in the Tampa Bay area. Sweet Arleen's cupcake shop is looking for franchisees. Yogurtland just opened a store in Citrus Park and has plans for several others between here and Orlando.

A banker turned baker, Arleen Scavone founded Sweet Arleen's in Los Angeles in 2009 and is a three-time winner on Food Network's Cupcake Wars. She has one corporate store and eight franchised locations in the works.

Over the next five years, Scavone hopes to open 100 stores in 20 U.S. markets. It's an aggressive goal, but one she believes is obtainable, even amid less appetite for the decadent desserts.

Ask why and she points to the banking industry. For years, there was a bank on every corner. Then the housing market tanked, putting many banks out of business. The strongest remained and, over time, got better.

"We've done the same," she said. "We're very confident in our brand. We got a proven model."

Sweet Arleen's sells about 10,000 cupcakes a week in L.A., a much bigger market than ours with seemingly deeper pockets for gourmet luxuries. It also sells bread pudding, a that isn't as widely available dessert. Regular cupcakes sell for $3.50; minis start at a $1.

By comparison, Gigi's Cupcakes, a top competitor, sells about 6,000 to 7,000 a week at its store in South Tampa, which is considered quite busy. A manager said selling 10,000 might be possible, but it's certainly not the norm.

Despite some cupcake stores closing, Scavone says there's room for a concept focused on taste, quality and customer service.

Jack Suleiman agrees. This month he and his brother, David, opened Yogurtland along Gunn Highway across from the Westfield Citrus Park mall, ironically in an old Pinkberry yogurt shop that went out of business.

Suleiman says Yogurtland has much more to offer than Pinkberry, which also had a location at WestShore Plaza that closed. Yogurtland tastes better, costs less and has more flavors, usually 16 on a given day. Much like at Yogurtology, customers serve themselves and add their own toppings, the latest trend in froyo.

"I know there are a lot of yogurt shops, but the yogurt does make a difference, and with us you'll definitely know the difference," he said, noting that even in a yogurt-heavy place like California, Yogurtland has done well.

Suleiman plans to open eight Yogurtlands in Central Florida, including three in the bay area. One along Ulmerton Road in Largo is owned by another franchisee.

The Citrus Park store celebrates its grand opening May 31 with free yogurt, face painting, balloons and a DJ. Suleiman hopes the event raises awareness of the brand and attracts customers from the nearby mall.

So far, he said a lot of people are surprised to see another yogurt shop in that spot.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

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