A few months ago I began to notice the seemingly exponential growth of frozen yogurt stores that were cropping up around San Diego. It started slowly at first. In time, it became a running joke among my friends: “Eeek. We’ve been invaded by frozen yogurt stores!”
In the last two years, from the Gaslamp to La Jolla, over twenty five new yogurt stores have opened. The stores come in two varieties. There is the traditional ice-cream store model, where you go in and request your scoop. More recently, self service has been added. You go in, pick out your flavor, squirt your own non-fat, low-sugar faux ice-cream into a cup, and then fill it with an array of toppings—ranging from “healthy” fresh fruit to the “sinful” crumbled Oreos, Snickers bars, or other nuts and candies.
In service of my faithful readers, I went on a two-week yogurt binge to find out what the big deal was. To cut down on the possibility of obesity, I tried to taste only the signature flavors at the best known and best loved yogurt stores in the area. These included: taro, tart (in several varieties), chocolate, St. Moritz chocolate, chocolate & vanilla, raspberry & chocolate, cake batter, green tea, mango, blackberry, pomegranate, and cantaloupe & watermelon. I didn’t use any toppings because I wanted to focus on the yogurt.
My journey began with Yogotango in downtown San Diego, moved to Little Italy with Yogurt Land. Next came Hillcrest: Golden Spoon, Pinkberry and Yog-art. In La Jolla I hit Apple Green, Froglanders, Bird Rock Yogurt, Yogi Topi, Berries & Beans, Tutti Fruiti and Dolce Mango. (A veritable take-over is quietly occurring in La Jolla.)
The questions: Why yogurt? Why now in this economy? Who owns these places and why are there so many?
Yogurt is cheap to make and cheap to buy. A family of four can feast for ten dollars at Yogurt Land, for example. Kids love to have the control, power and creativity that the self-serve concept allows. It turns out that most of the yogurt stores I visited are Vietnamese-owned. Most are franchises. According to owners, yogurt is a trendy business model for success. It’s cheap to make and the price is dramatically marked up.
Taste depends on the taster. It can be said that Pinkberry put the whole frozen yogurt thing on the map. Pinkberry offers three flavors: Green Tea, Plain, and Raspberry. To me, all three tasted exactly the same. If you like the traditional taste of full-fat ice-cream, my favorites were Bird Rock Yogurt (chocolate & vanilla), Froglanders (St. Mortiz chocolate) and Golden Spoon (plain and cake batter). These places had the creamiest yogurts that tasted the most like real ice-cream.
If you like self-serve, I recommend the “partial self-serve” at Yogotango—they serve the yogurt, you do the toppings yourself. Yogotango offers fresh and seasonal fruit; many stores make this claim, but usually they carry canned. I will say here that I’m not a fan of self-serve. I don’t believe it’s sanitary—the more I thought about it the more grossed out I became, in fact. I never saw anyone ever clean the handles at any of the stores. While we’re on the subject, it worries me that when people use the small tasting cups that most places provide, they tend to shove the little cup up and into the spout, touching the spout to lip of the cup where their mouths had been just moments before. That said, there is one self-serve place, Yog-art, that has a taro flavor that is truly one of the most unique and rich flavors I’ve ever tasted.
Despite the trendiness of the fro-yog craze, it is a healthy alternative to ice-cream…if that’s what floats your boat. For my money, I’m sticking with Baskin Robbins—give me that good, old fashioned REAL ice-cream.
BR has been around since 1945, offering thirty-one incredible flavors and a whole lot of toppings at a reasonable price. So drown me in a bucket of soft serve. I’m old-school and proud of it.