COOLING OFF? Danielle Mott, assistant manager at Hot and Cold Frozen Yogurt in Providence, serves a customer. While national frozen yogurt chains are growing their presence in Rhode Island, independent stores such as Hot and Cold are finding a market.
American fast food had hit a dry patch in dessert trends when frozen yogurt returned in a blur of neon lights, pop music and smashed candy-bar toppings.
A New England invention popularized in the 1980s and left behind a decade later, frozen yogurt has come back stronger than ever in the last five years with a new breed of parlors pumping out soft serve in malls and on Main streets.
Known as “froyo lounges,” these new establishments typically emphasize self-service and a modernist aesthetic with influences drawn from California and Korea.
From one or two frozen yogurt counters in Rhode Island’s large malls in 2000, there are now about 15 froyo establishments stretching across the state, with more planned.
In Providence’s college and tourist neighborhoods, dueling froyo lounges compete for traffic on the same streets as mom-and-pop gelato shops and national ice cream chains.
“We understand there is a lot of frozen yogurt coming into the area,” said Dennis Bok, vice president and director of franchising at FroyoWorld, which opened a shop on Thayer Street in Providence two years ago and is now the biggest froyo presence in Rhode Island. “But with the proprietary formulations we have, we are not just any run-of-the-mill yogurt shop.”
Behind the bright lighting and flashing music videos, froyo lounges are simple: customers use do-it-yourself soft-serve machines to fill their cup with yogurt and then pile on whatever fruit and candy toppings they want. Some charge by cup size and others by weight. Some have a server pour the yogurt.
Like they did in the 1980s, modern froyo lounges tout the desert’s relative healthiness, but unlike older chains, many of the new shops do not try to make their product like ice cream. Instead they play up the inherently tart taste of yogurt originally thought to drive Americans away.
Based in New Haven, Conn., FroyoWorld embodies the new generation of froyo. The company’s co-founders, William and Susan Bok, were involved in a San Francisco full-service yogurt shop called Yocup, and moved to the East Coast when it was sold.
Seeing New England as an underserved market, they opened the first FroyoWorld near Yale University in 2010. The second shop popped up on Thayer Street near Brown University soon after.