Frozen yogurt is making a comeback in the Inland Northwest.
While a number of frozen yogurtalso referred to as froyoshops faded away from the area in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at least four new frozen yogurt shops have popped up across the region over the last nine months, and around eight more stores are planned.
So far, all are following a similar self-serve model in which customers create their own treat and pay a per-ounce price.
New shop owners here say they believe the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene areas have seen such rapid growth of new stores for many reasons, including a general shift toward healthier eating.
"I think the popularity has a lot to do with the healthfulness," says Stephen Kraft, who owns Froyo Earth, located at 172 S. Division at the east end of downtown. Kraft, who owns the business with his wife, Karen, says they already have plans to open three more stores in Spokane this year.
Other vendors say the frozen yogurt trend is just delayed in hitting the region and that other areas of the country, such as Southern California, have had froyo shops for years. Improvements in the flavor and texture of the product have also allowed the dessert to make somewhat of a rebirth here, says Rick Purcell, who owns The Chill Spot Frozen Yogurt & More, located at 2706 N. Monroe.
Purcell says he believes that area residents missed the froyo shops that left the area about a decade ago, and now are welcoming the resurgence of new froyo establishments.
"One thing the froyo (industry) has done is that it really improved the quality and the taste of the products," he says. "A lot of people didn't like the tart and sour flavors that yogurt was known for in the past, but the new frozen yogurt tastes like ice cream but with less calories, so it's a healthier option."
Purcell says he and his wife, Jennifer, opened their business here last December and besides frozen yogurt, The Chill Spot also offers sandwiches, soups, salads, and espresso drinks.
He says the business has seen its sales increase every week since opening, and adds that he and his wife have plans to open additional stores in the future, but that at this point he's not sure when or where.
"I want to be conscious of where other locations are going," he says. "There is no sense in putting one right next to another and hurting another person's business."
Since the beginning of this year, Coeur d'Alene also has become host to at least two new froyo shops.
Jamms Frozen Yogurt, located in a retail center at 3500 N. Government Way, opened early last month and its owners, Joe and Lora Seaman, say they'll be announcing the location of the second Jamms store within a few months.
Joe Seaman says he and his wife decided to open a frozen yogurt shop in Coeur d'Alene because there wasn't much competition in the area for that type of business, and because he's had past experience in food buying and distribution.
About two weeks ago, Sonie and Earl Combs opened a frozen yogurt treat shop, called Top This Frozen Yogurt, at 202 W. Ironwood Drive, about a mile south of Jamms.
Sonie Combs says she and her husband moved to Coeur d'Alene to retire about eight years ago and have spent the last year and a half researching the frozen yogurt industry and planning their store.
"What has brought the industry back where it's so popular (again) is because of the 'you rule' aspect," she says, referring to customers' ability to choose serving size and ingredients.
Of course, frozen yogurt never left the Inland Northwest completely. Didier's Yogurt & More, at 10410 N. Division on Spokane's North Side, has been in business for 25 years, and current owner, Fred Etten, has operated it for 15 years.
Etten says he's skeptical of proposed expansions of froyo businesses.
"I'm not sure if all these (stores) will be around in five years," he says. "It's a harder business than what most people think."
All four of the area's recently opened shops use a similar self-serve, pay-by-the-ounce business model, as well as the same frozen yogurt manufacturer, YoCream International Inc., of Portland, Ore.
Didier's doesn't use a self-serve model, but Etten says he does buy YoCream products to sell in the store and mixes most of the flavors in-house.
He says he was offered the option to have self-serve machines about five years ago but declined.
Besides frozen yogurt, which Didier's is known for by local customers, the eatery sells burgers, sandwiches, and other traditional American fare, he says.
"We've always known (frozen yogurt) is a healthy product, and even though it's more expensive to serve than ice cream, people are seeing the benefits of yogurt," he says. "We've been trying to educate people about that all along, and it's now starting to catch on again."
Etten says the business has experienced steady sales growth in recent years, but that he doesn't have plans to expand his business by adding additional locations.
Others, however, are planning to expand. Several more shops are expected to open in the area within the next year or so, including the previously mentioned three new Froyo Earth outlets.
Froyo Earth's Kraft recently announced plans to open additional stores in North Spokane, on the South Hill, and in Spokane Valley. The North Side store is planned for the Wandermere area, in a retail center located in the 12500 block of north Division Street next to a Starbucks Corp. outlet. The Spokane Valley store is to be located in a retail center near the intersection of Fourth Avenue and Sullivan Road, Kraft says. He says that he hopes to have both of those new stores open in June. He's negotiating for a South Hill location at this time, but he also plans to have that store open before the end of this year.
Kraft says he's also looking at other areas in the region to expand, such as Post Falls and the West Plains, and has considered franchising his business model.
"I don't think we're at the saturation (of stores) yet, but I can see it on the horizon with as many stores as I have planned and other people have planned," he says.
Kraft says he expects to hire around 30 new employees total for the three new stores, adding to the 12 employees who work at his downtown store.
Combs, of Top This Frozen Yogurt, says she and her husband also already are looking to expand their business in the next two to three years, possibly adding three additional locations in Kootenai County. She says they're considering outlets in Post Falls and Hayden, as well as a second outlet in Coeur d'Alene.
Combs says Top This Frozen Yogurt sells its froyo for 40 cents an ounce, including any added toppings, but that its scales are set to remove the weight of the paper yogurt cup, as at most other area froyo stores. Jamms' owners say they offer their treats for the same price. Both of Spokane's newest froyo vendors sell their product for 39 cents an ounce, including toppings.
Of the YoCream products sold by the stores, Froyo Earth's Kraft says they're made with real yogurt, which includes live and active cultures that also are found in conventional, refrigerated yogurt, and are preservative-free. Many of YoCream's varieties come with no extra sugar added and some are gluten-free, which is beneficial to customers with certain dietary restrictions, Kraft says.
Many of YoCream's products also come in non- or low-fat varieties. A half-cup serving of YoCream's yogurt can range between 80 and 140 calories, its website says, depending on the flavor or if it's nonfat.
The Chill Spot's Purcell says, "It's a fraction of the calories of ice cream, especially when you consider it has the probiotics and live and active cultures, which is just like in the yogurt that you get in the cups at the store. It has all the health benefits even though it's more like dessert."
The froyo shop owners interviewed for this story all say that they usually have at least one gluten-free and one no-sugar-added flavor in their machines at all times, as well as the traditional flavors of vanilla and chocolate. Some shops also say they continually offer a fruit sorbet yogurt, which has no dairy products, making it an option for lactose-intolerant customers. YoCream's sorbets are the lowest in fat and calorie content of all its products, at around 80 calories per half cup.
Some of YoCream's more unusual flavors include Reese's Peanut Butter, red velvet cake, pumpkin, eggnog, cake batter, and praline.
Subscribe today to our free E-Newsletters!SUBSCRIBE