Sweet taste of success for Sweet Frog
Since opening last summer, Sweet Frog, the self-serve frozen yogurt place on the Downtown Mall, has been been pumping out the stuff as fast as folks can work the handles on the store's bank of yogurt machines. Plans are already in the works for another location in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, and, according to Sweet Frog's owners, the owner of the original Sweet Frog in Short Pump is planning to open a store in the Hollymead Town Center.
What's more, the Sweet Frog franchise, which wasn't even a franchise when the Mall store opened, has taken off.
According to Sweet Frog co-owner Giovanni Sestito, who also owns Vita Nova pizzeria, it's all because of the Charlottesville Board of Architectural Review.
Readers might recall that the Downtown Mall Sweet Frog store opening was delayed nearly eight months because the building's owner, Joe Gieck, demolished the historic facade of the building, once home to the Victory Shoe Store, without BAR approval.
Originally, Sestito and partner Robert Lupica had planned to call their Downtown yogurt shop Yofina, but during the long delay caused by the unauthorized demo, a frozen yogurt shop in Short Pump, which had been open for about a year, went up for sale. Sestito says Lupica wanted to buy the Short Pump Sweet Frog and eventually hand over Yofina to him, so Lupica bought a half interest of the Short Pump store, with the original owner retaining the rights to the name. Eventually, Sestito and Lupica decided to call their Downtown Mall store Sweet Frog as well, recognizing that it was a catchy name, and one that kids seemed to like.
"The owner of the Short Pump store wanted to get out of the yogurt business," says Sestito, shaking his head. "What happened was a total accident."
Last April, Sestito says, a woman from Chester approached Derek Cha and his wife, Mi Jung Kim, the Short Pump store owners, and asked if they would be interested in selling her the concept so she could open her own Sweet Frog.
Since then, 28 Sweet Frog stores have open across Virginia and North Carolina, and there are plans to open new stores in Tennessee, Louisiana, and South Carolina.
"It's all the result of that delay because of the facade," Sestito explains. "It's crazy."
As Cha told Richmond Business Sense in May, "We are growing faster than we could have dreamed of."
Neither Sestito or Lupica, however, is involved with the franchise, as their agreement pre-dates Sweet Frog's explosive growth. In fact, the Downtown store operates under Yofina LLC, as will the Barracks Road store. Sestito says he's okay with Cha opening a store in Hollymead, as it will be far enough away from his stores.
Meanwhile, Cha, who had wanted to get out of the frozen yogurt business, finds himself collecting four percent of sales at each of his growing number of stores.
According to Sestito, it's not unlike how Pinkberry frozen yogurt shops, which are more ubiquitous than McDonald's in LA, got started.
"It was a Korean couple in California who wanted to open a formal English teahouse," he says, "but they had trouble getting a liquor license, so they decided to sell the yogurt."
According to a 2007 Fortune Magazine story, a typical Pinkberry store in LA could attract over 1,500 customers a day and "easily" haul in $250,000 a month.
"It's crazy," says Sestito.
Oh, and here's another little detail. According to the Richmond Business Sense story, Cha, who is a devout Christian, says the 'Frog' part of the name is an acronym for "Fully Rely on God."
Amen. And pass the Reese's Pieces and the cookie dough.