It looks like ice cream, especially when it comes out of self-serve wall dispensers in the traditional creamy twist. But frozen yogurt is often perceived as healthier than ice cream with its “good” bacteria, vitamins and minerals. And people feel healthier eating it.
That might be part of the reason frozen yogurt is enjoying a resurgence across the country, with the Wyoming Valley no exception. Four new frozen-yogurt businesses have opened in just under a year, and numbers five and six are on the way. Plans are in place for a YoGo Factory, a national self-serve frozen-yogurt franchise, to open in the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville next month, and a third location of Loco Yoco is in the works.
It also might help that customers can now dispense their own favorite flavors — from chocolate and peanut butter to cake batter and cookie dough — and add any of dozens of toppings — blueberries, kiwi and other fresh fruit or what Theresa Vaccaro of Dallas calls “the junk,” toppers such as Reese’s peanut butter cups, flavored chips, sprinkles and the like. Cereal is yet another option — think old, sweet favorites such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Cap’n Crunch — as well as nuts, including walnuts and almonds.
Customers can even combine two flavors with the middle lever of each machine as well. Cookies and cream and chocolate in the same cup? That’s chocolate-covered Oreo.
Wait, didn’t frozen yogurt come and go, enjoying a peak in the ’90s before dropping off the map almost entirely?
For the record, Kingston attorney Nanda Palissery points out his Loco Yoco in Dallas was the original when it opened 11 months ago, and he has since opened a second location in March in West Pittston. He is working on a third, but he won’t disclose where.
“We were the first in the area,” he said.
“The frozen-yogurt model has been around for many, many years,” Palissery added. “It just hadn’t reached here until we decided to (open).”
TCBY (The Country’s Best Yogurt) and ICBIY (I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt), which introduced the country to frozen yogurt in the ’80s, did have stores in the Northeast, and TCBY still has a location on the Scranton-Carbondale Highway in Dickson City. But Palissery said what hurt TCBY was customers could not apply their own toppings. He said the company has been changing its business model to self-serve. From a business perspective, it’s not as labor-intensive and it’s better for children, he noted.
Self-serve shops, all the rage these days, also are colorfully decorated, adding to the all-ages appeal.
Jim Lane, operations manager for sweetFrog in Wilkes-Barre Township, said the Richmond, Va.-based chain opened its store in the Walmart plaza along Highland Park Boulevard in August.
“It’s a hub for business,” he said. “I’m sure what attracted them to the area was the volume of business.”
He said the sweetFrog chain has about 200 stores, mostly in the southern and western United States, but they are spreading northward.
But the business does more than sell frozen yogurt. A Christian-based company – Frog stands for Fully Rely on God – it also does fundraisers for nonprofits such as Autism Speaks and the Children’s Miracle Network, and for individuals, Lane said.
A fourth frozen-yogurt business, Froyo Mania, opened along East Northampton Street in downtown Wilkes-Barre on May 15.
Tom Truong saw his shop as filling a void in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
“I’m from Florida,” said Truong, whose family owns frozen-yogurt and other businesses there. “There’s one on every corner there. Up here, people are not as familiar with it.”
But he said business has been good, especially after lunch and dinner.
Customers have even used frozen yogurt as their main meal, he said. (For nutritional advice on that trend, read on.)
As do his competitors, he offers multiple flavors from tart, a favorite, to strawberry, chocolate, peanut butter and cookies and cream, and a multiple-choice lineup of fruit and candy toppings. Customers can decide just how sweet and decadent — and caloric — they want their frozen yogurt “meal.”
Toppings range from freshly cut fruits, such as strawberries, kiwi and mango, along with blueberries and blackberries, to candy, such as peanut butter cups, Sno caps and Gummy Bears, to cereal such as Cap’n Crunch and Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
Another sought-after topper is popping pearls, colorful soft pearls that, when chewed, release a burst of fruit juice.
But, assuming a heavily topped treat, replete with candy or nuts, would frozen yogurt still qualify as healthy? Well, many shop owners and fro-yo fans like to point out that frozen yogurt is naturally non-fat or l0w-fat and often gluten-free. But nutrition experts will just as often counter that sugar content can still raise the calorie count quickly, even in plain yogurt. And toppings, of course, add even more to the numbers, with fruit delivering the least guilt and candy, nuts and granola the most.
Yogurt fans also point to naturally occurring probiotics, which support the immune and digestive systems, but, again, nutritionists often counter that such healthy bacteria often don’t survive extreme temperatures and therefore won’t last long enough to do the body good. Some shops are working on new techniques to make the good stuff last longer.
In the meantime, healthy or not so much, takers apparently will still enjoy the new flavors and the fun factor of the newly emerged help-yourself model.
Loco Yoco in Dallas offers 10 flavors; in West Pittston, 12, plus the twist combinations, which add five more flavor possibilities. Toppings total more than 30, including sauces, waffle cones, fresh fruit bought and sliced daily and, yes, popping pearls.
For the lactose- and dairy-intolerant or vegans, the businesses offer dairy-free sorbet, with flavors such as key lime, mango or watermelon. Sugar-free frozen yogurt is another alternative.
SweetFrog might top the charts as far as flavors go, offering 16 options and nearly 50 toppings.
Terry O’Leary of Drums, a regular there, likes to try various combinations.
“It just depends on what’s there,” she said.
Her son Michael, of Hanover Township, said he prefers the sugar-free vanilla with kiwi and cherries on top.
Theresa Vaccaro, who confessed an occasional giving-in to the “junk,” takes her young son and daughter to Loco Yoco in Dallas and likes the vanilla frozen yogurt with fresh fruit, though on Thursday she got a little crazy.
“I splurged,” she said.
Her choice toppings for the day? Peanut butter and toffee chips with her vanilla dessert.
As for the little folks with her, 8-year-old Anthony said he likes cookies and cream with cookie-dough topping, while his sister, Gianna, 9, likes birthday-cake frozen yogurt with vanilla waffle topping.