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Sweet Tart

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A piece of advice for the uninitiated: The snowy white swirl of "classic" frozen yogurt at Dupont Circle's Tangysweet is anything but vanilla.

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Crisp and tart, the taste is closer to lemonade and designed to appeal to a grown-up palate. A line of 20- and 30-somethings snakes out of the door and down the block many nights. After just one month in business, owner Aaron Gordon is already thinking about a second, and maybe even third, location.

"Their first image is 'Wow, this is very tart,' " Gordon said of new customers. "It's almost like introducing the city to a new style of yogurt."

Tart frozen yogurt has finally made its way from the West Coast to Washington, and several new businesses are tussling for your taste buds as the summer heat settles in. In addition to Tangysweet, the past year and a half has also brought Sweetgreen, Mr. Yogato and Iceberry to the nation's capital. And Red Mango, the granddaddy of them all, which claims to have popularized the trend in South Korea, is scouting for locations.

Though statistics for restaurants were not available, national retail sales of frozen yogurt grew 3.5 percent, from $171 million in 2005 to $177 million last year, according to market research firm Mintel. Ice cream still dominates, with more than half of the market for frozen treats, but sales in the same period fell 2 percent, to $4.1 billion.

Of course, this isn't frozen yogurt's first swirl around the block. It enjoyed popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when chains such as TCBY and I Can't Believe It's Yogurt offered a sweet, low-fat alternative to ice cream before their appeal began to melt away.

Then in 2005, Los Angeles-based Pinkberry introduced U.S. consumers to a tart version of frozen yogurt that bears little similarity to its creamy cousin. The taste has generated long lines and plenty of buzz -- earning Pinkberry yogurt nicknames such as "frozen heroin juice." It now has 45 stores in California and 13 in New York. Rival Red Mango arrived in L.A. last year and has nearly 30 stores in several states.

"The one thing I know about Americans is we love new versions of the things we already know," said Harry Balzer, vice president of consumer behavior research firm NPD.

The success of the two chains has spawned several imitators, and Gordon is admittedly one of them. His older sister introduced him to Pinkberry while he was living in Santa Monica, Calif., and he found himself returning day after day. A District native and entrepreneur, he decided to bring the concept to his home town.

His basement shop features modern decor, including distinctive color-changing arm rests that Gordon has dubbed "tangy tables." It serves only three flavors -- classic, pomegranate and green tea -- but a wide variety of toppings ranging from kids' cereal Trix to mango.

Gordon said he used his own capital, coupled with a few credit cards, to open the store in early June. A line of about 40 people waited outside when he threw open the doors, Gordon said.

"It really hasn't let up since then," he said.

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