“I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a big peak in the frozen yogurt market here in the next year or two,” Wallace says. “There are going to be a bunch of closures.”
Then again, that shuttered BerryLine shop on Newbury? Wallace sold it contents to Chicago’s Forever Yogurt chain, which is looking to open in the same location.
ON A MONDAY AFTERNOON a week after the Maggiano’s event, Bryan Poisson stands behind the cash register at iYo, an independent froyo cafe he and his partner opened in Davis Square in August 2012. A 44-year-old architect, Poisson designed the space to include lots of exposed brick and a large back room he opens to community nonprofits. “We didn’t want people to come into this glaring, pink, plasticky kiddie place,” he says. “We wanted something more sophisticated, some place adults could come after dinner.”
The froyo business isn’t as carefree as some expect, Poisson says. The machines require frequent and intensive cleaning, as well as monthly testing on behalf of the local health department. And to serve customers from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., he now employs a staff of 18 people.
But a few weeks before opening his shop, Poisson was doing paperwork at City Hall when he saw that Orange Leaf had filed an application for a location just down the block. He had expected competition, but he hadn’t expected it to arrive so quickly. After looking over Orange Leaf’s paperwork, he pointed out an inconsistency in the proposed address to Somerville planners, who required Orange Leaf to correct the error.
“I didn’t really know about iYo prior to that,” says Dave Pierre, who co-owns four Orange Leaf franchises. Pierre opened his shop in October, about a month later than planned.
Despite the initial welcome, Pierre thinks there’s room enough in town for both shops. “As far as I know, we’re very different business models,” he says. “iYo does coffee and waffles and bagels and muffins — their frozen yogurt, to me, it’s an afterthought. I don’t look at them as a direct competitor.”
Poisson doesn’t seem too concerned, either, joking about how all the national chains — Pinkberry, Red Mango, Orange Leaf — seem to have a name based on a formula: a color, then a plant. But he does want everyone to play on a level field. That was the issue with Orange Leaf’s address error, he says. He believes each competitor should have to correctly follow every step in the process.
So when Pinkberry announced in the fall of 2012 that it also wanted to come to Davis Square, Poisson was in the audience at the public meeting. There, he argued that Somerville’s zoning rules clearly state that a food establishment should only receive a special permit if there’s a “need” for it in the community, and it’s difficult to see why they would need a third froyo place in one-10th of a mile.
Pinkberry withdrew its application ahead of an official decision and set to work drumming up support. After more than 400 Somerville residents signed a petition, Pinkberry reappeared before the zoning board in April — at a meeting Poisson says he didn’t hear about until the last minute — and got a unanimous OK. “We enjoy responding to the request Somerville residents have made for us to enter and be an active part of their local community,” a Pinkberry spokesperson explains in an e-mail that also touts Pinkberry’s distinctive qualities and the company’s job creation record.
Pinkberry doesn’t expect its new location to open until the fall, but Pierre says he has already spoken to the man in charge of it. They agreed that they, too, have different business models — Pinkberry is counter-service, has fewer flavors, and, as Pierre puts it, “they are double the price of our yogurt.”
Still, Pierre isn’t sure Pinkberry will make it in Davis. “We’ll all do well in the summer,” he says. “It’s the winter — who can survive the winter? We just went through our first winter, and it’s brutal. That’s where it’s going to get interesting.”
Poisson, for his part, remains skeptical of the idea that more frozen yogurt stores will simply lead people to eat more frozen yogurt — demand isn’t limitless. “That’s why we are who we are,” he says. The menu at iYo includes coffee and espresso, soup and sandwiches, pastries and other desserts. By selling a broader product line, Poisson says, “we’ve designed ourselves to be insulated from the fad.” The frozen yogurt machines and the expansive toppings bars now take up a big chunk of floor space. But if froyo once again goes from hot to not, his shop should be flexible enough to find another niche.Continued...