Yodel on Brunswick Pike joins the growing number of self-serve frozen yogurt shops in Lawrence.
When Alena Ispahani thinks about summers from her childhood, she remembers bonding with her family over ice cream.
“I had such good memories growing up with my parents taking us out for ice cream,” she said. “It would be an event in the summertime. After dinner, they would just take us out to a local ice cream store and we used to just sit outside and we made memories.”
Ispahani and her parents now own Yodel, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop on Brunswick Pike.
“People are looking for that healthier alternative, but to have the same family moments,” she said.
Lately, self-serve frozen yogurt shops have become increasingly popular. The latest to open in Lawrence is CuuL, which is located on Lawrenceville Road. CuuL plans to offer bubble tea in addition to frozen yogurt, manager Raquel Ziga said.
As recently as one year ago, Lawrence residents had to travel outside of the township for self-serve frozen yogurt. Now, the opening of CuuL will boost that number up to four options available within the township’s borders.
One appeal of the shops is that customers are able to make their own sundaes by filling a cup with their favorite flavors and toppings, then paying based on the weight of their creations. And while all the new shops operate the same way, each location is doing its best to offer something customers won’t find elsewhere.
Annie’s Frozen Yogurt and Water Ice, located in Manors Corner Shopping Center, opened last August. The store offers frozen yogurt, soft-serve ice cream, water ice and coffee drinks. The business is owned by longtime friends and coworkers Rick Wright and Steve Willis.
Wright’s brother owns a business called Annie’s Water Ice in Doylestown, Pa. A family dog, a basset hound named Annie, is the mascot for both shops.
Annie’s offers 10 flavors of frozen yogurt on any given day, including options that are non fat, low fat and that have no sugar added. Cookies and cream is one of its most popular yogurt flavors. There are several flavors of water ice available daily as well. The shop also offers a sorbet as a non-dairy option.
“This way you can bring the whole family. If someone likes water ice and the rest of them like yogurt, we have a little something for everybody,” Willis said.
The toppings bar at Annie’s is stocked with around 50 selections, some of which were added after input from customers. Toppings include fresh fruit, candy, cookies and sauces. The store also offers milkshakes and blend-ins called “Basset Blasts.”
Let’s YO in Mercer Mall has a modern, technological vibe. Pop music plays through the store, some of the seating areas are equipped with iPads for customers to use.
The Let’s YO shop in Lawrence opened in December 2012. The store is a privately owned franchise that is run by Ben Baron, Dimitry Meksin, Alex Fleyshmakher and Boris Shtoler.
The shop uses technology to enhance the frozen yogurt experience as well. Above the yogurt dispensers, small screens show information about each flavor, including the name and nutrition facts.
Let’s YO features 21 flavors daily and offers options that are non fat, low fat and that have no sugar added. The store also offers a selection of two non dairy sorbets each day.
Baron said that the toppings bar has about 80 options, but that he hoped to expand upon that number. Current toppings include fresh fruit, granola, nuts, sprinkles, cheesecake bites and chocolate covered sunflower seeds.
“If you want to stay completely healthy, there is a way to do that here,” Baron said. “The kids though, the kids love the chocolate, they love the sprinkles.”
Let’s YO also offers frozen yogurt pies that are made to order. Waffle cones and Belgian waffles are baked on site. Milkshakes and smoothies are also available.
At Yodel, which opened in March, Ispahani said she aimed to offer unique flavors. Yodel offers 21 flavor selections, including solid flavors and twists. One especially popular selection is a signature flavor called “spring fling,” which is a combination of vanilla frozen yogurt and pomegranate raspberry sorbet.
Yodel also offers options that are non fat, low fat and that have no sugar added. Yodel also offers fruit and ice slushies, milkshakes and non dairy sorbets.
Ispahani said she was inspired to create an atmosphere that was like a corner ice cream store, but with a modern, metropolitan vibe. Customers can sit in the restaurant and watch the television, which is often showing the Disney channel.
The owners of Annie’s, Let’s Yo and Yodel agree that one factor in the popularity of frozen yogurt shops is that customers see frozen yogurt as a healthier alternative to ice cream. And, with so many options now available, the owners of each business strive to offer a unique experience.
Baron’s goal is to keep Let’s Yo stocked with as many different toppings as he can.
“I’m trying to make this store better than all the others by having the most options possible,” he said.
Ispahani said that she tries to feature signature flavor combinations that are unique to Yodel, such as peanut butter and banana sandwich. She said she enjoys the opportunities for creativity that working in this industry provides. When making her own sundaes, she always plans to use healthy toppings like fruit, but admits that she sometimes can’t resist throwing in a bit of candy, too.
“The inner child comes out, I think, in everybody,” she said.