August 2006

Yogurtland

“It tastes like…happiness,” my cousin finally said after a few moments of careful and speechless contemplation. It was the only way to somehow describe the indescribable flavor of Pinkberry’s fantastically unconventional “plain” frozen yogurt. Whatever compelled her to speak so highly of something like frozen yogurt was indeed fascinating. I’ve heard equal praise for the little shop in West Hollywood from many female friends so when the opportunity came to finally try it, I rejoiced.

Surprisingly, there are only two flavors: Plain and Green Tea. What seems to win everyone over however, is the fresh fruit (this includes blackberries!) and granola that you can add as toppings. One thing’s for sure, you won’t find variety here. There is no hot fudge to destroy its delicate flavor, no gummy bears or snowcaps, nothing to hinder its refreshing texture and its unique simplicity.

After waiting in line for half an hour, I sat down to try the plain with strawberries, granola and mango and though very good and refreshing, it didn’t quite inspire “happiness” in my mouth. Delight perhaps, but not happiness. Nor is it very original, for it tastes exactly like the “Tart” flavor at Yogurtland, a more modest and cheaper venue in Fullerton. If I were urged to describe it, I would say it has the same sourness of plain yogurt but with heightened sweetness and that cool texture of soft-serve ice cream.

I couldn’t help but be amazed however, at the success of the Korean woman who I heard owns this little jewel of a yogurt shop. Streams of people wait for it. There is a line all day, everyday, that goes out the entrance to the sidewalk as a security guard mans the glass door. “Yes,” I thought as we waited under the pounding sun. “Even Hollywood’s yogurt joints have long lines and bouncers.”

So why the freaking hype? Frozen yogurt has been around for a long time and I wondered why the concept of this place works so well. It has somehow — through an age of health fanaticism and desperate diets –made its way into the canon of sweet comfort foods. It is a little healthier than ice cream, attracting sweet-toothed females far and wide, fooled by its “nonfat” moniker and ignorant of the sugar put into it that makes it so damn good. But if the health factor isn’t convincing enough, there has to be more to it.

At Yogurtland, you can walk into the frozen yogurt machine-lined store, grab a cup, serve it yourself and pay by how much it weighs. Genius, right? I thought so as I watched a similar crowd stream into the Fullerton shop minus the long line and bouncer. The profits made from selling merely sugary frozen milk water and fruit must be staggering. My fellow frozen yogurt-eating veteran remarked that of course, wildly successful small businesses like Pinkberry stem from a brilliant idea. And that’s when it hit me. There’s nothing special about frozen yogurt but the execution of Pinkberry — its minimalist approach and hip, Los Angeles locale — was genius. Blinded by dollar signs I’m sure, its creator is cashing it all in baby. After all, everyone wants a taste of happiness and I’ll be standing in line for it in a second.