Forever Yogurt’s Summer Expansion Plans
As we approach summer after an unseasonably warm spring, the local frozen yogurt craze shows no signs of dying down.
Forever Yogurt, a fledgling Chicago chain founded by 35-year-old Mandy Calara and 28-year-old Ahmad Yilmaz, will double its size in the next eight weeks and begin expanding outside of Illinois.
Forever Yogurt, which Messrs. Calara and Yilmaz say is the first chain to bring self-serve yogurt to Chicago, will open in Andersonville within two weeks, then open in two places outside the city: west suburban Naperville and northwest suburban Lincolnshire. The first out-of-state shop, in Madison, Wis., is also slated for this summer.
That’s in addition to the company’s four current locations in Wicker Park, Lakeview and River North. (The company’s newest shop, in East Lakeview, is also its first franchise location.)
“People are more health-conscious every year,” says Mr. Calara. “You used to feel guilty if you went to Cold Stone maybe once a week. Now people don’t feel guilty going to Forever Yogurt three times a week.”
Mr. Calara, who is something of a serial entrepreneur as well as a former professional online gambler, noticed self-serve yogurt shops in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was running a vacation-rental company with Mr. Yilmaz.
The Chicagoans immediately decided to bring the concept home, rushing to open the first shop in June 2010 in a former Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop in Wicker Park.
Though tart frozen yogurts from chains like Dallas-based Red Mango had already established themselves in Chicago, Messrs. Yilmaz and Calara were the first to allow customers to control the amount of their serving. The result? At least one customer who shelled out $14 for a cup that weighed almost two pounds.
Mr. Calara says he plans to open 50 corporate locations and 250 franchises nationally over the next three years. Because there’s so much competition in the frozen yogurt and ice cream industry, Mr. Calara hopes to convince struggling mom-and-pop ice cream shops to convert to Forever Yogurt franchises and unify the fragmented market.
Each store, he says, costs about $300,000 to build out, including about $100,000 to install the seven yogurt machines that allow people to serve themselves. He says the first location pulled in $78,000 in revenue in its first month and needed only $25,000 a month to break even.
The founders say Forever Yogurt’s 100 flavors — 14 are available at any given time in the shops — range from a tart, plain flavor, often topped with fruit and granola, to more decadent options that mimic ice cream tastes. The wide selection will lure a steady stream of customers to pull the yogurt lever, they say.
“We had a frozen yogurt wave 20 years ago,” Mr. Calara says. “So we try to find differentiators to make sure this isn’t another fad.”
Written by: Brigid Sweeney
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