COLUMBIA – At Yogoluv, customers can choose from eight flavors of frozen yogurt and 27 candy, fruit and nut toppings.
Customers can mix and match as they please: Mango and green tea yogurt with blackberries and gummy bears, for example. Or vanilla and chocolate yogurt with blueberries, cheesecake bits and pieces of mochi — glutinous rice cake. Or strawberry yogurt with Fruity Pebbles.
If they're really ambitious, customers can cram every flavor and every topping into a 16- or 20-ounce cup.
Locally owned and operated, Yogoluv opened on the corner of Ninth and Locust streets on the day after Thanksgiving. The store fills the void left in Columbia when TCBY closed. Other places may sell frozen yogurt, but not exclusively.
Inside Yogoluv, a wall of yogurt dispensers, a toppings bar and two rows of green plastic chairs that look like giant peas fill up the 680-square-foot space.
Customers pick up a cup, line up at the dispensers, select their flavors and spoon on the toppings. They pay 40 cents an ounce.
Like a number of other 1980s trends, frozen yogurt has experienced a revival. It started with the opening of Pinkberry in West Hollywood in 2005. Pinkberry has since expanded to 75 stores in California, New York, Texas, Kuwait and Dubai.
Red Mango, a frozen yogurt chain that began in South Korea in 2002, has spread throughout Asia and into 15 states. The first U.S. outlet opened in Los Angeles in 2007 with its signature flavors, green tea, pomegranate and original (like vanilla but not as sweet).
Yogoluv's owner Kerry Chao, a Columbia native, credits the tart flavors of today's frozen yogurt as big reasons for the comeback. In the 1980s, he said, people tried to make it taste like ice cream. Today, the yogurt is tangier, more like plain yogurt, and toppings include nuts and fresh fruit.
Besides seeing Yogoluv as a good business opportunity, Chao said he is simply a fan of the product.
"I like everything cold," he said. "Our product is zero percent fat and zero percent cholesterol – it’s something I can eat every day."
Chao decided to make the shop self-serve so that customers are not restricted by fixed portions.
"What if you only want two berries? Here you can eat as much and as little as you want," he said.
He began with flavors that he enjoyed himself — vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, green tea, cheesecake, white chocolate macadamia, mango sorbet and original tart. He plans to initiate a weekly or biweekly flavor rotation once he figures out everyone's favorites.
Although a series of delays pushed back the store opening to the colder months of the year, the weather hasn’t seemed to deter the flow of customers. Even last Thursday, with the temperature far below freezing, Chao called business "average."
On that day, Jordan Holt and Ralph Glaza ventured out because Glaza’s girlfriend was craving frozen yogurt.
"Everyone is raving about it," Glaza said. “I thought I’d give it a try."
Nearby, Jordan Scotten was eating a cup of yogurt with a group of friends. She said they all are obsessed with ice cream, but the healthier version of yogurt is one of its chief appeals.
"I feel better about eating this," Scotten said. "I could have this once a week."
Her friend Varsha Gupta had been to Yogoluv five times already.
"You can eat as much as you want if you’re not really hungry," Gupta said. “It’s not too rich, and you can put fruit on it – it’s a healthier alternative."
Some have always been frozen yogurt fans and are happy to find a store in Columbia where they can indulge.
"I’m pretty much obsessed," Kasey Holdinghausen said. "I’ve had it before in St. Louis, and I’m super excited that they have this here."
"I used to have to get it at grocery stores," Nick Teson said.
By the third week of business, the store could claim die-hard regulars. William Nguyen and Binh Bui said they hang out at the store at least once a day.
"It’s a nice environment. I come here more for the environment – even in this cold weather," Nguyen said.
Bui didn’t have a dessert habit before the store opened.
"Before we would just go to lunch and that would be it," he said.
Now he is addicted.
"One day I was here three times," he said.