• August 23, 2014

2012 a yo-yo year for local yogurt makers

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Posted: Sunday, January 6, 2013 4:30 am | Updated: 9:10 pm, Sat Aug 3, 2013.

Frozen yogurt shops in the Killeen area are experiencing some growing pains and dealing with the challenges in different ways.

One shop is closing for good.

Elvia Rivera spent the last two years developing flavors and running the shop at KD Frozen Yogurt in Killeen. The shop, which sells homemade yogurt by the ounce, opened its doors in 2008. Now, Rivera said the end is near, unless strong winter sales turn things around.

“Usually when it gets cold, things pick up and we get real busy,” Rivera said. “This year, we have been losing money during the cold. It’s been very different. The first year, our business was very good. We stayed busy during the summertime and wintertime. We even got snow once and had one of our best days ever.

“But this year, once it got cold, business went down,” she said. “We ran a special, reducing our price from 49 cents an ounce to 44 cents an ounce, but that didn’t seem to help.”

Lower sales

That doesn’t surprise Sandy Sobti, owner of YoYo’s Frozen Yogurt in the Market Heights shopping center in Harker Heights. Sobti bought the business two years ago. She said the rising cost of raw materials makes it hard for her not to raise prices, much less cut them. YoYo’s has sold yogurt for 49 cents an ounce since it opened in December 2008.

“We are managing, but it is very challenging to not raise our prices,” she said. “We make all of our yogurt in the store from scratch. Every single ingredient is a lot more expensive than it was when we opened. The fruits we use for toppings are more expensive than they were two years ago. Milk, too.”

Sobti said the winter months treat her business relatively well. She seems a lot more concerned about the long-term picture at Fort Hood and how it will affect her business.

“Of course, weather does affect our revenues,” Sobti said. “But the winter months are generally very good because of the holidays. When school is out, business is better. When kids are out of school, we get very busy. We see sales increase whenever there is vacation time.”

The problem for YoYo’s is that increased holiday sales in 2012 still represent a decline from the same time last year.

“I would estimate our revenues were 20 to 30 percent higher in our first year,” Sobti said. “It has been slowing down considerably over the last year or so. I think it is because the military is downsizing. I have not seen as many military families visiting from out of town as I have in the past. It is very hard to maintain.”

Strong ties

Susan Harper, manager of the TCBY in Harker Heights, doesn’t have that problem. In Harker Heights for 11 years, Harper said business is pretty good in the winter.

“Some people are simply addicted to frozen yogurt, that is the honest truth. They are here all year-round,” she said. “And then there are even some who just come out in the winter. You would be surprised how many people say, ‘I don’t eat yogurt in the summer, but for some reason I crave it in the winter.’”

Harper said revenues decrease by roughly 30 percent during winter months, but because she cuts staff, the business stays profitable. Harper suggested the store’s strong roots in the community have a lot to do with that.

“One thing that makes this place special are the owners, John and Leslie Gilmore,” Harper said. “They know everyone in the community, and that has gone a long way toward building loyal return customers.”

Branching out

It did not take Leo Lee, owner of TBA Frogurt Deli in Harker Heights, to figure out making it on yogurt alone would be tough. Lee opened TBA about 1½ years ago, but it was only a yogurt shop for about a month.

Because Lee’s English is limited, his son, Thomas Dang, explained why the store morphed into a Vietnamese restaurant that also serves yogurt.

“When we first opened up, we just sold yogurt, but after a month we added food,” he said. “It just made sense for us. My father always cooked for his family since he was a kid, and he has a big family. At this point, I would say 75 percent of our revenues are from food and 25 percent come from yogurt.”

Business “was slow at first, but once word got out, it picked up very quickly,” he said.

Dang said the arrangement allows the restaurant to offer food that is perfect in any weather.

“If you are cold, you can come in and have Pho soup to warm up,” he said. “And of course, we have yogurt to cool you down if it is warm.”

While TCBY continues its steady presence in Harker Heights and KD makes its exit in Killeen, small shops like YoYo’s and TBA will likely have to grind it out every day to make a profit.

“It’s tough,” Sobti said. “We need it to pick up. When we first opened, we were really, really busy. Right now, we are just maintaining.”

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