Sweet Frog, the fast-growing top-it-your-way frozen yogurt shop based in Richmond, Va., will open its second Eastern Panhandle location here next month.
The Ranson store likely will ease some of the out-the-door crowds often seen at the Sweet Frog in The Commons in Martinsburg, said Doug Ulrich, who is a partner in the new venture with his wife, Rhonda.
Since the fro yo eatery came to Martinsburg in late March, it’s become the Panhandle’s DIY dessert phenomenon: Sweet Froggers happily wait in line to select either a small or large cup and then to fill it with as many flavors of frozen yogurt as they please, with more than a dozen choices ranging from the original tart to vanilla to red velvet cake, cookies and cream, cappuccino, peanut butter, banana and more.
Next, the customer can spoon on toppings set up along a buffet-style island. Choices vary from day to day but include more than five dozen items, from fresh fruit to chocolate chips, hot fudge, peanut butter sauce, sprinkles, sugar cone bits, cheesecake bites, pieces of cinnamon rolls, M&Ms, chunks of KitKats and other candy bars, walnuts in syrup, mini-marshmallows, Nutella, caramel, peanut butter sauce, whipped cream and other possibilities.
The checkout comes next. The cost of each dessert depends on how it tips the scales; the going rate now is 39 cents per ounce. The store sells ball caps and T-Shirts festooned with the pink and green Sweet Frog logo as well as $1 containers of bottled water, but nothing else – no sodas, shakes or sandwiches.
“We never expected the Martinsburg store to take off as quickly as it did,” said Ulrich, who with his wife also is a co-owner in the Sweet Frog location in Winchester, Va. “We know a lot of people are coming from Jefferson County to the Martinsburg store. Since the start, we knew we wanted to be in Charles Town or Ranson as soon as it was feasible.”
The Ulrichs had looked at opening their next Sweet Frog in Hagerstown, Md., but the Ranson site become available and couldn’t be passed up, Ulrich said. The couple have signed a lease for the space at 38 Joshua M. Freeman Blvd. and expect to open around July 20.
The storefront is two doors down from Five Guys, the popular burger-and-fries joint that doesn’t offer any dessert items. “We think it’s a perfect location for us,” said Ulrich, who graduated from then-Shepherd College in 1982 and now lives in Lynchburg, Va. His wife, formerly Rhonda Brannon, grew up in Hedgesville and served as Berkeley County’s Miss Youth Fair in 1979.
Ulrich cites a number of reasons the frozen yogurt chain that began just three years ago in Richmond, Va., is growing so quickly. More than 100 Sweet Frog stores are in place in more than a dozen states and there’s now even an international location, in South Korea. The chain is on track to have 200 locations by the end of 2012.
Among the keys, according to Ulrich:
• A healthier frozen treat. Sweet Frog offers a high-quality product with far less fat than the premium ice cream found at Maggie Moo’s, Cold Stone Creamery and other chains.
“Ice cream can have 17 to 22 percent butterfat – a lot of us don’t want to take in so many calories,” Ulrich said. “In comparison, our yogurts are either low-fat or non-fat. You can get a 4-ounce cup, top it with some strawberries and blueberries or whatever fresh fruit you like and have a great-tasting treat for 200 calories or so.”
• A fun experience. “Even if you’re there and the line is long, you chat with your friends, see people you know – it goes fast and pretty soon you’re creating your frozen yogurt treat just the way you want it,” Ulrich said. “What we hear back from our customers is that it’s an experience. Each customer can create exactly what he or she wants. You’re not ever going to have the same experience twice. It’s fun for kids. The environment is nice and wholesome, perfect for families.”
• Solid foundation. Like Chick-fil-A, where founder S. Truett Cathy incorporated his Christian values into the restaurant chain’s structure, Sweet Frog is closely tied to founder Derek Cha, who credits God with making the frozen yogurt business such a success.
“The Frog in our name stands for Fully Rely on God,” Ulrich said. “This isn’t a Christian message that’s ‘in your face’ at all, but it’s woven into the fabric of the business. It’s such a happy, positive business. We see people walking out feeling better.
“That makes it a really wonderful place to visit, and to work.”