Naples stays cool with Yogurbella
8165 Strada Drive , Naples, FL
If you go: Yogurbella
Where: Strada Place, Suite 8165
Hours: Noon to 11 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; noon to midnight Fridays and Saturdays
NAPLES — In the steamy, sticky days of summer, ice cream can offer a cool, creamy culinary reprieve. Unless you’re counting calories — then, the temptation just creates another kind of warm weather agony.
That’s where Yogurbella, a Coconut Grove-born franchise, aims to give sweet salvation.
The new frozen yogurt café at the Mercato shopping center in North Naples provides a lighter alternative to traditional ice cream. A 5-ounce cup of Yogurbella yogurt has only 100 calories, 14 grams of sugar and is fat-free.
“People are looking to be healthy,” said Ken Brown, co-owner of the Mercato shop. “Instead of being hooked on ice cream, they have an opportunity to have their yogurt.”
Certainly, frozen yogurt is nothing new. But Brown explains that Yogurbella comes with a twist. It’s all-natural and made from organic yogurt. Probiotics in the yogurt aid in immune system and digestive health, he says. And although the company offers conventional flavors such as strawberry and lemon, Yogurbella also boasts a few tastes that are likely to tingle even the most jaded tongues, such as green tea and passion fruit.
Brown confesses that he had a lifelong love affair with ice cream until his spoon met its first swirl of Yogurbella. Now, he’s a convert. He eats it every day. His personal favorite: a combination of strawberry and lemon.
His father, too, has seen the Yogurbella light. Like Brown, he was an ice cream enthusiast, with a special affection for anything stamped “Blue Bell.” But lately, Brown said his father devours Yogurbella’s original flavor — plain yogurt — which has a clean, tasty tang.
“People think it is ice cream,” Brown said of Yogurbella. “But it’s not. It’s yogurt.”
Customers Barbara and Jim Monahan, visiting the new shop on a recent day, pronounced Yogurbella’s frosty fare “very tasty.” The couple was in Naples from Weston on Florida’s east coast; at home, they like to patronize a yogurt shop that specializes in a more “all-you-can” eat service style.
Yogurbella’s flavors “tasted more like real yogurt” than at their local shop, Barbara Monhahan admitted.
“I liked it,” she said. “I thought it was very authentic.”
The Monahans each ordered the lemon yogurt, which sells for $3.50 for a 5-ounce cup; some flavors, including strawberry, cost one dollar more for the same size. Another 20 flavors are in development, Brown said.
That was good news to the Monahans. Although they enjoyed their lemony treat, they were surprised to discover that what they considered classic ice cream flavors were not yet available. Chocolate and vanilla are must-haves, they agreed.
Vanilla is in development, Brown promised. And “chocolate will be here in two weeks,” he added.
If just a bowl of simple soft-serve isn’t enough, Yogurbella is prepared to up the epicurean ante. Behind the counter’s glass partition, there are 27 toppings, ranging from fresh, plump berries to coconut shavings and brightly-colored gummi bears. And if customers don’t see what they want, Yogurbella will seriously consider adding it, Brown said.
“We’re trying to learn from the consumer,” he said.
Brown currently lives in Boca Raton but hopes to relocate to Naples; Chas Lotocki, his business partner, lives in Ponte Vedra. The men plan to open another Yogurbella in Wellington in Palm Beach County in about two weeks, and their third Yogurbella in Tampa in early August. By the end of 2011, there could be a total of 10 Yogurbella stores.
Brown said he was drawn to Yogurbella because of the yogurt, as well as the overall atmosphere.
“It just had the ‘wow’ factor,” he said.
The shop’s décor is cool and contemporary, with sleek glass walls, vibrant green accents and bamboo touches. The indoor-outdoor furniture is lightweight plastic of an Italian design. Brown, who used to work as a consultant for a large furniture company, describes the overall environment as “urban modern” – and definitely, deliberately not reminiscent of any old ice cream parlor.
“We’re trying to make it fun,” he said.
The Mercato’s Yogurbella is the latest franchise location to open. South Korean-born chef and Yogurbella founder Jin Park opened the first Yogurbella in Miami’s Coconut Grove in 2004. Park, who also creates the flavors, then opened a second location on Miami’s South Beach. There are franchisees in subtropical and tropical locations in the Americas, including in Guatemala. Park understands that people love ice cream, but that they may not always be able to eat it.
Hence, the Yogurbella concept.
“We try to make people enjoy yogurt like ice cream, but it’s yogurt,” he said.
As for offering some of those non-traditional flavors, such as green tea, prior to providing standards, Park says he understands now that the shop must cater to all comers. Chocolate was recently introduced in South Beach, and it proved a hit: The first day, it sold out in two hours.
He believes consumers have increasingly global tastes, however.
“All over the world is kind of one country,” Park said.