San Luis Obispo has six frozen yogurt shops in less than four square miles. Fifteen years ago, Bali's Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt and Froggie's Cafe were the only fro-yo shops in town, but now Teaberry Frozen Yogurt, Yogurt Creations, Dlish and Snofari Frozen Yogurt have joined the game. - graphic by Ali Weiss
San Luis Obispo has six frozen yogurt shops in less than four square miles. Fifteen years ago, Bali’s Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt and Froggie’s Café were the only fro-yo shops in town, but now Teaberry Frozen Yogurt, Yogurt Creations, Dlish and Snofari Frozen Yogurt have joined the game. – graphic by Ali Weiss
San Luis Obispo has six frozen yogurt shops in less than four square miles. Fifteen years ago, Bali’s Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt and Froggie’s Café were the only fro-yo shops in town, but now Teaberry Frozen Yogurt, Yogurt Creations, Dlish and Snofari Frozen Yogurt have joined the game. – graphic by Ali Weiss

Aryn Sanderson
asanderson@mustangdaily.net

When Darlene Howard went through chemotherapy in Orange County, she couldn’t keep any food down — except frozen yogurt.

But when Howard tried frozen yogurt in San Luis Obispo, she got sick.

San Luis Obispo’s frozen yogurt options were “way too laden with chemicals,” she said.

So, on Jan. 13, Howard opened Dlish on California Boulevard.

But what Howard didn’t know is that San Luis Obispo’s hottest competition is its chilliest confection: frozen yogurt.

San Luis Obispo, a city with a population of approximately 45,000, has six frozen yogurt franchises within 3.6 square miles. With so many options in such a small town, competition has emerged for business and, most importantly, brand loyalty.

Tart competition

Only 15 years ago, Bali’s Soft Serve Frozen Yogurt and Froggie’s Café were the only frozen yogurt shops in town.

In 2008, Yogurt Creations expanded its franchise to downtown San Luis Obispo.

A year later, Snofari opened in the Laguna Village Center.

With the additions of Teaberry, which opened the last week of 2011, and Dlish, which opened more than two months ago, San Luis Obispo’s frozen yogurt market is getting crowded.

Fighting to be the cream of the crop

Half of the frozen yogurt options are grouped closely together downtown.

Yogurt Creations and Teaberry Frozen Yogurt are the farthest apart. They are 0.1 miles apart — a two-minute walk, according to Google Maps.

The closest together are Bali’s Self Serve Frozen Yogurt and Yogurt Creations at 174 feet apart, a 37-second walk.

To stand out, each frozen yogurt shop has its own strategy.

Bali’s customers are typically families and locals.

Bali’s Self Serve Frozen Yogurt was the first frozen yogurt shop in San Luis Obispo, and its customers come “to support the original,” employee Chelsea Busso said.

Bali’s relies on long-time customers for its survival, Busso said.

On the other hand, relative newcomer Teaberry Frozen Yogurt is popular with the college crowd, owner Tom Stennett said.

“We have 60 to 70 percent college students,” he said. “I think they say that frozen yogurt buyers are 60 percent female in general and we see a lot of females, but our average consumer is really just the average Cal Poly student.”

Although Teaberry is a “frozen yogurt” destination, on an average night, out of 10 flavors, about two are frozen yogurt; the rest are soft-serve gelato or custard.

While Teaberry features gelato and custard, Yogurt Creations owner John Bolton said Yogurt Creations is sticking with high-quality frozen yogurt.

The shop welcomes the competition, Bolton said.

“We notice the competition of course, but we let our products speak for themselves,” Bolton said. “We’ll put our strawberry against any other strawberry flavor from another shop in a blind taste test, and I promise you, ours will come out on top.”

Yogurt Creation also stays relevant by carrying flavors that appeal to the city’s demographics, Bolton said.

Bolton said Yogurt Creations makes sure to keep Euro-Tart in stock for the college students.

“The crowds in San Luis Obispo are as urban as you get in a small town because lots of the students come from cities, so they have more sophisticated palettes,” Bolton said. “In stores like the ones in North County, we don’t carry Euro-Tart because it doesn’t sell. But we know that if we took it out of San Luis Obispo, there’d be riots in the streets.”

New kid on the block

Outside of the nucleus of downtown, Dlish Frozen Yogurt on California Boulevard targets Cal Poly students too, owner Darlene Howard said.

When a competitor’s frozen yogurt distributer came into Dlish, Howard said, they told her she was going to fail.

“He said, ‘You’ll fail. I know what you need to carry,’ but when he went to the bathroom, I saw he was trying to snoop through my stuff and see what I use,” Howard said. “I didn’t want to carry the same yogurt that everyone else did in town.”

Howard pushes organic ingredients instead.

“A cup of yogurt didn’t make me all, ‘Oh my gosh, I had this frozen yogurt and now I’m all better’ after chemo, but, for a moment, it made my day better,” she said. “And if I can help the students here feel the same way by giving them a better, healthier option than that stuff with chemicals, I’m going to.”

The store’s proximity to Cal Poly’s campus — 0.6 miles from Alex G. Spanos Stadium — helps bring in students.

But Dlish is still struggling to convert the college crowd, she said.

“Kids here are very loyal to their old favorites, and I don’t think they understand that ours is the healthier choice yet,” Howard said.

Blair Buckley, a communications studies senior and self-described “formerly faithful Yo-Cré person,” jumped ship when she discovered Dlish.

Now, Buckley is a Dlish advocate who tries to limit herself to only coming in every other day.

The other side of town

Snofari Frozen Yogurt also sees its share of regulars, owner Teri Williams said, and the store touts easy parking as its biggest asset.

“People are going to go to a yogurt shop because it’s convenient, not because it’s got better yogurt,” Williams said. “We mostly all use the same distributors anyway, but we’re more convenient with easy access parking.”

Snofari on Madonna Road also fills the void for a shop on “this side of town,” she said.

But, although Snofari is outside of downtown San Luis Obispo, it is not exempt from competition.

Froggie’s Café, which has been serving frozen yogurt for more than 15 years, is just 3.6 miles from Snofari.

Froggie’s frozen yogurt is soft-serve, but it isn’t self-serve, owner Bev Pratt said. Patrons pay according to sizes, which range from the kid-size “ribbit” to the quart-size “toad.”

“On a Friday afternoon, Froggie’s is a hotspot,” Pratt said. “If it’s a hot day, after school, we can get a line out the door of parents and their kids.”

On thin ice

Though there are six frozen yogurt franchises in San Luis Obispo, the number of shops will soon increase.

Yogurt Creations is opening another location at Cal Poly in the Julian A. McPhee University Union around June, Bolton said.

For fledgling frozen yogurt shops such as Howard’s Dlish, it looks like a rocky road ahead because, in the city of San Luis Obispo, there’s not much room left for dessert.

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