Hi, my name is Matt, and I have a yogurt problem. It started last month when I discovered the joys of Pinkberry yogurt on my trip down to Los Angeles for SIGGRAPH.
Pinkberry is different from “normal” yogurt like TCBY because it has a tart (or slightly sour) taste. If you’re living in middle America with no access to fancy-pants yogurt, the closest taste I would compare it to is DanActive yogurt. Except that I didn’t like DanActive at first, but Pinkberry had me hooked before I finished my first bowl.
Besides the tart taste, Pinkberry is different because they have a wide variety of toppings from fresh fruit (kiwi, strawberry, blueberry, raspberry) to granola to Fruity Pebbles. Pinkberry also offers a secret ingredient not on the menu: mochi. Mochi is pronounced “MO-chee” and has almost the size and consistency of jelly beans, but not as sweet. It’s made by soaking rice overnight and then pounding it into a firm rice cake, which is then sliced up. I know it sounds gross, but on tart yogurt with some blueberries, it’s heavenly:
Here’s the problem. As soon as I got back to Silicon Valley, I looked up nearby Pinkberry locations. The closest one is in Valencia, California, nearly four hours to the south. I’m an optimistic man, so I wrote to Pinkberry and asked if they’d be opening up any locations a little closer. They wrote back to say they have expansion plans, but not currently in Northern California.
So how was I supposed to get my sour yogurt fix? I searched on the net to find similar yogurt places. First I tried Fraiche Yogurt, a small yogurt cafe in Palo Alto. The yogurt was high-quality, but it didn’t taste exactly like Pinkberry and their mochi was a little soft. Next I tried Yogurt Fantasy on Castro Street in Mountain View. The mochi was good, but the yogurt wasn’t quite as savory as Pinkberry. I also tried Willow Glen Frozen Yogurt Company in the (surprise) Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose. Of the local companies, they had the closest to Pinkberry-flavor yogurt, and they put toppings in the middle of the yogurt, not just on top, which is a neat trick.
But I finally found a place that tastes almost exactly like Pinkberry. It’s called Red Mango and it’s in Palo Alto. In fact, the store was opened by Yul Kwon, who won $1 million dollars in 2006 on Survivor: Cook Islands in 2006.
So if you want to know what this whole “sour yogurt” craze is about, try Red Mango or Pinkberry. I recommend the small original with mochi and blueberries. Get it in a medium cup so none of the delicious toppings drops on the ground.
If you’re hooked on this whole yogurt craze, there’s a ton of backstory behind it. Red Mango opened first in Korea in 2002, and there is bad blood between Pinkberry and Red Mango. Pinkberry faced a class-action lawsuit for not disclosing all the ingredients in its yogurt at first. Meanwhile, Red Mango has emphasized the healthiness of its yogurt, such as no artificial flavors or colors.
San Francisco could have had Red Mango but Palo Alto got it instead. The reason why is amazing:
Mark Young, one of Kwon’s partners, says that when they applied for a permit there were only four Red Mango dealerships in the United States. That was acceptable, because the formula retail ordinance, passed by voters in November of 2006, says the franchise must have fewer than 11 in the country or it is considered a chain. … However, Marsha Garland, founder and executive director of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce, was suspicious. …
Garland found that Red Mango had continued to add franchises in the time since Kwon’s group was granted a building permit. So by now – and even Young admits this – there are more than 11 locations across the country. Case closed, said the North Beach watchdogs.
That’s right: San Francisco granted a permit, then pulled the permit after work had begun because Red Mango had become a “chain.” That decision seems pretty unfriendly to me. But because of that move, I get to eat delicious Red Mango yogurt, so I should be thankful.
One thing is certain: this sour yogurt craze will only get hotter. It sounds like Yogurberry is opening a store on Castro Street in Mountain View soon, which means I’ll visit soon after the store opens. Happy yogurting!