In a trip to Birmingham last year, Taylor Berger’s fiancée took him to a self-serve yogurt shop. Berger was practicing tax law at the time, but he’d always had an “itch” to run a business. “The concept was so simple and fun,” he says, “that I knew it would appeal to a lot of people.”Berger took the idea and ran with it. Today, the fiancée is his wife and the concept is YoLo Frozen Yogurt, with stores in East Memphis, Collierville, Midtown, and Jackson, Tennessee, all opening in less than a year.
The name derives from “yogurt” and “local.” That local or regional touch sets YoLo apart from other self-serve yogurt stores. For starters, Berger sought local help to shape the concept. The 31-year-old Memphis native — who graduated from Rhodes College and the University of Memphis law school — found a partner and mentor in Mike McCaskill, founder and owner of Best Loading freight company. Others offering guidance include family and friends. “My father, Steve, is an architect so he helped with store design. My best friend, Robert Finkel, is a graphic designer so he created the logo. And my wife came up with the colors — YoLo blue and orange.” Fashioning the store’s décor was Memphis interior designer Heather Averwater, who, with tiles, fabric, and banquette seating, gave life to Berger’s retro vision.
Continuing the local commitment, Berger buys his dozen flavors of yogurt from Honey Hill Farms in Russellville, Arkansas. And the yogurt’s toppings, all 50 of them, come from a dozen or more area businesses. For instance, honey comes from the Apiaries of Bill and Joyce Hughes in Brighton, Tennessee; strawberries from Jones Orchard in Millington; hot fudge from Dinstuhl’s in Memphis; and cookie dough from The LadyBugg Bakery, which also leases space in the midtown store. Says Berger: “I buy local because I want to have the best, and I like supporting homegrown companies.”
A recent addition to the YoLo menu is gelato. On a January honeymoon, Berger rediscovered the creamy treat. “I’d had it in Italy but I’d forgotten about it,” he says. “At this shop in Hawaii I saw people making it and using local ingredients.” Today YoLo offers 14 flavors of gelato, prepared daily by chef Will Johnson. “He starts with a base of milk, cream, and sugar blended together, then adds flavors,” says Berger. Among the popular picks are mascarpone, salted caramel, and the owner’s favorite: “Man, I really like the chocolate.” Unlike the self-serve yogurt, gelato is scooped out by a YoLo employee. “That’s one reason I decided to offer it,” says Berger. “It gives my more extroverted employees a chance to make connections with customers. They like that.”
Though the East Memphis and Collierville stores, which opened in August 2010, perform well, Berger says the Midtown location, which opened in March, currently does the briskest business. “I think it will remain our number-one store because Midtowners really support local restaurants.”
YoLo’s overall popularity goes beyond its tasty product. “I think the secret to our success,” says Berger, “are the spaces themselves. Our stores are bigger and more adult-oriented, with art on the walls instead of TVs, and comfortable seats where you can gather awhile with family and friends and not have to spend 50 bucks, just relax and enjoy each other.”
He credits employees too. “It’ s a fun place to work and our people are genuinely happy.” Stopping to talk to one young clerk who attends Rhodes College, he tells her he earned a degree from the school. Asked about his major — anthropology and sociology — Berger laughs and says, “We studied what makes people happy. I decided it was sugar.”
As this story goes to press, three new Yo-Lo stores are scheduled to open within a month in the Mid-South, and one is up and running in Cary, North Carolina. Says Berger: “We’ve had interest from people as far away as Montana and Idaho.”
His ultimate goal? Berger grins and says, “To have a YoLo shop in Hawaii. Then I’ll have a reason to go there all the time.” M