4545 Transit Rd., Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Yogen Fruz
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Amherst Chains Frozen Yogurt Williamsville Yogurt
"To call the tart yogurt 'tart' would be generous given that it tastes largely like a cup of sugar and too little citrus has been added to a plain vanilla frozen yogurt mix."
If you've been reading Buffalo Chow for the last year, or even the last month, you know that there's a frozen yogurt craze sweeping the United States, and that we're huge fans of the reformulated "Italian" recipe, popularized by several Korean-owned chains starting in 2002. Yogen Fruz is not one of these chains. As its Haagen-Dazs like, complete-with-the-unnecessary-umlaut name suggests, it was started in Canada by two entrepreneurial brothers in 1986, right around the time of the last, less impressive frozen yogurt craze, and has since spread to over 1,000 locations in more than 20 countries. Prior to now, its closest location to Western New York was at Niagara Falls, but two shops have just opened up in the area, one in the Boulevard Mall, the other at the Eastern Hills mall, and 13 more are planned over the next five years. The question: should anybody in Buffalo care?
It's obvious that our readers want answers, and are specifically interested in knowing whether Yogen Fruz is just another old-fashioned froyo shop or something better. "I am wondering how it compares to Pinkberry and the like," reader Julie wrote us in an e-mail. "I visited the Boulevard Mall location this week, and waited in about a 10 minute line to try the frozen yogurt. I thought it was really good, although pricey." Having visited one of the Canadian locations before, we reset our expectations and stopped by the Eastern Hills Mall shop to see what the story was.
Yogen Fruz isn't Pinkberry, and it sure isn't Yogurtland, but it has a lot in common with some of the third-tier Pinkberry wannabes we've visited in California - the CeFiores, Iceberrys, and others whose names we've forgotten. The shops look great - cleanly designed, with white plastic signage, bright lights, and familiar fruit and topping bars that are accessed by the staff rather than the patrons. Yogurt flavors are extremely limited - plain vanilla, tart vanilla, and chocolate - but additional flavors can be made by blending frozen fruits or Matcha Green Tea powder to make similar yogurts or smoothies. We've had one of the blended yogurt things before in Canada and were, as we mentioned in an email to Julie, nonplussed. This stuff is surely different from the TCBYs and similar froyo chains of the past, but better? Uh... maybe.
What we were interested in sampling this time was Yogen Fruz's Pinkberry wannabe product: the "tart" vanilla yogurt, with fresh fruit toppings. One of us ordered a "regular" ($3.50) with the price-fixed five spoonfuls of toppings ($1.45), getting an ample supply of big blackberries, medium blueberries, and glazed strawberry chunks. The other went with a "small" ($2.50) and requested only pineapple; the $1.45 charge was the same. As Julie pointed out in her e-mail, that puts a regular with toppings at $5 and a small at $4. Our total for two desserts was almost $9 after tax. In California, those sorts of dollars are enough to have yogurt coming out of your ears and nose at meal's end, or leave you with something to keep in your freezer for the next morning.
The Yogen Fruz cups were fair. To call the tart yogurt "tart" would be generous given that it, like some of the Pinkberry knock-off places out there, tastes largely like a cup of sugar and too little citrus has been added to a plain vanilla frozen yogurt mix. Putting pineapple, blackberry, or even strawberry next to it basically removed any sense of tang that the yogurt might have started with - we put it that way because we sampled the yogurt first in small cups and noted that the tartness was barely evident even before fruit was added. With the toppings inside, the cups tasted mostly like cups of fruit and not especially healthy ice cream.
Yogurt quality aside, we had only one issue with the three-fruit cup: the strawberries weren't fresh and tasted bland. Something similar was wrong with the pineapple in the second cup - it didn't taste fresh at all, and had an almost alcoholic, preserved flavor. Obviously, experiences like this will vary from topping to topping and season to season, but we weren't totally blown away by what was here. Those seeking a more conventional, candy-based froyo experience can go with a separate bin of candy, cookie, cereal and nut toppings; in this case, going with the non-tart vanilla or chocolate flavors would be a better idea. Notably, a new alternative fruit flavor, Acai-Blueberry, was not available yet at these locations.
So, to answer Julie's question concisely, we've eaten at Pinkberry and its leading competitors over the last week and month, and Yogen Fruz isn't on the same level. Yes, it offers a similar store design, similar fruit topping options, and a similar looking final product, but the taste and quality of the finished product isn't the same. On one hand, we're very glad that someone has brought this concept to Western New York, including the clean design and fresh fruit dessert mentality it inspires; if you've never experienced the real thing, this is a nice first step. But the difference between Yogen Fruz and Pinkberry is significant enough that the two of us disagreed on whether we'd even go back. We suspect that we will at some point, but if Yogen Fruz really wants to be ready for the day when Pinkberry, Red Mango, Yogurtland, or a similarly serious competitor shows up to take it on, it'll improve its tart yogurt formula and fruits, then expand its pre-made yogurt flavors. Five bucks for a regular-sized yogurt isn't cheap, but trust us when we say that it wouldn't be objectionable if it was as good as the stuff we've had elsewhere.
Updated November 1, 2009: Following up on our initial article, we've since revisited Yogen Fruz to try additional major menu items: fruit-blended yogurt, which allows you to choose from ten or so different frozen fruit options to blend with vanilla or chocolate yogurt, and smoothies, which use the same fruits to create blended drinks. Though the fruit-blended yogurt is interesting to the extent that it enables Yogen Fruz to effectively make a wide selection of fruit flavors, you're still left with the seeds and grit of the fruit - plenty in the case of the blackberries we chose, for example - a result that's not quite as satisfying as a properly made pure fruit flavor. Results will vary, of course, with the fruit you choose. The smoothie we sampled was basically the same as one we had at a Yogen Fruz in Canada - a simple, blended, non-dairy drink that didn't look much like the beautiful one we pointed to on the shop's sign and asked to order, and tasted like a plain, sweet mix of raspberries, blueberries, and apple juice. Our feelings remain about the same with Yogen Fruz: it's a fine place, but no Pinkberry, and we're on the edge about whether it merits further return visits. Time will tell.