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VOL. 125 | NO. 246 | Monday, December 20, 2010

Soft Surge

Gracie Bleu latest addition to Memphis yogurt craze

STACEY WIEDOWER | Special to The Daily News

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Self-serve frozen yogurt shops have popped up en masse across the Mid-South in recent months, with the latest batch coming online soon.

Sharon Turner, right, Heather Corber and painter Scott Smith make last-minute preparations Tuesday before the grand opening of Gracie Bleu, a self-serve yogurt business at 9155 Poplar Ave., Suite 14. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The newest addition to the market, Gracie Bleu, opened its doors last week.

Sharon Turner, part of a four-person ownership group that includes her husband, Jim Turner of Turner Dairy, and father-son team Jack and Brient Mills, said the Mills broached the idea of opening a chain of Memphis stores about a year ago.

“They had been studying (the trend) for about a year and a half and had visited shops around the country,” she said. “We had mutual friends. Since my husband’s in the dairy business, they had a few questions for him.”

The conversation led to a partnership agreement, and Gracie Bleu was born. The first store opened in Germantown’s Village Shops of Forest Hill – in a bay formerly occupied by Ben & Jerry’s – on Wednesday.

Like other frozen yogurt concept stores that have opened around the metro area in recent months – including YoLo Frozen Yogurt, Yogurt Mountain and Sweet CeCe’s, among others – Gracie Bleu’s setup includes an array of yogurt flavors dispensed via self-service machines alongside a toppings bar where patrons can customize their frozen treats with everything from fresh fruit to hot fudge.

“So you can go in for yogurt and be very healthy or you can go in for yogurt and be decadent with it,” Turner said. “We have both available.”

The 2,000-square-foot Germantown store, designed by architect Guy Payne and interior designer Lynne Catron of Virginia Rippee & Associates, features a children’s area that could accommodate birthday parties and other events, Turner said.

“We wanted to offer something for the little ones, too,” she said.

Renovations recently started on Gracie Bleu’s 1,600-square-foot second location, in the Shoppes of Snowden Grove center in Southaven. Turner said once that store opens its doors – within 45 to 60 days, she hopes – the group will focus on expanding the concept.

They hope to open three to four more shops within the next year, she said.

They’re not the only yogurt venture expanding in the Memphis market.

Sweet CeCe’s Frozen Yogurt & Treats, which opened its first Memphis-area shop at 4615 Poplar Ave. in the Laurelwood Shopping Center on Halloween weekend, has plans for three to five more area stores.

Franchisee McKay Smith, who holds Shelby County licensing rights for the chain along with his father, said Sweet CeCe’s next shop should open in the spring or early summer.

“We deliver a fantastic product and a fun, family-friendly space that has become a neighborhood gathering spot,” Smith said. “We certainly try to make a difference in the community, and we’re trying to deliver some very special customer service to help set ourselves apart.”

Meanwhile YoLo – which stands for “yogurt” and “local,” a nod to the lineup of locally produced foods the store offers on its toppings bars – is getting set to launch its latest and largest shop.

YoLo’s third Memphis-area location will open at Cooper Street and Madison Avenue across from Midtown’s Overton Square in March.

The local partnership takes possession of the space on Jan. 1, said YoLo principal Taylor Berger. The targeted opening date is March 1.

YoLo became the Mid-South’s first self-serve frozen yogurt retailer when the company opened on the Collierville Town Square in early August. It followed up quickly on that site with its second location at 559 Erin Drive in East Memphis.

The new store, at 2,100 square feet, is YoLo’s largest, and Berger and his team are taking advantage of the additional space in several ways. They’re adding covered outdoor seating, for one, with wrought iron railwork that ties into the shop’s Overton Square setting.

The new shop also expands YoLo’s ties with other local merchants, including toppings provider Ladybugg Bakery, which will operate a full-service bakery inside the store.

“It’s going to be a front-of-house bakery so you can see everything that’s going on,” Berger said. “That’s a concept I saw in Seattle that I really liked. It adds a lot of energy to the space and it’s fun to see the bakers working.”

It marks the first retail location for Ladybugg Bakery.

“Right now they’re exclusively wholesale, so this is going to be their first shot at retail, which has been their dream since the beginning,” Berger said. “It was a cool position that we found ourselves in to be able to help them do that.”

Ladybugg will occupy the right-front corner of the new store and will share resources with the yogurt shop, including cold storage, point of sale and labor.

Along with the Midtown store, YoLo is looking to expand into other regional markets. The company has a signed lease for a location in Jonesboro, Ark. That location – also set to open in March – will include a bakery display in lieu of a full-service bakery. It will also feature a full coffee bar lineup, including espresso drinks.

YoLo’s owners are working on a lease agreement for a 2,400-square-foot yogurt shop-plus bakery in Jackson, Tenn., that could open by April, and are pursuing a store in Olive Branch. Talks are also in the works for stores outside the Mid-South market.

“Being the first to open, we got the pick of spots,” Berger said. “I think we did a good job.”

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