Pennsylvania-based Yapple Yogurt, a nascent self-serve frozen yogurt business, will open its first Virginia location in Carytown in early December — right next door to booming yogurt chain Sweet Frog. (You can get caught up on Sweet Frog’s rapid rise in a BizSense story here.)
Andy Lin started Yapple in May, opening a location in Wynnewood, Pa. Lin has since opened three other shops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and is on a fast track for expansion.
“We saw a great opportunity down here,” said Lin, 24. “It’s a great market.”
Lin recently graduated from Rutgers University and was running the businesses while he attended school. His father is financing the shops and is a silent partner in the venture.
Lin and his cousin Scott Yu will run the Carytown shop. After browsing the local retail scene with Richmond commercial brokerage The Shockoe Company for the past four months, the entrepreneurs this month leased a 5,500-square-foot space in the former Richmond Piano spot at 3133 W. Cary St., which has been vacant the past two years.
“Carytown was always my first choice,” said Yu, 24.
Lin said they were looking to expand because of the success of the other locations. He wouldn’t disclose revenue numbers.
“The revenue stream has been very good, and it’s a low-risk investment,” Lin said. “It’s a great model, and I think the way we’re doing it is a little different.”
Yapple serves 16 yogurt flavors, including cheesecake, peanut butter and blood orange, along with 50 toppings.
Neighboring yogurt chain Sweet Frog is just two doors down, and Lin said the move to the space nearby was intentional.
“We want to compete with the largest player in town,” he said. “If you want to be successful, you go after the biggest player.”
Lin said competition is rampant among the other Yapple stores as well.
“Most of our other stores have competitors right next door, and our business hasn’t been affected,” Lin said.
Lin has worked with in his father’s restaurant in Pennsylvania since he was 16. His father owns Kawa Trading, a Pennsylvania-based food distribution company.
Yu has lived in Richmond for the past 10 years working as a manager for his mother’s Asian buffet in Midlothian. His mother has been in Richmond’s restaurant scene for 15 years.
The pair say they know the fro-yo business is getting frothy.
The entrepreneurs said they are introducing a drink line, which they think will separate them from the pack.
“We’ll have smoothies, bubble tea and tea imported from Japan,” Lin said.
Lin noted that many yogurt chains have their yogurt packaged and sent frozen to them.
“Its cleaner, healthier and lighter,” Lin said.
Lin said this will be their biggest Yapple store yet. Most of the other shops are about 1,200 square feet. And because they’re a gutting the entire space, it will also be the most costly.
Lin said he has opened most of the Yapples for $300,000, but this shop will cost about $500,000 to get up and running.
They plan to add a spiral staircase and put in surrounding windows and use local artists to design the shop.
They aren’t looking to franchise Yapple yet, but Lin said it could be a possibility.
“We don’t want the brand to be ruined by a franchisee,” he said. “It’s too new.”