Undeterred by the nonstop flow of competition, two restaurateurs are diving into the fray of Richmond’s frozen yogurt craze.
Filippo Giambanco and Salvatore Mannino have created Twister’z Premium Frozen Yogurt, which opened its first location in Tappahannock in May and next week will open a store on Staples Mill Road.
The twist in the Twister’z business model is that both shops are just a few steps from the family’s Roma Italian restaurants.
What better way to lure in sweet-seekers, the thinking goes, than to catch them right after a plate of manicotti?
“That way at least they’re close by,” Giambanco, 27, said of the new shops.
Getting Twister’z off the ground is a bit of a leap for the family business.
‘Giambanco, whose cellphone hold music is the score from “The Godfather,” comes from a long line of restaurateurs. His grandfather and father opened Roma in Richmond in the 1970s.
“The restaurant business is basically all we know, and we want to take a chance,” Giambanco said.
He and Mannino, 29, started small with the first Twister’z location to test the water.
“We took a chance on a small town like Tappahannock,” he said. “We tried it, and everything is going good.”
Once the second location is up and running, the partners will look to expand Twister’z footprint by potentially franchising stores. Giambanco’s brother, Giuseppe, is also a partner on the second location.
In addition to foot traffic from Roma, the new location at 8308 Staples Mill Road could glean customers from its neighbors: a chicken wing restaurant and a children’s fitness center.
Giambanco and Mannino put in about $170,000 to get the strip center space built out.
But competition has already sprouted nearby. Sweet Frog, the front-runner and by far the largest local fro-yo brand, opened a location last month less than two miles up the road on Staples Mill.
“We’ve obviously seen the yogurt industry explode,” Giambanco said. “Sweet Frog is a very strong brand. I don’t know if we’ll get as big as Sweet Frog, but we are planning on franchising and getting a little bigger.
Twister’z will try to differentiate itself by offering waffle bowls made fresh on site to go with 14 flavors of yogurt and a 27-foot toppings bar.
After growing up in the competitive Richmond restaurant scene, Giambanco isn’t fazed by going to head-to-head.
“Yes, there are a lot of locations. But look at the restaurant business. How many restaurants are out there? If the restaurant business can survive, the yogurt business can survive,” he said.