Yoforia: The Big Chill
Locally owned froyo shop is expanding its organic frozen yogurt offerings overseas and around the state
Luke Tashie, thirty, with daughters Evelyn, five, and Isabel, three, is not only Yoforia’s CEO, he’s the chain’s target market.
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A mother and three children enter Yoforia’s sunlit shop on Selwyn Avenue in the middle of a warm afternoon on the edge of autumn. The cashier welcomes the family with a hearty, “Hello! Welcome to Yoforia!” as he wipes down the counter. As the barely waist-high tots bounce around the store, the stylishly dressed, half-frazzled mother lists the day’s frozen yogurt flavors. After a little cajoling, two of the three children decide on a flavor for their oversize cups. The third child, the smallest and likely youngest, spins and giggles, proclaiming that she only wants candy. “You only want toppings?” the mother asks, grimacing. “Well, I guess that’s OK. Is that OK?” she questions the cashier. “Of course,” he responds with a chuckle.
The Selwyn Avenue shop, which is in Myers Park and across the street from Yoforia’s corporate headquarters, is one of five Charlotte locations. The four-year-old, recession-defying company isn’t just looking to tickle your taste buds with its organic-ish frozen yogurt and self-service topping bar, though, it’s looking to be a major player in the expanding worldwide “froyo” market.
In 2007, three guys from Los Angeles brought Yoforia to the East Coast, largely because they were looking to move their young families to more family-oriented cities, says David Sheffer. He is one of the company’s second wave of partners, a group of five North Carolina men who he says approached the original group with an offer: “Look, we want to own this company with you.”
Yoforia already had one location in Atlanta. With the five new partners on board, it opened two more. “We had a multiyear lead on the competition,” Sheffer says, “but we ran out of cash again.” He says the partners also recognized the need for new leadership. And, they decided, it was time to figure out where its home would be. They narrowed the options to Atlanta and Charlotte.
“I grew up in Charlotte,” Sheffer says, “which is part of why I wanted Yoforia to have a home here.” While looking at locations in Charlotte, the partners put the word out that they were also interested in finding new investors, and they were hoping to find some here. “Charlotte is a great place to find talent—it’s an educated, talented city,” Sheffer says.
Enter Luke Tashie, age thirty. He’s a former Wachovia and Wells Fargo investment banker with a master’s degree in finance from Boston College. He’s also managing director of Capstone Equity Partners, a search fund that was on the hunt for the next best idea so they can “grow it, build it, and make it more valuable,” he says. The father of three, who lives in Charlotte, says Yoforia caught his attention because his family is focused on living an organic, healthful lifestyle. And, he says, because “I wanted to do something I was interested in, not just something that made financial sense.”
Capstone aquired Yoforia, and Tashie became the company’s CEO in November 2010. “Luke is young, energetic, and has three kids under age five—and he feels good about feeding them our product,” Sheffer says. In other words, the Tashie family is a great example of the company’s target market. Also, “Luke’s the one who keeps pushing the organic aspect of our company,” Sheffer says. That’s what Sheffer and Tashie say separates Yoforia from its competitors.
Today, Yoforia has nine shops in Atlanta, two in Athens, Georgia, five in Charlotte, one in Greensboro, two in Winston-Salem, and one in the Middle East. It’s planning at least ten more in the Southeast. The Middle Eastern location, which Tashie calls “a calculated venture,” is in Cyprus, and the company’s business partners in the Middle East plan to open another twenty stores in eight countries over the next three years. A partner in India plans on another twenty stores. If those plans come to fruition, Yoforia will have more than seventy locations worldwide.
Tashie says he’s not worried that the demand for froyo will fall off anytime soon. Revenue for 2011, which Tashie pegs as between $5 million and $10 million, will be up around 70 percent from 2010. In areas where there is more competition, Tashie says revenue is down as much as 20 percent at some locations, but he says that adds up to only a small decrease in sales overall. “It would be much better if every store in the country was Yoforia,” he jokes, but he swears he’s not bothered by the competition. “A lot of people still think it’s a fad, but I think the additional competition grows the market.” He says profit is flat this year due to infrastructure investments, but he projects a 200 percent increase in 2012.