Sunday, August 16, 2009
Yogurt Haven in Eagle Rock
You walk into a recently opened yogurt shop in a mini-mall on Colorado Boulevard and Rockland Avenue, next to Starbucks. The store's sign features something that looks like a spoon lifting a dollop of some type of yellow-white substance. Presumably yogurt.
The store has gray picnic tables in the middle, and benches along the big glass windows looking to the north and east. The walls are covered in layers of undulating wood screwed on top of each other. Directly in front of you is a large cup dispenser hanging on the wall to the left of five yogurt-dispensing stations, featuring the following flavors: Vanilla, Cake Batter, Cookies and Stream, Taro, Cappuccino, Pineapple, Pomegranate, Chocolate, Banana, and Tart.
To your right is a fixings station that looks like a salad bar, with various fruits, chocolate chips, gummy bears, nuts, and breakfast cereals. Also to your right is a lone attendant, standing silently behind the counter. In front of her is a small scale, hooked to the attendant's cash register.
This is the scene when you walk into Yogurt Haven, where the model is Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-In-Frozen-Yogurt-Sundaes. When you walk in for the first time, it's not immediately clear what you're supposed to do or how you're supposed to get your yogurt. The store is spacious and a bit empty inside. After a moment or two, someone at the front counter will probably explain the process: you take a yogurt cup from the dispenser (there's only one size of cup (large)), and then dispense yourself as much yogurt as you want, of whatever flavors you want. You then go over to the fixings station and pile on whatever toppings you want. You then take your yogurt cup to the cashier and put it on the scale. The price is simply by weight of your finished yogurt sundae: $0.35 an ounce. (The person at the front counter may also explain to you that the somewhat abstract undulating forms on the walls are meant to depict the hills around Eagle Rock. They may also point out the painting of the Eagle Rock itself on the bathroom door.)
On my first visit, I put together a cup of vanilla low-fat yogurt, with strawberries and blueberries. It came out to about $2.75 or so. On my most recent visit, I put together a cup with the tart non-fat yogurt, and heaped on mangoes, blueberries, kiwi fruit, and bananas. It came out to $3.50. The fruit was fresh, and the yogurt was creamy and tasty. They appear to rotate the flavors from time to time.
Eagle Rock appears to be heading toward a small-scale experiment in the effects of a competitive marketplace, with numerous pizza places (Casa Bianca, Brownstone, Capri, and now Cornerstone Pizzeria opening soon), two Vietnamese places across the street from each other (Lemongrass and Blue Hen), two Mexican restaurants a couple blocks apart (Taco Spot and CaCao) and now two frozen yogurt shops in close proximity. (We've already seen the results of two comic-book stores located directly next-door to each other -- Mini Melt won out. I can't even remember the name of the old comic book store that went out of business now -- though I did pick up an Atari simulator there before they shut down.)
I am no worshipper of the free market or its purported Invisible Hand (long-time readers know I lean far-blue), but I think we Eagle Rockers stand to benefit from all of this close-contact competition. Casa Bianca was the only pizza game on Colorado for a while, but now Brownstone offers a very fine option, with a different taste and crust (with no hour-long wait necessary). And while Blue Dot (just down the street) offers a spare environment with two basic options (tart yogurt and acai), Yogurt Haven takes a completely different approach, offering a bevy of flavors and the do-it-yourself approach. As the different shops realize that people in the neighborhood have options, they're forced to try to compete, improve their service and food -- everyone gets better, we the consumers win, blah blah blah. (Now I'm sounding like Mitt Romney or something -- I'll put away the Econ 101 flashcards.)
My sense is that Blue Dot, with its somewhat higher prices and art-gallery aesthetic, will appeal to a slightly higher price point and fancier crowd than Yogurt Haven, which to all outward appearances, aspires to someday become a national chain. Yogurt Haven seems like it will be a bigger draw for families and kids, who will love making their own sundaes and mixing the various flavors they have there. (There's also a bit more room at Yogurt Haven than at Blue Dot.) Yogurt Haven would fit in perfectly at a place like the L.A. Zoo or the La Brea Tar Pits. (It may have less appeal for some of Eagle Rock's arm-tattoo-and-vintage-t-shirt crowd, who may not be able to take the decor, the whimsical signage, or the picnic tables.)
A few constructive suggestions: the dining area could use something more: it's a bit wide open and empty. Some pictures or posters on the walls might help. The option of a smaller cup might be helpful for those who want to limit how much yogurt they get (or their kids get). Finally, a few instructional signs could orient new visitors and help them figure out how the process works. You could have a "START HERE" sign over the cup dispenser, with an arrow showing how you proceed, step-by-step, with, perhaps a "FINISH", "FINAL STEP", or "PAY HERE" sign at the scale and cashier.
Yogurt Haven's owner, Mike, told me that the shop is currently open until 11 at night, and they hope to eventually be open till midnight. Yogurt Haven is an excellent addition to the neighborhood. The choice is yours.