Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
Pinkberry cofounder Young Lee has been in the news recently following his arrest for suspicion of assault and battery against a homeless person in LA.
Questions of the man's guilt or innocence aside, Lee's newsmaking actions prompt a more interesting line of inquiry from the culinary sphere: Why is Pinkberry so popular?
The global frozen yogurt chain has a Rocky Horror-esque cult following. So serious is this fan base that the corporate website maintains a little section devoted to the chain's "groupies."
I had never been to Pinkberry, but the news about Lee's arrest managed to keep Pinkberry front and center in my consciousness long enough to spur me into visiting and testing out the yogurt that has such a devoted following.
I stick with the plain — tart yogurt, thematically dressed in fruit and nuts so that I can tell myself I'm being health conscious as I consume huge quantities of frozen milk and sugar. In this respect, Pinkberry didn't fail me. The fruit seemed fresh and the "nut blend" neither disappointed nor astonished. It did contain sunflower seeds, oddly enough, which aren't nuts; unless I'm wildly out of touch with modern botany.
Sampling is encouraged, and I'll admit that I did try the "salted caramel" yogurt. It's too sweet for me to eat an entire bowl, but definitely intriguing. I'm glad to see that salty-sweet stuff has trickled down from avant garde cuisine to everyday shops, arriving in yogurt stores and coffee shops alike.
Ultimately, I prefer to top my own yogurt and follow a strict and secret set of guidelines that govern exactly how much of which toppings to use and in what order they should be applied. Pinkberry employees man the spoons and serve the yogurt ready-to-eat. They'd probably serve more or less of anything, but that strips a little of the magic from alchemical froyo design.
Based on my visit, I can't explain Pinkberry's enjoying superior status over other other yogurt shops. Design might play a part, as the company's design scheme is a masterful demonstration of mixing chic and cute in equal parts — as if Frank Lloyd Wright got his hands on a McDonald's Play Place. In keeping with that, the place seems to be kept spotlessly clean and brightly lit. It's a welcoming oasis on a dark evening, for sure. Little touches like that go a long way. The toppings, for instance, were all fully stocked and pristine, with spoons all aligned at identical angles and each little sign indicating ingredient and caloric content perfectly in place. I may never have seen better mise en place in all my years of restaurant work.
Whatever the reason for Pinkberry's success (and it may be one of those inexplicable things, like how everyone and his brother walked around with a yoyo for a few bizarre months when I was in middle school), it's as good or better than the competition, even if I can't play mad scientist with secret ratios of kiwis and lychee jelly.
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