- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Coffee? That’s so 2001. Cupcakes? Very last year. But 2009 is the year of fro-yo. We’ve been here before — remember the novelty that was TCBY and its competitors? This isn’t that frozen yogurt.

In fact, the frozen product sold a generation ago was more like ersatz sort-of-icky ice cream, says Aaron Gordon, owner of the District’s two Tangysweet yogurt shops.

“When frozen yogurt was initially introduced in this country, it didn’t sit well with Americans because it wasn’t ice cream,” Mr. Gordon says. “So [frozen yogurt makers] put a lot of sugar in it and turned it into a poor man’s ice cream. It wasn’t that good. It wasn’t healthy. And then the frozen yogurt stores mostly went away.”

Now, yogurt is back in the way dairy purists intended: tangy, not cloyingly sweet, all natural, fat-free and available with toppings ranging from fresh fruit to Cap’n Crunch. The South Korean company Red Mango opened in that country in 2002, giving the new wave of frozen yogurt the moniker “Korean-style frozen yogurt,” although Mr. Gordon says it is really more Italian style, by way of Korea.

Red Mango has more than two dozen U.S. outlets. Meanwhile, its closest competitor, Pinkberry, which opened in Los Angeles in 2005, has ratcheted up the competition by selling a similar product, and it has 77 stores in California and New York.

Neither chain is in the District, but a bunch of others — including a couple of homegrown shops — are. Since last June, when Tangysweet opened near Dupont Circle, the area has welcomed Iceberry (five area locations), Mr. Yogato (Dupont Circle), Yogen Fruz (three stores), Caliyogurt (Adams Morgan) and Yogiberry (three locations, with more on the way). Meanwhile, frozen yogurt with fruit toppings can be purchased at the three local Sweetgreen establishments, and a second Tangysweet has opened in Penn Quarter (with plans for more expansion on the way).

“In Korea, people like snow ice,” says Brahms Yoo, manager of the Georgetown outpost of Iceberry. “People here seem to like this, too. Business is good.”

Can it stay good with so much competition, though? You can’t swing a spoon around Dupont Circle without hitting a $4.50 cup of green-tea yogurt topped with kiwi. It is a similar story in the suburbs, where Reston Town Center alone has two new yogurt shops.

Mr. Gordon, a native of the District, says Washington is the kind of place ready for the next big thing. He lived more than 10 years in Los Angeles, where he became hooked on Pinkberry and Red Mango.

“When I left D.C., it was a stodgy town with lots of steakhouses and heavy food,” he says. “But I would come back and see things pop up in Adams Morgan or Dupont. They weren’t necessarily trendy, but they were a lot more fun. It seemed like the town had come into its own.”

Mr. Gordon says yogurt is not just about the food; it is an experience. Most shops, including his, feature high-style modern design, which signals that this is not your same old strip-mall Baskin-Robbins. In an era when more people are eating for their health, it doesn’t hurt that the product has just 20 calories per ounce, contains calcium and may contain live and active cultures that aid digestion.

“This is not a trend,” Mr. Gordon says. “It is a new way of food, of treating yourself. It is not going to go away.”