Sweet Frog leaps into Boone

by Frank Ruggiero

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Boone's just gotten a little bit sweeter.

Sweet Frog, a small, but growing, premium frozen yogurt chain, now has a new location off Blowing Rock Road.

Opened by Boone residents Bryan and Natalie Willis, the store might be a franchise, but the Willises have made it a family business - family in both the literal and suitable for kids of all ages sense.

"We were drawn to it because it was simple," Bryan Willis said. "The customers make all the choices, and we have lots of them."

And he's not kidding.

Sweet Frog boasts 16 flavors of yogurt, all self-serve, with each dispensary allowing customers to mix two flavors. A topping bar features 50-plus items, from fresh fruit to candy-bar crumbles to peanut butter.

"Flavors get rotated by popularity," said store manager Casey Helmick, who's also the Willises' son in law. "For instance, blackberry wasn't as popular as we thought it would be, so we're changing it out and replacing it with strawberry lemonade."

Flavors include original tart, mango, cake batter, peanut butter, coconut, banana, chocolate, vanilla, Georgia peach, New York cheesecake, strawberry, cappuccino and cookies and cream, along with several no-sugar-added options.

"We're open for any suggestions that the community would like," Helmick said. "We've been doing a lot of that on Facebook, and some of the flavors they've mentioned, we've put out, and they've been selling great."

Sweet Frog self-serve is simple. Customers pick a cup size, fill it with their choice of yogurt, garnish it with their choice of toppings and then weigh their cup at checkout. At 39 cents an ounce, the yogurt can be as cheap or expensive as a customer desires.

"The average price is $3 or $4 for a cup of yogurt, just depending on how much you like," Helmick said.

So far, Helmick said, the variety and price have been a hit.

"We have so many repeat customers," he said. "I'd say that's probably our biggest base. When people come in here, they come back almost every day."

Boone resident Tana Andrews is one of them.

"I've been coming here since the day before they opened," she said. "I like everything about it - the staff, colors, cheerfulness and the yogurt."

Sweet Frog opened July 22, adopting the franchise's motif of bright, pastel colors. The Willises also adopted Sweet Frog's underlying Christian theme. In fact, the "Frog" in "Sweet Frog" stands for "Fully Rely on God."

"Natalie's a school teacher at Parkway (Elementary), and I work at Samaritan's Purse," Willis said.

"When it comes to business, we're kind of new at that, but we knew that, as Christians, if we were going to do this, it was going to be a step-by-step thing. We didn't know how to get from one step to another, except for relying on the Lord."

For instance, the store's location (in the shopping center near Walmart off Blowing Road) was hard to come by, Helmick said.

"Numerous self-serve yogurt stores wanted this, " Helmick said. "Through a lot of prayer and honesty with the (property) owner, we worked our way in and got an excellent spot. Once we got the location, everything worked smoothly."

Sweet Frog was founded in Short Pump, Va., by Derek Cha and his wife, Mi Jung Kim. Subsequent Virginia locations followed, before the chain found its way into North Carolina. Cha's focus on Christianity was a draw to the Willises.

"We chose it over other franchises or business like this, since Sweet Frog is a faith-based company," Natalie Willis said. "That was really kind of a turning point."

The Boone location marks Sweet Frog's 18th store, and Bryan Willis expects 12 more to open in the next few months.

"We've had unbelievable support from our friends, and the community, which has been mostly families," Bryan Willis said. "The community's embraced us, and we're really looking forward to welcoming the college students to let them know they've got a home away from home."

The Boone Sweet Frog also plans to offer regular donations to area charities and organizations, with the first beneficiary being the High Country Youth Festival.

Sweet Frog, located at 276 Watauga Village Drive, Unit C-2, is open Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.boonesweetfrog.com or www.facebook.com/boonesweetfrog or call (828) 266-1558.

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