What do you get when you mix up the frozen yogurt craze with a local restaurateur, her sister-in-law and her aunt, all with experience in the foodservice business?
The three women: Mindy Chan, her sister-in-law Cindy Chan, and aunt May Wu, have opened the newest (and only) self-serve frozen yogurt lounge in Cranston and it comes with a twist — pick your flavor and serve it yourself.
The self serve yogurt concept is popular in the Midwest and California, said Mindy Chan.
"That's how we got the idea," she said.
She has been running Hong Kong Buffet with her brother and sister-in-law Cindy Chan for about 15 years. Aunt May, the former owner of House of Wu in Warwick, retired a couple years ago "but felt she was too young to retire and wanted something to do," Chan said. "We work well together."
Even though it's the only Yo-Mix in the world, inside, the shop looks and feels like a polished and well-established frozen yogurt chain. And that's the point. Though starting small, the women wanted to create a design that was modern, fresh and could be duplicated as the business grows.
The yogurt has live cultures and flavors range from plain tart yogurt to cake batter and everything in between.
While Pinkberry in Garden City has long lines, Yo-Mix provides an alternative with ample space inside the store to wait your turn at the high-tech yogurt machines. Each machine costs about $25,000, which was the biggest expense for the business to get started. And the biggest challenge, Chan said, has been to learn to properly care and maintain them.
Above each machine is an LCD screen depicting the flavor it carries along with complete nutrition information. That makes it easy for them to swap flavors in and out.
Nearby, candy, fresh fruit, cereal and other toppings from healthy to indulgent, wait to dress your cold yogurt.
The yogurt is sold by weight — 50 cents an ounce. Grab a cup and serve yourself exactly how much you want.
"We know the self-serve yogurt concept is growing in Massachusetts and there's really only one in Rhode Island near Brown on Thayer Street. That's why we thought it would be a good opportunity for us," Chan said.
The family knows a thing or two about opportunity. All three immigrated from China when they were younger, coming to this country in the hopes of achieving success and the American dream. It was their parent's plan.
"We had no choice," Chan said.
Chan said people seem surprised when they find out who runs the place.
"It's funny when we find the reaction of customers, they say 'oh, it's three Asian women!'"
Chan, who came to the United States when she was 11, noted that the frozen yogurt craze had some of its start in China and other parts of Asia.
"It stated from Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and then travelled to the west coast and now it's everywhere," she said.
Along with inside seating, there's a small patio area outside.
Chan said one of their biggest challenges is getting the word out and letting people know that Yo-Mix is open for business. It's tucked in the corner of the shopping plaza at 1375 Park Avenue, not easily visible from the street.
But she is betting that once people come and try their hand at some Yo-Mix yogurt, they'll be back. And because she already runs a successful business in town, she can afford to let the business grow over time.
"It takes time," she said. "We think it's a good idea and a good opportunity. And it tastes so good!"
Yo-Mix is open Sunday through Thursday, noon to 10 p.m. On Friday and Saturday, it's open until 11 p.m.