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This Can’t Be TCBY

October 24, 2011

Frozen yogurt has flittered in and out of my life for almost as long as I can remember.

During my pre-school days in 1970s Brooklyn Heights there was one place just off Henry Street that had a frozen yogurt machine. The name escapes me, but the yogurt was Columbo. Don’t ask me how I remember, I just do. And my parents’ favorite flavor was banana. When the banana was on tap, we would get cones and walk down to the playground in the evening. The memory is surely better than the fro yo.

It was during my adolescence in the 1980s that a TCBY opened in Miami. It was located in the strip mall near our house, and somehow visits there seemed to replace our periodic visits to the Carvel a bit further down the strip. It’s only in retrospect that this produces a deep sense of melancholy. But at the time, my small cups of chocolate and vanilla twist with chocolate sprinkles made me quite happy.

In college I remember some amazing frozen yogurt technology that took unsweetened bricks of frozen plain yogurt, pulverized them together with unsweetened frozen fruit, and extruded the mixture into a cup. Little did I know that this tangy and fresh yogurt was just a bit ahead of its time.

Today, frozen yogurt is back, and completely reformulated with ultra-modern décor, tart yogurt flavors, and a fully customizable experience.

So you can imagine my surprise when I learned that there’s a TCBY opening in Albany.

The sign went up on an empty storefront adjacent to a nearby Five Guys. It’s actually kind of brilliant since the burger joint doesn’t have desserts, and some people I know have totally slammed it for a lack of milkshakes. An ice cream place may have been a more decadent treat, but perhaps after a double burger and fries, people will want something perceived as a bit more moderate.

Still, I was struck with the notion that Albany was stuck in time (if not going backwards). A TCBY seems so ‘80s. And people on the local comment boards were getting really excited about a return of this bastion of old-school frozen yogurt. The last one closed up shop here a while back.

I had actually thought the whole enterprise went under.

Perhaps you know this, but it was news to me. TCBY today is not the same as the TCBY of the past. It’s changed. It’s modernized. With a wall of serve yourself machines, oversized cups, a topping bar, and flavors that range from “classic tart” to “red velvet cake”, and digital scales at the checkout, it looks like any one of the new wave of popular yogurt joints.

As an evil marketer, my favorite thing about these places is the size of their cups. They are gigantic. If you take a reasonable serving and put in one of those cups it looks puny. Positively puny. And it encourages plenty of people to fill the cup. This creates a lot more revenue for the yogurt companies.

As a fussy food lover, my favorite thing about these places is the self-service sizing. Because if you know that the puny looking serving isn’t actually puny at all, it is possible to treat yourself to a very moderate and tasty treat without blowing a lot of cash.

I do really enjoy a swirl of tart yogurt, with some kind of good-looking fruit, and maybe a squirt of honey. It’s cool, refreshing, and fulfills my occasional craving for something cold and sweet.

And now I’m actually legitimately excited about seeing this new iteration of TCBY firsthand. The proof of the yogurt will be in the eating. But for now, I’m cautiously optimistic. It will also be a treat to enjoy a frozen dessert after my next Five Guys burger experience.

Most notably this means the trend-gap in Albany is shrinking. Pinkberry started in 2005, but they are not self-service. Yogurtland started in 2006. If TCBY opens as scheduled, Albany will get its first taste of the new-style self-service yogurt just shy of six years after the idea’s inception. Seriously, for a market as small as ours, that’s not bad at all.

Granted, the concept has been available in Clifton Park and Saratoga Springs for a while now at Plum Dandy and 16 Handles. But to many Albany denizens Saratoga County might as well be on the other side of the moon.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. RealFoodMom permalink
    October 24, 2011 9:42 am

    Given all the truly fresh and even, dare I say, healthful ice creams and yogurts available locally, I can’t say I’m excited about this garbage coming to town. From their website, here’s the ingredient listing (yuk) for the vanilla:

    Whole Milk, Skim Milk, Condensed Skim Milk, Sugar, Corn Syrup, Polydextrose, Contains 2% or less of: Vanilla Extract, Natural Flavors, Natural Cream Flavor, Annatto, Vitamins A & D, Stabilizer and Emulsifier (Propylene Glycol Monoesters, Mono & Diglycerides, Guar Gum, Cellulose Gum, Carrageenan), Disodium Phosphate, Whey, Calcium Carbonate).Milk cultured with the following live active cultures: B. lactis, L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. lactis, L. casei, S. thermophilus, L. rhamnosus.

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    October 24, 2011 11:18 am

    TCBY was always lousy and excessively sugary. Give me the Greek!

  3. October 24, 2011 12:35 pm

    Those Albany citizens needs to get out more, then. Clearly, when it comes to this food trend, Saratoga County is a year or more ahead of Albany’s curve. (And given the choice, I’d much rather go to a good independent business (Plum Dandy) or even a regional chain (16 Handles) than a national chain.)

  4. October 24, 2011 12:37 pm

    I worked at a TCBY one summer while in college, when low-carb was the craze and we introduced “low-carb” fro-yo. I loved how many people would order the low-carb but then ask me to pile on the toppings. Self-serve was obviously not in effect in those days, and instead we had to weigh our sizes to make sure they were roughly uniform.

    I hardly think it’s a gourmet place and there are plenty of places I’d rather go, but damn it, there is something about a shiver (like a blizzard or mcFlurry) made with Reese’s pieces that I just can’t resist.

  5. October 24, 2011 12:39 pm

    Also, for a period of time I had to wear a cow print shirt with a pair of udders conveniently located just about where my — er, uh, you can imagine — were. I got a lot of great comments from customers about that. Ugh.

    Have you tried frozen kefir? They have it at Wrigley Field, of all places, and it’s good. Nice and tart.

  6. October 24, 2011 1:45 pm

    I drove by 5 Guys yesterday, saw some kind of new sign nextdoor and thought “What is TOBY”? Not it makes sense. They updated their logo since the last time the store used to be in the area… and it’s a lot less readable :D

  7. October 24, 2011 6:37 pm

    I’m a big fan of fro-yo. I love ice cream (both hard ice cream and soft serve), but because of a mild lactose sensitivity, unless I have an itty bitty serving, I have a stomachache afterward (like, we’re talking kiddie sized, and even that is pushing it depending on what I had for dinner that night). Not to say that the itty bitty sized is a bad thing – it’s not. But, fro yo doesn’t give me a stomachache. (Neither does regular yogurt, or cheese, usually. At least, in moderation.)

    Anyway, my niece, who goes to Manhattan College, told me about how she loves how she can just “hop on the subway and go to Pinkberry” if the mood strikes her. I was instantly jealous. Because, even though Pinkberry is a chain, we don’t have anything really like that around here. Not sure if TCBY qualifies. I’m not sure 16 Handles does, either, though I haven’t been yet so I can’t judge too harshly. (16 Handles is also strategically placed next door to a Five Guys in Clifton Park.)

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