Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
BERRY GOOD: Travis Warman serves a cup of Pinkberry frozen yogurt.
In the Pink
High-fashion, high-concept frozen yogurt goes down easy at Pinkberry's new Santana Row location
By Stett Holbrook
PINKBERRY has landed in Silicon Valley. The L.A.-based frozen yogurt chain beloved of Paris Hilton, Leonardo DiCaprio and scores of regular Angelenos who want to be like them is IN the midst of a global expansion. A trio of investors is planning to open 25 stores in Northern California, and they just established a beachhead in the Bay Area with the opening of a Santana Row store last month.
Frozen yogurt is nothing new, but Pinkberry's modern design, celebrity patronage and word-of-mouth publicity has made it a sensation. The soft-serve frozen yogurt tastes pretty good, too. While Pinkberry has made its name in part with its catchy interior design and brand-name fixtures like Philippe Starck plastic chairs and Le Klimt lamps, the Santana Row store is more stripped down. The tiny, seven-is-a-crowd store features Pinkberry's signature pebble floor, glass walls and cool light fixtures, but there's no seating. But you can sit and eat on the lounge furniture outside.
The store is refreshingly minimal, offering just three flavors of frozen yogurt: original (a.k.a. plain), green tea and pomegranate. That's it. No drinks. No bottled water. Just frozen yogurt. For me, the original ($2.50 for a small) is the best flavor. It's assertively tart like plain yogurt should be and is the purest expression of frozen yogurt. The green tea ($3.50 small) is good as well and loaded with matcha tea flavor. The third flavor, pomegranate ($3.50 small), is seasonal and presumably will change once it gets warmer. It's the sweetest of the three.
The texture of the nonfat frozen yogurt is a sensory delight. It's creamy, yes, but there's a slight resistance to teeth and tongue. It's almost chewable but definitely not chewy. Yet as soon as you're done playing with it in your mouth and have swallowed, it leaves you with a clean, refreshing lightness unlike the syrupy mouth coating of ice cream.
The average age of a Pinkberry customer seems to be about 19, and genderwise leans decidedly female. The store was crowded on a cold afternoon last week when I stopped by, and I can only imagine the lines on hot days.
While Pinkberry is a Southern California export, the San Jose store has a NorCal connection. Two of the investors—John Feldman and Jeff Ember—are Silicon Valley natives and Saratoga High School graduates. Feldman is frontman for the pop/punk-ska band Goldfinger, a music producer and an A&R man for Warner Records. In full disclosure, Feldman is a friend of mine, but for the record I paid for all my yogurt.
Feldman said that he is planning to open 25 stores from San Francisco to Gilroy in the next five years but is taking a go-slow approach given the state of the economy.
In spite of its cool image, Pinkberry has had its share of controversy. The company was hit with a class-action lawsuit in 2007 over health claims that its product was "frozen yogurt" and "all-natural." Under California law, a product cannot be marketed as frozen yogurt unless it is made from milk fermented with certain bacteria, mixed off-site rather than in stores and sold with its ingredients prominently displayed. The company denied any wrongdoing but agreed to pay $750,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and Para los Niņos, an L.A. nonprofit organization that serves at-risk kids.
In the past, Pinkberry withheld its ingredients but now lists them on its website. (Press accounts say the decision to post ingredients was unrelated to the lawsuit). Now Pinkberry makes its products off-site and enjoys the stamp of approval from the National Yogurt Association, certification that states that its frozen yogurt contains at least 10 million live cultures per gram at the time of manufacture.
My guess is most people won't care about the details of the lawsuit or worry whether Pinkberry counts as health food or not. They just want something good to eat and someplace to look good while they're at it.
Address: 368 Santana Row, Suite 1020, San Jose.
Hours: 11am–10pm Sun–Thu and 11am–11pm Fri–Sat.
Cuisine: Frozen yogurt.
Price Range: Small yogurt $2.50–$3.50.
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