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From plain vanilla to toasted marshmallow, pumpkin and dulce de leche flavors, plus 50 toppings — including hot fudge, gummy worms and strawberry popping pearls — Yo Mama Frozen Yogurt gives customers free rein when they create cool culinary concoctions.
Before local entrepreneur Beth Miller launched Yo Mama in the summer of 2012, she faced a multitude of decisions, just like her customers.
Operate a franchise or start her own local business?
What type of business plan?
Where to locate?
There’s no question, though, that Yo Mama has been an example of local entrepreneurial success. It turned profitable soon after opening at 3780 Jonathan Moore Pike. On busy summer days, lines of customers snake through the front door. Even on slow winter days, the shop will welcome about 150 customers per day.
Miller grew up in Kokomo but has lived in Columbus for 19 years. She graduated from Ball State University with a bachelor’s degree in retail merchandising and worked in retail, including in management, before she went back to school to get an associate degree in radiologic technology. When she and her husband, Mike, a tool-and-die designer, started having children, she became a stay-at-home mom.
She said she had always thought about launching a business — though she said with a laugh recently that whatever business she would eventually launch, it would not be a food business.
She wanted a family friendly place and found during her research that a frozen yogurt shop would appeal to children and adults and would have a good chance for success in Columbus.
She initially considered a franchise but scrapped that idea because she did not want to lose any portion of the revenues and because she wanted flexibility about the business culture and when she could open and close the shop.
The couple went to a class in Portland, Ore., as part of its research and sought free advice from the Indiana Small Business Development Center and the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce before presenting their business plan to the bank.
Including the research, it took about 18 months from deciding to launch the shop until it opened Aug. 3, 2012. The project required lots of patience and learning about building and fire codes, health department inspections and interior design, the couple said.
Miller liked those challenges. “We learned a lot,” she said.
Yo Mama is self-serve: Customers enter the store, grab a cup and hold the cup under any of the eight dispensers, each of which comes with two flavors. Customers can combine as many flavors and toppings they want. Their final creation costs 50 cents per ounce. The largest cup holds 32 ounces.
“It’s fun to ask people … what they’ve put together,” Miller said.
The spacious shop covers about 2,800 square feet and seats about 100. Its welcoming and sleek interior, with apple green walls, is dominated by a giant chandelier near the front entrance.
The frontal seating area, with its a brown stone floor, two white columns and chairs with a birch pattern, evokes an Italian garden, while the rear seating and dispensing area feels more like a comfortable home, with a dark brown wood floor and seating areas for children.
Miller said she designed the place for people to linger, so that grandparents can spend some leisure time with their grandchildren, couples can relax for some sweet time together and businesses and families can use the back room for meetings, baby showers or birthday parties.
Columbus resident Lillian Dick said she visits the store about once a week, either with her husband or grandchildren.
“I like it because when you walk in it’s decorated nicely. And it’s always very, very clean.”
Dick also said that the staff is very friendly, even when the store gets busy.
She said the peanut yogurt is one of her favorites, though she enjoys mixing many of the flavors.
The Millers said they initially considered opening the shop in downtown Columbus but like the high-traffic area on the city’s west side and the location’s proximity to the People Trails. Walkers and bikers often stop by for a low-calorie snack.
The yogurt has about 120 calories for every four ounces. Yo Mama’s also offers a couple of flavors without added sugar and also some sorbet. None of the products contains high-fructose corn syrup. The calorie count excludes toppings, of course, which range from crushed Oreo cookies to hot fudge, pretzels, coconut and fruit.
“Beth is a natural entrepreneur,” said Cindy Frey, executive director of the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Beth and her husband are committed to creating jobs, training young employees and bringing a product to the community that can be enjoyed,” Frey said via email. “Just 13 months after opening this family-owned venture, the shop has exceeded their expectations thanks to solid preparation and the support of the community.”
The Millers even have thought of patrons’ pets, as they also offer yogurt especially made for dogs.
The shop is still evolving, Miller said, and she hopes to expand both her product offerings, including perhaps some smoothies, and her entertainment, from book reads to Christmas caroling.
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