Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Lowdown: Pinkberry Demystified

Out Pinkberry-ing Pinkberry: Cracking the “Crack Berry” Code

It ain’t pink, and it ain’t made of berries… but somehow, you want it—even though they’ve lied to you.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you haven’t been on the stretch of Huntley Drive just south of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where parking has become impossible due to people swarming over in crazed droves to Pinkberry Yogurt—purveyor of “all natural frozen yogurt.” Sherry Hwang, owner of the explosively popular yogurt shop has recently expanded her business, opening 30 new branches in the last few months. All this is astounding when you realize that their entire product line consists of yogurt in 2 flavors: Original, and Green Tea.

I had my first taste of Pinkberry’s a month ago when a one of the shops opened in Westwood. As I eagerly watched them dispense the yogurt into a Styrofoam cup, I found myself wondering in anticipation what exotic and mind-blowing flavor Mrs. Hwang had stumbled upon.

Imagine my disappointment when my first spoonful failed to produce instant euphoria! Instead, the tangy lactose flavor struck me as instantly familiar.

A popular type of drink in all East Asian countries is the plain yogurt-based beverage. How else do you think whole nations of lactose-intolerant Asian people get their drinkable calcium (yogurt is generally easier to digest than milk)? It comes in bottles, in cartons, as concentrates, in powder form…. and it’s terribly commonplace. To me, it tasted as if Ms. Hwang had poured a batch of this into a frozen yogurt maker, and I couldn’t see how anyone of an Asian background wouldn’t figure this out this instantly.

And I was right! Pinkberry’s wild popularity, paired with its easily replicable yogurt recipe, immediately spawned many imitators—many of them Asian. As an aside: Rumors also began circulating on the internet that the Pinkberry proprietor had stolen the recipe from a hard-working Korean family that owned a shop called Red Mango. In most places, you’ll see it advertised as “natural yogurt” or “Italian yogurt.”

So now, when you have a hankering for “Original” flavored frozen yogurt, you have the option of visiting Fiore Yogurt in Little Tokyo, Kiwiberri (multiple locations), or a dozen other imitators all over Koreatown who have cracked the Pinkberry code with no effort at all.

But for my money, the place that finishes what Pinkberry started is Beach Berries on the corner of Main and Walnut in Downtown Huntington Beach. The yogurt is the same flavor (of course), but the texture is noticeably smoother. Also, although Pinkberry offers sugary cereals and candy as toppings in addition to canned and fresh fruit pieces, Beach Berries stays true to the “natural” theme by only offering granola and fresh fruit – lovingly diced into darling little cubes—as yogurt toppings.

Time will tell if “natural” frozen yogurt is a passing fad, but you can bet there are about a hundred Asian yogurt-shop owners out there who are banking on the hope that it isn’t!

—Jennifer Chang

868 Huntley Dr., WEHO, (310) 659-8285
3300 W. Sixth St., Koreatown, (323) 730-9889
7123 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, (323) 935-2958
10911 Lindbrook Dr., Westwood, (310) 208-3620
236 N. Larchmont Blvd., Midtown

8474 W. Third St., Los Angeles, (323) 951-0675.

134 Japanese Village Plaza, Little Tokyo, (213) 626-0806.

Beach Berries
300 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA
(714) 960-7988

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