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Back to Pinkberry: A Post-Snowberry-Cantaloop-CéFiore Review

It was a warm day today, and I admit it: I'm hooked on frozen yogurt. I don't want to be. I'm kind of embarrassed to be. But I am. If I had good gelaterias or ice cream parlors near my apartment and/or office, I'm sure I could satisfy my cold dessert cravings with fattier, sugarier offerings. But then, it's probably for the best I'm enjoying froyo. Living closest to the Koreatown Pinkberry, my experience with the city's current food phenomenon started in earnest there. But lately, I've been scratching my itch at Pinkberry spin-offs Snowberry, Cantaloop, and CéFiore.

But it was too hot to ride the Red Line or Purple Line to get my fix today. I needed gratification I can get on foot, and the nearest froyo place I can walk to is Stinkberry, er, Pinkberry. As loath as I am to feed the beast the sweet, sweet money it craves, I really wanted some yogurt. Yes, even Pinkberry's "chilly bliss" - which, for all we know, could very well be made from gypsum dust and termite honey - would suffice. And I really should be familiar with the enemy, I mean, standard in the froyo competition. So off to Pinkberry I went.

THE GRIPES:

The fact that the interior of a store in a newly-erected building selling frozen desserts is even hotter than the outdoors when it's in the upper-80s doesn't perplex me as much, at least in one sense. This store never has its air conditioning on. Never. The last time I visited, it was just as hot inside. Of course, I came at night, and it was below 70° outside then, yet still in the upper-80s inside then. And still - no AC, packed to the rafters. The Koreatown Pinkberry is the see-and-be-seen place, after all, so one endures the Louisiana-level mugginess inside. I wasn't at all surprised that Pinkberry was the first place I saw an iPhone, laid out in all its glory on the table for everyone passing by to see. (Why would its owner stash it in his pocket? He didn't pay all that money for it to be there!)

The fact that the store refuses to turn on its air conditioning is just another symptom of what seems to be the company's rampant penny-pinching. I'm definitely spoiled on the generous portions given by the three competitors I've been patronizing recently. Both Snowberry's and CéFiore's larges strike me to provide at least 25% more of both yogurt and toppings. (And today at Pinkberry, my large actually tipped the scale. I suppose the only reason I still received it was because actually making me another, less generous one would cost the company too much money.) The large at Pinkberry was actually less than the MEDIUM at Cantaloop. Yes, yes, American portions are too big, supersizing, etc., etc. But Pinkberry remains the most expensive frozen yogurt while consistently providing the smallest portions. I have yet to find another store that insists on weighing every portion dispensed, too.

THE KUDOS:

The last time I went to Pinkberry, I was pretty sure it would be my last visit. The counterperson was fairly rude - in addition to the store's being sweltering, the high price, the long wait, and so on - and the sour taste in my mouth was from more than the yogurt. This time, the attitudes were much nicer. This isn't to say anyone wrote me a love sonnet or asked how my grandmother was; the store was, as it almost usually is, very busy. But both the cashiers and the staff preparing the food were courteous, had a welcoming (if harried) tone, used their pleasantries. They were also offering samples of the green tea flavor if asked. (I wonder if the company is trying to push it for the extra mark-up it brings.) I don't need the staff the be my buddies; I just don't want them to be hostile. Today showed a good turnaround.

The flavor of Pinkberry's plain really is excellent. When I started going there, I would always get the green tea, but I've realized now there's just no flavor to it, certainly not beyond two bites. The plain, though, has a light flavor that reminds me somewhat of a good buttermilk ice cream I had at a Sunday Supper at Lucques once. (The flavor of it - certainly not the texture.) The tartness is what all the Pinkberry partisans I know really appreciate, and it's the best thing about it. Who knows what it's made from - turnip greens, shark blood, recycled car batteries? But it does have a nice approximation of dairy flavor, at least.

THE PERPLEXITIES:

The texture of the plain, on the other hand, is something I can't say I'm really excited about. In previous posts, I've described it as "sorbet-like." Today, eating the stuff after a long Pinkberry hiatus, I realize that's probably an overly kind turn of phrase. "Ice milk-like" is more accurate. Some folks love this texture, do they? It's so watery. It just seems like a cheap, low-grade version of a frozen yogurt to me. It's like ice milk. The green tea has less of the ice milk texture, I believe. The grains of matcha seem to give it more texture; that is the one superior quality it has. It's not worth the extra dollar (two dollars for a large), but it gives it something approaching creaminess. The creaminess is not something everyone wants, it seems. That puzzles me. If one said, "You can have a dessert with the texture of ice milk or one with the texture of ice cream," I doubt anyone would choose the former. But somehow, the ice milky texture at Pinkberry has fans.

I also have to wonder: Does anyone actually buy those Alessi doodads? Are they for sale? Otherwise, what's the point of them? Okay, Alessi has unique design, but the cases dedicated solely to another company's wacky kitchen implements - it strikes me as odd. I've never found a sign about how one can buy an item. None of them have ever disappeared from being bought or even moved, as if a customer has looked it over. There don't appear to be price tags. One doesn't find a decorative rack of Sony televisions at a Chevy dealership or cases of Hermès scarves at a law firm just because they look cool. The Alessi product placement cases at Pinkberry perplex me.

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Well, I'm still not a Pinkberry fan. For one thing, there are still no walnuts. Everyone else has walnuts. Why doesn't Pinkberry? They used to have walnuts. I could deal with the hot store and the smaller portions and the higher prices if I thought their yogurt was the best. Of the four places I've frequented, Pinkberry's product is easily my least favorite. (And this week, I'm going to Yogotango, and I will be trying the tomato yogurt.) I don't think I feel quite so negative about Pinkberry, but their business model - blatantly cutting costs to make maximum profit, opening stores left and right to stand out in a neighborhood rather than fit in, creating a sudden forced ubiquity rather than a gradual earned success - still disturbs me, and it's hard to separate it from the food.

I wonder what the future holds for these companies, too. Just Friday, I was talking with a coworker about all these yogurt companies' opening up, and we began musing on boba. Boba was huge just a few years ago, and now it's all but forgotten. Will Korean-Italian frozen yogurt be the new boba? Is Pinkberry just the new Lollicup? And since when has a fast food product ever been about so much more than just the food?

Okay, I've thought about Pinkberry far too much now.

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  1. I agree with much you say about Pinkberry. I enjoy it, but the stingy portions and bad attitude make me boycott them. There have been too many situations where I felt my portions were smaller than they advertise.

    In fact, it was tax time and I brought back an eight ounce Medium (w/o toppings) to the office. Since I had to weigh my tax return anyway, I decided to weigh the froyo and it registered 7.3 ounces, including the container. Therefore, it was likely I received less than seven ounces (due to the weight of the container). Would it destroy profit margins if they offered a little more than a little less? Also, why do they provide such large containers when they always swirl the froyo with a giant hole in the middle?

    1 Reply
    1. re: peterx

      My swirl was solid this time, which is why mine tipped the scale today. I also notice some other things about the presentation: The peak of the swirl is made very high, to give the dessert the illusion of great height. It also gives them a steep slope to pile on the toppings. However, the line where the yogurt actually hits the cup is much lower in Pinkberry compared to others.

      I think that yes, it would do damage to the profit margins, actually. Consider how rapidly the company is rolling out stores, and in areas with some of the priciest real estate in the country. After all, that generosity you propose could add up and jeopardize the Pinkberry locations in Chinatown, Compton, Sault Ste. Marie, and the Vatican City...

    2. The original comment has been removed
      1. Thanks, Woolsey, that was a great summary! A few thoughts:

        1. Believe it or not, I actually own Alessi salt and pepper shakers. I bought them more than a year ago on ebay for about $5, long before they were introducted to Pinkberry and starting selling for about 6 times that amount.

        2. I KNOW that PInkberry has become focused on customer service because they have actively jumped into contracting with "mystery shopping" programs. Don't tell anyone, but I have "shopped" a few locations...this shows that the corporation wants feedback on customer service.

        3. At least at the NoHo location, topping amounts at Ce Fiore are NOT more generous than at Pinkberry. They both seem skimpy.

        4 Replies
        1. re: running pig

          Nothing wrong with owning Alessi. I've been to the Alessi store at Robertson and Beverly myself. It's nice stuff if massively overpriced. But it just seems... I don't know. It's like if Starbucks was decorated with cases of Waterford crystal. Just because. It's not for sale. It has no bearing on the product. It's just there because. So, do people actually BUY the Alessi gadgets at Pinkberry?

          The Little Tokyo CéFiore is more generous with toppings - though not quite Snowberry or Cantaloop generous. (And their raspberries were visibly past their prime.)

          Good for Pinkberry for taking the grumblings about poor customer service seriously. It's showing in the stores, and it makes me more predisposed to visit them in the future.

          1. re: Woolsey

            Hi Woolsey, Though my memory may be wrong, I think the Sawtelle Pinkberry has signs with prices next to each Alessi product. I assume they are also for sale at the Koreatown location, but why that isn't more obvious, who knows. Even if prices were more obvious, I doubt that it's the lack of price display keeping customers from buying these products. I agree with you on the strangeness factor on the display of these items. Also, since you are in Koreatown and open to trying other yogurt places, see what you think of Starberry. They are on Wilshire at Ardmore, tucked in a corner next to the atrocious Noodletime. They've been around for a little while, but I stopped there last week during a lunch break, and the owners have changed. The new owner wants to incorporate smoothies into his menu, so when I went into the store, he was interested in my opinion on different flavors and even nicely offered up some smoothie samples. He also was quite generous with his serving of yogurt. I usually get a small at Pinkberry but this one was almost double the size. It was actually too much, but anyway, the point is, the guy is quite nice and looking for yogurt ideas, so the customer service aspect is pleasant. They also have a mangosteen flavor. The quality varies; with the old owner, he seemed to change up the yogurt so it was slightly different everytime -- sometimes creamier, sometimes icier .... so it can be hit or miss, depending on your preference, but it's a good alternative to Pinkberry. Downside is they don't have as many toppings, and you can't see them. I like to see the quality of the fruit before I order a topping so I see this as a limitation. Check it out if you have a chance!

            1. re: Skorgirl

              That's the place! I remembered there was a place with a mangosteen flavor I'd read about on here, but I couldn't remember what it was or the cross streets as I was heading out toward Koreatown, so it was just back to Pinkberry I went. I plan to try to get to Starberry perhaps on Wednesday.

              When the yogurt's flavored, toppings aren't so imporant. And I almost always order blueberries anyway - except on Cantaloop's blueberry yogurt, when I get lychee on top.

              1. re: Skorgirl

                STARBERRY UPDATE:

                Okay, after I tried to go to Starberry on July 4 only to find them closed, I got there today. When I first arrived, the yogurt wasn't ready. So I came back at the allotted time, and guess what: No mangosteen. Dude's out. I told him I had come to try the mangosteen and excused myself. I felt slightly bad as he was all ready for me as I was walking up, but there's too much plain yogurt in this town for me to be sampling every Tom, Dick, and Harry's version of it. Maybe I'll get back there one day, but, as I was walking away, I was feeling a strong sense of froyo fatigue, thinking to myself, Why am I going to all this trouble to try all these different places?

                Could this already be the end of the love affair for me?

          2. Great write-up, Woolsey -- very entertaining, and I learned a lot! I have never focused on frozen yogurt -- or anything -- this much...even measuring the peak of the Pinkberry swirl! I also enjoyed all of the responses!!!

            We are pretty bored already looking at the turquoise dots on the paper covering the windows of the yet unopened Pinkberry in Westlake Village. This store was supposed to open some six weeks ago, I am told by a neighboring store owner, and nothing yet. Also, there is a huge, adjacent parking lot...how will they ticket when all of us are parked legally?

            Actually, I would much rather this space be a boba place!

            1 Reply
            1. re: liu

              I still like boba too, but I don't get it very often these days.

              Reading this thread is making me really crave frozen yogurt. I still choose 21 Choices or Penguin's. I have not tried any of the Pinkberry-type places, yet.

              Come to think of it, Chinese style shaved ice sounds really good right now, too.

            2. Couldn't agree more. This place is the Starbucks of frozen yogurt.