Returning to the United States in 1985 after my first year in England, there were two things that surprised me. The first was the difficulty of getting used to driving on the “Yank” side of the road again. Driving on the “wrong” side had required a high state of alertness and conscious thought until it had become a habit. Expecting to transition easily upon my return to the fruited plain, my concentration waned until I found myself driving toward several cars on their side of the street (talk about road rage). The second surprise was the sheer volume of frozen yogurt shops in Chicago and Las Vegas where I spent three weeks before returning to England.
Frozen yogurt was no stranger to me. I lived in Massachusetts in 1978 (where some of the country’s very best ice cream is made) when the very first packaged frozen yogurt was introduced. At its inception yogurt was marketed as a healthier, less caloric alternative to ice cream, but it wasn’t an immediate hit because of its lip-pursing tartness. Manufacturers went back to the drawing board, modified their recipes to include more sugar and yogurt began to take off. By 1986, sales of yogurt reached $25 million. Yogurt shops, it seemed, were to be found at every shopping center in Chicago.
Today ice cream has competition not only from yogurt, but from such frozen desserts as sherbet, flavored ice, gelato, sorbet, frozen custard and more. In the United States, it’s a market analysts predict to approach $30 billion in 2012, an all-time high. Ice cream still accounts for nearly 60 percent ($13.8) of the frozen dessert market, but frozen yogurt continues to carve steadily into ice cream’s dominant market share. This can be attributed as much to creative new flavors as to the American consumers desire for healthy dessert options.
While visiting a relative in Tucson, Cathy Awe, the founder and owner of Bernalillo’s Chill Zone, began to recognize the potential of a self-serve yogurt shop. She studied the option of franchising, but determined most New Mexicans have probably not heard of the popular yogurt shops sweeping California. In creating her yogurt shop’s identity, Cathy jokes that it was a family affair. Her son came up with the name, her daughter designed the shop’s logo and her husband provided the financing. Since opening in September, 2010, the Chill Zone has done so well that Cathy is in the process of launching a second shop, this one on the burgeoning intersection of Unser and Southern.
The Chill Zone features a line-up of more than twenty self-serve yogurt flavors, four of which are standard and the remainder of which are rotated in and out. The four standards, retained because of their popularity, are Chocolate Classic, New York Cheesecake, Vanilla NSA (no sugar added) and Pomegranate Raspberry Tart. Only the vanilla has no sugar added, but other flavors contain only a moderate amount, are fat-free and are low in calories. Other flavors such as pumpkin (for Thanksgiving) will be brought in to celebrate holidays, seasons or themes. Vanilla remains the most popular flavor.
While the yogurt itself may be a healthier alternative to ice cream, the toppings bar is an indulgence of plenty which can add calories to the yogurt and pounds to the waistline. Toppings range from fresh fruits such as raspberries, blueberries and strawberries to sweet confections such as iced animal crackers, Oreos and vanilla wafers. Candy toppings include candy corn, whoppers, peanut and plain M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter and more.
The objects of my gustatory affections during my inaugural visit were the New York Cheesecake yogurt and Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet with plenty of toppings piled on. The yogurt and sorbet were so good they rendered the toppings wholly unnecessary (besides that, frozen M&Ms aren’t that good). The strawberry lemonade sorbet was especially refreshing, an 80-calorie, no-fat nearly guilt-free treat with only 21 grams of carbohydrates. If you’ve ever lamented how cloying strawberry lemonade can be, you’ll appreciate the tart sweetness of this sorbet.
The Chill Zone is a sure cure for summer’s swelter, but is sure to please any time of year, especially with the promise of a healthy, low-calorie indulgence that tastes great and won’t break the bank.
The Chill Zone
Venada Shopping Plaza
510 Highway 528, Suite F
Bernalillo, New Mexico
LATEST VISIT: 17 March 2012
1st VISIT: 1 October 2011
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: New York Cheesecake Yogurt, Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet, Red Velvet Cake, Root Beer, Georgia Peach