|16 Handles founder Solomon Choi. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)|
From helping managing his parent’s Japanese restaurant in San Diego, California, to establishing one of the most successful frozen yogurt franchises in the U.S., 16 Handles founder Solomon Choi stands by his belief that staying within the reach of one’s customers is the key ingredient to a thriving franchise.
The 33-year-old Korean-American entrepreneur has his sights set on revamping the culture of the frozen yogurt industry and creating a new lifestyle when it comes to desserts.
“I had that entrepreneurial spirit and I wanted to create my own business,” said Choi. “I wanted to be my own boss. … I wanted to create a lifestyle product.”
After his parents sold their restaurant, Choi landed a position at Rich Hospitality and Investments, which at the time also managed a gelato franchise. While working at this franchise, Choi noticed that the trendy and health-conscious Californians were less interested in heavy desserts, but rather seeking healthy alternatives.
“What I saw is … it (frozen yogurt) was becoming more of a lifestyle product,” he said. “For instance, in Korea, cafes are a lifestyle ― it’s not just about the coffee, it’s a meeting place and it’s the environment; I saw the same thing was happening with frozen yogurt.”
It so happened that a family friend of Choi opened up the first self-service, pay-by-weight frozen yogurt shop where customers could go in and truly customize their own frozen yogurt treat. Seeing this new birth in the frozen yogurt business lit a fire inside Choi and led him to ask this family friend to teach him everything there was to know about the yogurt business.
The ambitious entrepreneur decided to take the plunge and moved to New York City to open his very own frozen yogurt franchise, 16 Handles. Against the advice of a local realtor, Choi made the gutsy move to open up shop in now one of the most competitive locations in the East Village of Manhattan.
“I wanted to actually be in the most competitive market because that right there would show me whether or not this could take off,” he explained.
Choi’s small self-serving yogurt shop ― selling dynamic flavors such as peanut butter and jelly, cider donut, carrot cake, eggnog and American apple pie and toppings that range from sprinkles to cinnamon sugar pretzels and fruity pebbles ― opened in July 2008. The 16 Handles franchise now stretches across six states in 40 locations with 20 more currently under development, and remains the most successful frozen yogurt franchise in the nation.
Choi now has his sights set on expanding his 16 Handles franchise beyond the borders of the U.S.
“I want to open up a shop in Seoul,” he said. “While I don’t have any immediate plans … I think it would be a great homecoming to be able to go full circle being able to bring the company here as well.”
By Julie Jackson (firstname.lastname@example.org)