Food fight in North Suffolk

Published 10:05 pm Thursday, December 5, 2013

After honing their skills in the U.S. Army for a combined 27 years, a husband and wife might be about to make North Suffolk ground zero in what business historians could call the Great War of the Frozen Yogurt Franchises.

Armando Velasquez and Isaura Ramirez have decided to open the East Coast’s first Zoyo Neighborhood Yogurt in a city where the main adversary — sweetFrog — has a foothold already with two stores, while The Skinny Dip Frozen Yogurt Bar, at Bennett’s Creek, has one soldier in the fight.

Zoyo is set to share a building at 6216 College Drive, opposite Harbour View East shopping center, between two other franchises new to Suffolk, Chipotle Mexican Grill and Jersey Mike’s Subs.

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“I’ve been in the Army going on 15 years next summer,” said Velasquez, who reports having served in Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, against a different kind of foe.

“I’m going to stay in; my wife will transition out. She’s going to run the business, I’m going to continue (in the Army) until my service is no longer needed.”

The couple was looking for a life that was more settled for their 18-month-old, and decided to set up in Suffolk after being stationed in Hampton Roads on and off through the years and deciding they liked the area.

“We love the North Suffolk/Harbour View area,” Velasquez said. “We see the businesses popping up, and the developments.

“We have been around the world; we met in Europe and did our tours and came back. … We started realizing this is a great community, a great place to be, a great place to raise a family.”

“We wanted to be in a military-friendly place that had veterans,” Ramirez added.

Ramirez has served in the Army for 13 years, including a 15-month Iraq tour.

Velasquez said they did their research before entering the frozen yogurt franchise fray. “We wanted to go with a franchise to make sure we had good support. I like self-serve yogurt, because it’s a very simple concept.”

According to Sharon Mettra, a franchise business development manager, Zoyo founders Aaron Klusman and Alex Appadaca own 11 company stores in Maricopa County, AZ, which is home to almost four million people.

Since Zoyo started in 2011, master territories have been sold in Indiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Houston and Georgia, Mettra said.

Velasquez and Ramirez hope to open more stores in the area, according to Mettra, and there could be up to 55 locations when a master territory is sold in Virginia.

Online store locators indicate sweetFrog is currently the dominant frozen yogurt franchise in the commonwealth, with 20 locations within a 100-mile radius of Suffolk. Skinny Dip, a smaller player, has 10 stores in Virginia and two in North Carolina.

While sweetFrog accentuates its support of local communities, Zoyo markets itself as a place to hang out.

“We like to be a gathering spot for the neighborhood,” Velasquez said. “We have TVs and Wi-Fi. We have a garage door that opens up when there’s good weather.”

The couple is planning a soft opening for March 1, with a grand opening to follow.