I have briefly commented on my love for the self-serve frozen yogurt shop before. Back in Los Angeles, there was one just a few blocks away from my apartment. I'm not proud to admit, the people working there new me after about one week of me living in the area. The place is called Cantaloop and they're an independently owned shop; there was also a Pinkberry (aka Crackberry) a few blocks in the other direction. Places like Pinkberry and Red Mango (they're main competitor) didn't impress me as much because they were pricier, offered much fewer flavor options, and were not self-service - I like to control my fro-yo. What can I say, I like the power.
For this reason, I wasn't particularly excited about my frozen yogurt prospects upon moving back home to Long Island. I knew Port Jefferson, the touristy little harbor town about ten minutes away from mine, had a Red Mango, but as this store is traditionally not self-serve I didn't pay it much attention. Then on a trip "down Port," as we say, one day last July while I was home visiting, I noticed a new place literally directly across the street from Red Mango. Called Yogo Delish, it was clearly self-service. How exciting, my little town jumping on the fro-yo bandwagon!
Then I glanced across the street, and noticed a sign outside the adjacent Red Mango - "Now Self-Serve!" Holy crap, they've converted! The craze must be here to stay. While I did manage to sample both during my last month home, I never really thought about doing a definitive comparison. I was pretty sure I preferred Yo Go Delish (another independent store), but I wasn't sure if I was just biased against the big yogurt chains.
So this time around, I decided I would go to one right after the other (not that hard since, as I said, they are across the street from one another), getting a small serving of a few different kinds of yogurt and toppings from each and comparing them (only things I liked, obviously, so I wouldn't be biased by a flavor I happen to find distasteful). I would also compare the environment and service, such as they are, to see how the two competing stores measured up. So, without further ado, let Battle Fro-Yo begin!
First up, the big name, Red Mango.
Your typical set-up: some seating up front, yogurt cups and dispensers in the back. The flavors offered on my visit: chocolate, vanilla, espresso, strawberry, white peach, mango, pomegranate, and pumpkin spice. I was especially excited for that last one, which was heavily advertised, but I was underwhelmed:
I got more tart, yogurty flavor than either pumpkin or spice. Also, that one sample cup was all I got when I asked: other shops I've been to give out two or three sample cups so you can more easily try different flavors. Still, I managed to try and few, and settled on white peach, pomegranate, and pumpkin - while the pumpkin didn't impress me, that flavor went better with the more candy-like toppings I wanted, while the fruity flavors went with the mochi and gummy bears:
The little orange balls you see are mango tapioca balls (they also had strawberry), which is a plus for Red Mango - I love the way they pop when you bite them, providing a nice contrast with the chewy mochi and gummies. The Golden Grahams provided a nice bit of nostalgia and went well with the pumpkin.
My evaluation: good, but not great. I'd give it a B+ - good topping variety, but could use some more flavors in general, and are particularly weak in their non-fruity flavor department. The fruit flavors were quite good, however, particularly the peach.
Next up, the newcomer, YoGo Delish:
No inside shots because the two kids serving noticed I was taking pictures and I felt awkward, but the place was bigger than Red Mango, with seating in both the front and back. Bizarrely, when I asked for sample cups the girl came out from behind the counter and wanted to get the sample for me, I guess to control the amount people can sample? Also awkward, and more annoying than Red Mango's solution of being stingy with the cups. However, the flavor variety at YoGo made up for any annoyance I felt, with a wide variety of both yogurt flavors and toppings. I actually ended up getting more than I meant to:
I wound up with mint, red velvet cake, cookies n cream, cheesecake, and peanut butter. They also offered fruity flavors: pomegranate-berry, very berry, peach-mango, strawberry-kiwi and possibly others I'm forgetting. I'll have to come back to try those. The toppings were similar to Red Mango's but with more on offer, including cookie dough, several types of candy, and animal crackers. They also had more sauce options: while Red Mango had caramel, chocolate, and honey, YoGo had all those plus butterscotch, strawberry and peanut butter (I got peanut butter and Ghirardelli creamy caramel). The actual yogurts were all strong-flavored and distinct, none of that weird "yogurty" tartness present in Red Mango (which I guess some people like, but I think overwhelms the various flavors and makes them all taste the same).
My evaluation: For their impressive fro-yo and topping variety, abundant seating, and friendlier staff (the kids working the register actually seemed interested in why I was taking pictures, and when they found out I was dong a comparison were quick to point out that YoGo was independently owned and thanked me when I said I loved their shop; the one guy at Red Mango, while not rude or anything, seemed mostly indifferent), I give YoGo an A-. Minus a couple points for the weird sampling system, but the flavors were good enough that in the end I was happy with my selection despite not being able to taste them before hand.
The verdict: Though both stores need to be less stingy with their samples (how much money could they possibly lose to that anyway?), to me YoGo Delish was the clear winner: more and better-tasting fro-yo flavors, greater and more interesting topping variety, young friendly staff, more seating, all adds up to a better overall experience. Perhaps because Red Mango is a large chain initially not specializing in self-serve, their product suffers a bit? As an independent store, maybe Yogo Delish cares a bit more? Not sure, but Red Mango better step it up if they really want to compete with the little guy.