By B.C. Manion
Ray Perez wants patrons at Happy Cow Frozen Yogurt in Wesley Chapel to leave the shop with an experience that tops a visit to a run-of-the mill yogurt shop.
When the Wesley Chapel entrepreneur and his partners were working out their plans for the shop, they had specific ideas in mind.
First off, they wanted to wow their patrons with the shop’s design.
“We have a lot of things that you won’t find in your average yogurt store. Custom wallpaper, wood veneer, crown molding,” said Perez, a graduate of the University of South Florida, with extensive experience in restaurant work.
They also wanted to provide a sensory experience that customers would enjoy – the scent of freshly baked cookies or waffle bowls, a mix of music selections aimed to please people of all ages and a fun gathering place for guests.
Most of all, however, the shop’s owners wanted to offer customers a wide selection of frozen yogurt, sorbets, gelato and toppings. Frozen yogurt flavors include white chocolate truffle, cappuccino, cheesecake classico and cookies n’ cream. Gelatos include chocolate hazelnut, Tuscan tirumisu and caramel sea salt and sorbets include mango tropicale and Sicilian orange. Toppings include candies, fresh fruits and sauces.
Perez takes particular pride in the brand of frozen yogurt his shop offers – from a company he prefers not to name.
“What sets us apart is no one is using this product,” Perez said, noting there are two main suppliers of frozen yogurt, but his shop uses a different vendor.
“We spent a lot of time thinking of what our initial flavoring offering was going to be. I kind of wanted to have something for everyone,” said Perez, who is a graduate of Wharton High.
As time goes on, Perez plans to introduce customized flavors that will only be offered at Happy Cow. He also plans to tap into the power of social media, to let his customers help him decide future flavors to offer.
The best part of running a shop like this is seeing customers enjoying themselves, said Perez, whose partners are his aunt and uncle, Connie and Bill Rogers.
“It’s rewarding to see 4-year-old daughters dragging their father to the yogurt machine,” Perez said.
The shop had its grand opening on May 10 and, so far, business has been good.
“On the weekends, especially at night, we’re booming.”
While it seeks to offer something for everyone, the shop appears to be particularly popular with families and young couples, Perez said. It also attracts a fair number of college students, he said.
The shop is self-serve, with patrons filling their cups just the way they like them.
The price is 49 cents an ounce, with most tickets averaging $4 to $5, Perez said.
Unlike many frozen yogurt shops, which serve up sample cups, Perez allows his patrons to grab small paper cups and fill them themselves.
Research shows that people prefer getting their own samples, Perez said. Plus, it keeps things moving in the shop.
Self-serve shops also give people a chance to try varied flavor combinations, Perez said.
“You kind of put your stamp on your frozen yogurt creation,” he said.
Perez is the former general manager of Burger Monger, which is a few doors down, so he knew the location was good. There are 11 restaurants in that plaza alone, he said.
The opening of the hospital, future plans for the Fields at Wiregrass sports complex and the soon-to-open Porter Campus at Wiregrass Ranch also make the area attractive, he said.
“This area is booming. There’s a lot of excitement going on here. There are always new events going on at the mall. The hospital opening up, there’s just a lot of great places to eat out here. It seems to attract new businesses,” Perez said.
The shop, at 1646 Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, is between First Watch and Bonefish Grill.
It has the feel of a franchise, but isn’t one.
Ultimately, Perez and his partners hope they can open additional shops and create a franchise operation.
The Wesley Chapel resident is optimistic about those possibilities.
“We think we have a good brand and a good product,” Perez said.
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