The froyo cold war has taken an icy turn.
As recently as two weeks ago, the city’s downtown dessert establishments were preaching the benefits of peaceful coexistence, but since then, relations have chilled and deteriorated.
Even before its opening on York Street this weekend, Flavors — a new self-serve frozen yogurt lounge — has become enmeshed in allegations from its anticipated rival and fellow frozen yogurt store, FroyoWorld. William Bok, 27, co-owner of FroyoWorld, claims that the Flavors owners are close family friends and used that relationship to steal ideas for their own frozen yogurt business. Flavors owner Heela Kim denies those claims and says that having always dreamed of opening a froyo store, she developed her business ideas independently.
Bok’s allegations include a claim that a member of the family owners of Flavors physically entered the FroyoWorld offices and copied parts of the store’s logo design and color schemes.
“We are very disheartened by the fact that a family friend for over a decade has opened a frozen yogurt lounge literally in our backyard,” said Bok. “It’s betrayal.”
BETRAYAL AMONG FRIENDS
Bok knew for some time that a new froyo place was going to open near his, but it wasn’t until a reporter from the News mentioned that it was the Kim family who was opening Flavors that he knew the names of the new proprietors, he said. And when he heard the name, a red alert went off. Stating that the two families were close friends, he added that the Kims even attended his and his wife’s wedding and that he would not have such strong feelings had he not known the new business owners.
The Boks’ allegations against the Kims extend well beyond a little business competition between friends to alleged copying of their business logo and color schemes. Both stores feature smiley faces as their logos, and use pink and green in their general marketing schemes. Bok said that he believes the Kims stole the proprietary information from FroyoWorld when he opened his home to the Kim family on numerous occasions. He added that the Kims’ daughter, Hwanee “Rachael” Kim, has been at his house “more times than he can remember.”
“This goes against what friendship stands for and we can clearly see how through their statements, the Kim family is trying to hide the truth,” Bok said.
The Kims deny that they stole any ideas. Sean Kim, the son of Flavors’ owner who also interned as a business analyst for McKinsey, said he helped design Flavors by choosing the colors that he said “popped the most.” He added that he has never been to FroyoWorld. His sister, Rachael Kim, said it is impossible that Flavors used the same colors as FroyoWorld because of the variety of colors, shades and combinations to choose from.
While Sean’s parents and sister confirmed that he had never been FroyoWorld, they admitted that they had been to FroyoWorld a few times in the past. However, Rachel Kim said they had no reason to imitate FroyoWorld. She said her mother, Heela Kim, went to Yo-Cream University — a two-day conference that teaches how to start a frozen yogurt business — before starting Flavors.
“I don’t know what kinds of information we could have taken [from them],” she said.
The Kims also deny the close friendship and said they are only acquaintances through the Korean community. Rachael Kim, the daughter of Flavors owner Heela Kim, said she was “100 percent sure” that her parents did not consider the Boks’ parents to be close friends.
“Their parents invited my parents out of respect [to the wedding] and a lot of people went who weren’t very close [to them],” she said.
Three sources who know the families confirmed to the News the Boks’ claim that the two families had been close. One source said the Boks only invited close family friends to the wedding.
Despite the controversy, the Kims said they maintain their hope that Flavors and FroyoWorld will be able to peacefully coexist, adding that the competition between two froyo stores is nothing compared to that among the multiple coffee shops around campus. Heela Kim said if she hadn’t opened Flavors, she believes that someone else would have opened another frozen yogurt store. She added that she hopes her store will give Yalies and New Haveners more choices, more convenience and a different taste.
A FUTURE RIDDLED WITH UNCERTAINTY
Looking forward, Bok said he has new menu items planned for FroyoWorld and emphasized that the store will continue to be a part of the Yale and New Haven community.
“There are and will be many imitators opening frozen yogurt lounges in Connecticut, but we believe FroyoWorld will continue to be the trendsetter and leader in the state,” he said.
The frozen dessert wars are nothing new in New Haven. Former Liberry owner, current owner of S’Wings and co-founder of the Little Salad Shop Robert Klinger said that there have been a number of ice cream and frozen yogurt stores that have opened over the years with little success. Chapel Sweet Shoppe closed several years ago, Cold Stone Creamery closed in the end of 2008 and Liberry closed in 2010 following FroyoWorld’s grand opening. Klinger said that of the frozen yogurt stores, FroyoWorld has the better location because Chapel Street gets foot traffic all year. He added that although Liberry’s sales went down 90 percent after FroyoWorld opened, in the end, he was happy he was able to focus on new businesses.
“I’m happy for them all, and I wish them all luck,” he said.
Abigail Rider, the associate vice president and director of University Properties, said that the ensuing competition that Flavors presents is hardly surprising.
“Success breeds competition,” she said in an email Monday. “It is not surprising that others would want to compete with [Ashley’s and Froyoworld].”
At least one dessert spot is living the ideal of peaceful coexistence. The Mochi Store owner Harrison Robbins-Pesce said in an email Sunday that although his store sells frozen desserts, The Mochi Store is largely removed from the competition because he offers a unique product. He added that although it is hard to imagine that there will be three frozen dessert stores within five to 10 minutes of each other, it still might work out.
“You never know, maybe there’s enough ice cream for everyone,” he said.
Flavors will open on 290 York St.