Fro-yo invasion!

Self-serve frozen yogurt shops take over Chico

Girls night out includes a stop at Top This! frozen yogurt in downtown Chico: (from left) Lydia Velinsky, Taylor Johnson, Kristin Dees, Jodie Bloom, Katelynn Barrett and Courtney Weisman.

Girls night out includes a stop at Top This! frozen yogurt in downtown Chico: (from left) Lydia Velinsky, Taylor Johnson, Kristin Dees, Jodie Bloom, Katelynn Barrett and Courtney Weisman.

Photo By jason cassidy

The frozen yogurt invasion of Chico is complete. It sneaked in under a variety of aliases—“CreamYo,” “Frogurt” and “FroYo.”

Over the past few months, so many frozen-yogurt shops moved in so quickly that the number in town can no longer be counted on one hand. Gelayo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato opened in the Safeway shopping center on East Avenue about four months ago, decked out with fancy new machines, 12 flavors (the most I’ve seen so far), bright pink-and-green walls and an additional selection of gelato, which owner Steve Lee makes himself each day.

A few weeks later, Yo Chico! opened just a few doors down, strangely with the same color scheme as Gelayo, but with fewer frozen-yogurt flavors (although Yo Chico! does offer gluten-free toppings and organic yogurt). Brain Freeze Yogurt (2760 Esplanade) also opened in May, and offers an impressive selection of sauces and toppings—including peanut butter and marshmallow sauces and fancy fruit-infused granolas.

That’s not to mention other yogurt stands that are popping up inside restaurants, including Top This! opened in conjunction with Burgers & Brew inside the old Bank of America building on the corner of Broadway and Second streets downtown. There’s also fro-yo at the brand-new Top Spot Yogurt & Crêpes, in the Target shopping center on East 20th Street (in the old Subway location).

The trends are obvious: All five new places are self-serve, the price for fro-yo and toppings is set by weight—a competitive 39 cents per ounce across the board—and a quick visit to each store shows that owners are checking out their competitors’ bright ideas. Red Velvet Cake is one yogurt flavor that the cool kids have embraced, as well as “Cake Batter,” a pasty-textured flavor popular at Cold Stone Creamery back when that was the place to go for a personalized cup of creamy deliciousness. Apparently, ice cream is old news, and even the three Jon & Bon’s Yogurt Shoppes, Chico’s well-liked fro-yo stalwarts, have become faces in the crowd.

Which fro-yo you choose comes down to preferences. In addition to different (and in some cases more) choices of yogurt flavors, each store has its own varieties of toppings and sauces.

I swirled peanut butter and cookies-and-cream fro-yo high at Yo Chico!, and sprinkled it with peanut-butter chocolate crème cookies, cookie dough balls and Kit Kat crumbs. At Gelayo, I layered strawberry-banana, Jolly Rancher pomegranate-raspberry and mountain-blackberry yogurts with fresh strawberries, mandarin oranges and pineapple chunks. At Brain Freeze, I combined mango and strawberry fro-yos with Skittles and Sour Patch Kids.

The chocolate-peanut butter combo was decadent but didn’t leave me feeling stuffed like a bowl of ice cream would. The fruitier combinations (my personal preference) tasted just how they sound—juicy, sweet, sour and heavenly, like eating a rainbow.

Now that my weeklong sugar high has subsided, I feel I’ve earned the right to share a few tips to avoiding a fro-yo faux pas:

Check out all the toppings and sauces before you choose your yogurt flavor. Cookies-and-cream might sound classic and delicious, until you get to the toppings and realize the fruity ones are more appealing. The same goes the other way around—when I discovered the white chocolate sauce at Brain Freeze, I looked down and was a little sad to see my cup full of mango-flavored fro-yo.

Layer your fro-yo and toppings—it’s an art.

Don’t be afraid to share with a date. It’s cheaper, cuts back on calories and makes you more inclined to pile your cup high with more things. At 39 cents an ounce, most 20 oz. cups (they’re big!) range from $5 to $8.

If you have special dietary needs pertaining to dairy, sugar, nuts or gluten, call ahead to make sure that place has yogurt and/or toppings that are safe for you to eat.