Thursday, May 10, 2012

TCBY: Rebirth of a Fast Food Juggernaut

After a decade in decline, The Country’s Best Yogurt has revamped and relaunched it’s entire brand - with impressive results, to say the least. 

I’ve been hearing a lot of allegations lately that after a good half a decade in the dumps, the United States economy is slowly beginning to climb out of the financial mire. Honestly, I didn’t believe any of the hearsay until recently, when I uncovered 100 percent, bona fide proof that we, as a nation, are finally on the path to fiscal recovery.

I mean, hell, if TCBY…The Country’s Best Yogurt, of all things…can mount a resurgence in popularity and viability, then why can’t every other failed business over the last five years do so, too?

TCBY, clearly, is one of those things we all took for granted as a peoples. In my youth, I think I may have visited the old-school yogurt stand in town only a handful of times - remember, this was the 1990s we’re talking here, and we had a profound lack of what it is that we had as a collective culture, no doubt (keep in mind, mine was the same social milieu that rejected “Pinkerton” and the Sega Saturn while embracing Tamogatchis and Hanson. I would like to say that we were all on drugs, but our horrible decision making was based on an entirely different kind of drunkenness - the sort of short-term stupor brought about by thinking that NAFTA would actually result in sustainable, positive business relations for all of us.)

I’m not sure when the local TCBY went out of business, but I’m pretty sure it was one of the first causalities of the housing market collapse in my neck of the woods. I suppose when faced with near-bankruptcy, you have to begin making budget cuts, and since “frozen yogurt” is hardly anybody’s idea of a top priority, I reckon it’s clear as day what’s got to go when things get tough.

And as the sage poets Cinderella once declared, “you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone.”

It was about three or so years ago that I really started getting some hankering for some quality frozen yogurt. Apparently, this was something of a George A. Romero-ish phenomenon, as about three or four mom and pop frogurt shops sprouted up overnight shortly thereafter. While the local options were pretty good, it was clear that they weren’t TCBY-quality in any regard. I mean, the shit’s right there in the title, “The Country’s Best Yogurt” - by nomenclature alone, everything else is tautologically a pale imitation in comparison.

Well, it was a few months ago when my girlfriend ran up to me and told me that - much to my disbelief - that a new TCBY was opening up, not only in town, but a few meters away from my place. She actually had to drive me to the locale - positioned not at all ominously across the road from a bunch of vacant office buildings - to get me to believe that something so heavenly and majestic could happen. And up until the official opening of the restaurant, we made it a nigh weekly effort to stop by the place and just ogle the sign, featuring those glorious four letters splayed out in hot pink, Euro-stylized font. I guess now is also a good time to tell all of you that in high school, yes, I was really fat. As in, very much so.

Although to my dismay, that DIDN'T entail pesto-flavored yogurt.

I can’t remember the last time I was at the theater on opening night for anything, but I’ll be several shades of damned if I wasn’t there at the TCBY opening on day numero uno. Or, uh, the day after that. I’m not really good with calendars, so hell, it may have even been a week after the grand opening. The important thing, I suppose, is that a newfangled TCBY was there, and so was I. And like that, this “Great Recession” I’ve been hearing so much about vanished in the blink of an eye…even if that eye belonged solely to me, and me alone.

I suppose the first major thing to note about this newly rechristened TCBY is that it utilizes a new “pay by the ounce” model - which, gauging by the popularity of such a system across the local mom and pop’s - is apparently the industry standard for frogurt shops.

You see, back in the day, if you wanted some frogurt, what you would do is go up to the cashier, point to a flavor and some toppings, and then the clerk - generally a college student that made one mistake too many in his or her personal life - would ask you what size bucket you wanted for your pseudo-dairy treat, and you would pay a uniform price from location to location. Well, that sort of thinking was too pre-9/11 for these new frozen yogurt visionaries, whom prefer to charge you in accordance to just how much product you pick up as opposed to a preset estimate fixed to a certain sized dish. At the local eatery, the flat rate is $0.45 per ounce - meaning, ostensibly, that you can now pick up a solid pound of frogurt for about the same price of your aggregate foot-long hoagie.

You know, since I have a working set of testes and I don’t spend my mornings watching “The View,” I really don’t have the firmest grasp as to why Greek yogurt is so popular all of a sudden, but apparently, it’s popular enough to be showcased as the nearby chain’s marquee offering. I guess you could call it yogurt lite, even though yogurt, by its very nature as a synthetic substance, is nothing more than lite ice cream - which makes this frozen Greek yogurt (henceforth referred to, by me at least, as “FroGreGurt”) basically ice cream lite, jr.

The new TCBY setup works a little like this; in the back of the building, there’s a couple of fountains/dispensers, each containing a different flavor of frogurt. Off to the side, there are a couple of mini-sample cups (you know, the kinds generally used for ketchup and tartar sauce), so you have the option to try every single flavor on tap before making your official selection. And in case you were wondering, not only is flavor-mixing allowed, it doesn’t precipitate any additional charges, either - meaning these TCBY folks are one of the rare food chains out there that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the issue of dessert miscegenation.

And you ought to see what their salad bar looks like!

The flavors, I suppose, vary from chain to chain, so I suppose it’s kind of a moot point to go over the varieties I tried out at my local shop. Even so, if you are looking for a good base, you really can’t go wrong with their chocolate chip cookie dough blend, which I decided to mix with their cake batter yogurt - because, if nothing else, you just have to love that grey alien hue that’s created when you merge the two  together.

The area where the new TCBY really shines, however, is in their topping selections. Anybody who has even a working knowledge of who I am as a human being knows that I am a hardcore Cold Stone addict, and I can easily say that the nueva TCBY topping bar absolutely annihilates even that much-beloved emporium for crunched up Heath bars and shredded coconut chunks.

If you can name an ice cream topping, there’s a 99.9 percent chance that you will find it in stock at TCBY 2.0. Yeah, there’s your standard stuff - crumbled up Oreos, Reece’s Pieces and a veritable ark of Gummi animals - but even I was surprised by the wealth of esoteric toppings on display. Truffle chunks, about five or six different kinds of nuts, and even a couple of fresh berries were all on tap, sharing cubby space with all of the tried and true standards, like sprinkles and M&Ms. You really have to admire the chutzpah of the chain, because it’s glaringly apparent that they give nary a damn about the whole “obesity crisis” going on  these days - whereas most fast food retailers are trying to slim down their menu, you can waltz into a TCBY and slam about three or four full-sized Little Debbie snack cakes into your pound and a half container of congealed dessert stuff…and right before you get to the cashier’s desk, they ask you if want to douse the shit in some chocolate sauce before you take your creation in for a final weigh-in.

How much did my frozen yogurt weigh? Since the local scale stops at ten pounds, I'll probably never know.

I really can’t recall everything that I ended up putting in my frogurt, but it was probably enough to get an onset bout of type one diabetes going. The general rule about TCBY is that every time you go in, you HAVE to try at least one topping you’ve never had before, so for my outing, I decided to opt for something called “chocolate rocks” - which were, well, chocolate, that was shaped like rocks. And next time around, I am definitely springing for those weird ass coconut looking-marshmallow things - or possibly some insects in Gummi form. Hell, if they had croutons as an option, I’m sure they’d somehow make it into the bowl, too.

The ambience for the place was pretty typical with lots of pastel hues, suspiciously smiley workers and overweight churchy folk decorating the interior of the building, while a bunch of people in their late thirties made out on the concrete patio directly outside the restaurant. Really, the atmosphere here is one of the least important factors behind the experience, as most people would just take their frogurt back to their car, turn on the AC, and chow down without even noting the rest of the hinterlands, anyway. The new TCBY is a restaurant designed for the lard-o on the go, most definitely - you just saunter in, pick up your half gallon of goop for you and your kids that weight the same amount as newborn hippopotami, and off you go.

As far as the quality of the foodstuff goes, come on, you know it’s freaking delicious. Even though my frogurt mash-up was glopped into the eatery’s smallest sized cup, I still felt pregnant with the Haagen-Dazs equivalent of the monster-baby from “It’s Alive!” after I ate it, and considering the relative frugality of the experience, TCBY is actually one of the more affordable national chains one may visit when he or she gets a hankering for some good old-fashioned, chemical-loaded mutant food. 

As you can see, I wasn't joking about those Little Debbie snack cakes, either.

Regarding the likelihood of TCBY succeeding where they faltered last time around, I think the chain has righted just enough wrongs to give themselves the capacity for mid-to-long term success as one of the smaller nationalized fast food chains in the country. Catering to a market hell-bent for lighter doses of saturated fats, I think the operation can definitely bring in the “health conscience, but still craving something with Sour Patch Kids on top of it” demographic, as well as the always dependable “college students stoned out of their mind” crowd. Seeing as how my local TCBY is right behind a Waffle House, I think there could definitely be some crossover in the “high/low” culture continuum, with the possibility that cretins of all social standings can flock from restaurant to restaurant jamming egg biscuits and vanilla frogurt down their throat holes until the wee hours of the morning. Hell, I might even be the one leading that particular charge, now that I think about it. 

It’s really hard to take a gander at this resurgent TCBY and not be, at lest a little, impressed. Like the Phoenix of mythological lore (or the Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League), TCBY has risen from the ashes of defeat and despair, being reborn as an warm and inviting haven for those among us seeking something cold and decorated with chopped up Butterfingers to wedge into our oral cavities. 

Rest assured, THIS is probably worth the lifetime of insulin shots (and the possibility of being uni-legged) subsequently. 

Take note, fast food aficionados - if you see one of these newfangled TCBY pads opening up near you, I think it’s well worth your time, effort and energies to give the place a try. I mean, hell, how many other times in modern history are you going to be able to taste a “FroGreGurt,” anyway?



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