16 Handles, a New York-based frozen yogurt concept, has been acquired by its largest franchisee and a YouTube personality. 

Terms of the deal for the roughly 30-unit concept weren’t disclosed. 

The new millennial owners—27-year-old operator Neil Hershman and social media star Danny Duncan—plan to expand 16 Handles outside the Tri-State area through franchising. 16 Handles is based in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Florida. 

Hershman, the company’s new CEO, owns five 16 Handles stores and operates two other dessert concepts. He was responsible for opening New York City’s first brick-and-mortar Dippin’ Dots location in the Flatiron District, before debuting two more in Brooklyn and Times Square. The young entrepreneur also opened a Captain Cookie & the Milkman store in NYC. 

The executive said 16 Handles has potential to “dominate in countless other markets across the country.” He added that soft serve and frozen yogurt is an attractive model for franchisees because of its high margins and low labor costs. 

“16 Handles created a brand for a broader demographic—not just kids—and continues to bring in new customers with its head turning partnerships, ranging from Broadway shows like Dear Evan Hansen to national food and beverage partners like Junior’s Cheesecake and Oatly,” Hershman said in a statement. “With the new ownership, 16 Handles has both the benefits of an established business, having decade old stores with continued revenue increases year-over-year, and a startup, with the ability to test and launch innovative ideas and partnerships quickly and efficiently.”

Duncan, whose YouTube channel has more than 1.5 billion views and generated more than $50 million in merchandise sales across 2020-2021, will serve as chief creative officer. His products are available in more than 1,500 retail stores, and more than 70 percent of his audience ranges between ages 18 and 34. 

He plans to open a franchise location in his hometown of Englewood, Florida. 

“It’s important for me to invest in a company that has a great product, but also a company that brings people happiness,” Duncan said in a statement. “I recognized 16 Handles’ success in New York City and knew if it could succeed there, it could succeed anywhere.

The chain was founded by Solomon Choi 14 years ago in Manhattan’s East Village. It claims to be the first self-serve frozen yogurt shop in NYC. 16 Handles began with self-serve frozen yogurt, but has evolved several times over the years, including cakes and frozen treats (2011), chef-inspired toppings (2012), artisan flavors (2013), smoothies (2014), milkshakes and frappés (2016), ice cream (2017), gelato (2018), cashew milk soft serve (2019), Dō Cookie Dough (2020) and oatmilk soft serve (2021).

“I came to New York City in my 20s and started 16 Handles as part of my lifelong dream and passion to create my own brand and build it into something great. Today, I see this same desire and fire in Neil as a successful franchisee who will now take over the direction of this iconic New York City dessert brand,” Choi said in a statement. “I want to see 16 Handles grow and evolve, and Neil has the right mindset to set lofty goals and put the right plan together, which is exactly the type of leadership the brand needs.”

Fast Casual, Finance, Franchising, Growth, Story, 16 Handles