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Mandy Calara is a realist when it comes to the state of the frozen yogurt business: As some markets reach a saturation point, more operators are struggling to maintain a workable stream of sales in their largely seasonal concept. But Calara thinks he’s found the answer. The Forever Yogurt founder launched Bee & Tea, a boba tea and bao sandwich concept available in various franchise packages that will allow yogurt shop operators to cobrand or renovate their business entirely.
Calara cut his chops growing Forever Yogurt, which he says was the first frozen yogurt brand in its Chicago home base. “We were facing some challenges expanding nationally because there are a lot of leaders in different regions in the U.S., and it’s very fragmented,” he says. “It’s a little expensive to build out some of these yogurt shops because they’re very heavy with equipment. You can have eight yogurt machines that are $15,000 each.”
Calara studied the popularity of boba tea, a Taiwanese tea-based drink made with tapioca pearls, in the San Francisco market and found its main consumer demographic was largely the same as frozen yogurt: young Millennials seeking unique dining experiences. Thus, Bee & Tea was born.
To make the concept more approachable, the menu features a limited selection of teas, flavored syrups, and flavored tapioca pearls guests can combine in a customizable drink. Offsetting the drink menu is a lineup of bao sandwiches featuring the steamed, soft, sweet buns popular in Chinese cultures. Traditional fillings like Korean barbecue pork and Thai curry chicken are served alongside Americanized options like cheeseburger or Nutella and banana.
The concept currently operates as a food truck in the Chicago area, and the first brick-and-mortar storefront will open in the city this month. Calara will also cobrand select Forever Yogurt shops to differentiate the menu offering. Beyond that, the Bee & Tea concept will be available to a variety of yogurt shop operators.
“The goal for this is to help independent shops across the U.S. that have closed or are performing not as good as they expected when opening, and what we’d like to do is rebrand and repackage those stores that could use a new spark,” Calara says.
Depending on the shop’s performance, interested operators will have the chance to simply add branded Bee & Tea offerings; cobrand their unit; or revamp entirely, keeping just one or two frozen yogurt machines.
“This way, they don’t have to get rid of the equipment they’ve invested in, and it’s nice to have that frozen yogurt offering with the [Bee & Tea] brand,” Calara says, adding that seasonality will no longer be a factor as bubble tea can be enjoyed hot or cold. “Bubble teas don’t take a lot of equipment. Tea brewers are $100–$150 per unit.”
The individualized approach to each unit will extend to design, Calara adds. Like many of his Forever Yogurt shops, new Bee & Tea units and cobrands will be designed with their neighborhood in mind.
Once the brand has gained traction, Calara says he will explore other concepts like coffee shops to help operators in that space diversify their menu offerings.
“There are so many [operators] looking for ways to increase their sales, and they can’t really figure out what else they can sell in the store,” he says.
By Tamara Omazic