Betsy Schmandt hsBetsy SchmandtFrozen yogurt is one restaurant industry segment that’s certainly had its ups and downs over the years. While some companies have come and gone, one chain that has remained a steady presence is TCBY. It’s been 40 years since TCBY opened the chain’s very first location in Little Rock, Ark. And while much remains the same with its menu and service, a lot has changed for the franchise-driven chain with more than 250 locations. As part of its graceful aging process, TCBY continues to innovate both on the menu and with its restaurant design, with flexibility becoming a defining trait of the latter. Betsy Schmandt, TCBY’s president of franchising, discusses how the chain stays true to its roots while evolving with the ever-changing needs of its customers.

This year TCBY celebrates the frozen yogurt chain’s 40th anniversary. In what ways does TCBY stay true to its roots? And how has TCBY evolved for the better?

B.S.: With 40 years behind us we continue to be the country’s best yogurt. It’s right there in our name. We have really been one of the leaders in this space in nutrition. We were the first to offer a Greek frozen yogurt back in 2012. And we launched a Super FroYo that is low in fat and has seven times the active cultures. We continue to evolve to this day with flavors and toppings, too. We’ve added sorbets to the menu, and this summer we offered color-changing cups that customers are gobbling up. We now offer catering and even work with third-party delivery companies. So, 40 years later we are excited to still be going strong.

How did the events of the past 18 months or so impact TCBY’s development plans? (Units opened, units in development, changes to type of real estate you prefer, etc.)

B.S.: We’ve seen tremendous interest in potential franchisees wanting to open in our brand. In 2020 we saw twice as many units open as before and we are on track to do the same in 2021. There are three things underpinning that growth.

First, we’ve seen a huge jump in drive-thru sales, as have other restaurants. People are very interested in how to build out drive-thru. We have a store opening in St. Augustine, Fla., that’s a great example of the interest in and growth of drive-thru.

The second thing is delivery. People really love the convenience of delivery, but there’s more to it than that. Our Bayonne, N.J., location will offer a walk-up window and that will allow us to serve another daypart because it will be open late night. This is more of a metropolitan area where people are out and about on foot. The operators will close the main entrance to the restaurant, but folks will be able to walk up to the window to order a frozen treat from TCBY. This approach will cut down on labor, which is great.

Third, we have identified an opportunity in small spaces where utilities, for example, might be limited. These kiosk locations offer 12 flavors of hand scooped frozen yogurt in 100 square feet. This is getting a lot of interest in malls and airports. It’s a self-contained kiosk that has portable water, so you don’t have to plumb it. And serving hand scooped frozen yogurt — instead of soft-serve frozen yogurt — reduces the amount of electricity you will need because it alters the equipment package. Think of traditional ice cream but it’s frozen yogurt.

Let’s go back to the drive-thru for a moment. This isn’t a first for TCBY. How does it fit into the company’s plans moving forward?

B.S.: You’re right: It’s not our first drive-thru. We have about 25 others and some have been around for 20 or 30 years. This one is the first attached to a convenience store, though. It’s a ground up development. This location will have a dining room and offer counter service, too. This will simplify the speed of service for drive-thru.

There’s no denying drive-thrus have been the winner through the COVID experience. They provide the convenience and accessibility consumers want. Sometimes parents are driving their children from one activity to the next and want to stop for a convenient and healthy snack. Drive-thrus can help with that.

The walk-up window in New Jersey is an interesting new design feature. Lots of other chains have added walk-up windows, too. Will they become a standard part of the TCBY prototype moving forward?

B.S.: This is a brand-new feature for us, and we will watch it closely. In certain locations adding a walk-up window has a lot of merit. And it makes a lot of sense where there’s a lot of foot traffic. We are open to this if it works.

People do make TCBY a destination to celebrate certain personal or family milestones. Having a walk-up window makes it more convenient and spontaneous when you can drive up on your feet.

There’s been a lot of supply chain challenges in recent months. Has this impacted TCBY’s ability to build new stores?

B.S.: We’ve been really fortunate in this regard; we have heard these stories but on the development side it has not been a factor for us. Our construction efforts have remained on track, outside of the usual construction related issues. We’ve been very fortunate in that regard.

As the country emerges from the pandemic, what excites you most about the future of the restaurant industry?

B.S.: Times of adversity push companies to be creative and solve new customer needs. The pandemic has lit a fire under us in the foodservice industry to develop new and creative ways to meet consumers needs. Restaurants are not going anywhere. We just need to be flexible in meeting our customers’ needs. As the original frozen yogurt brand, we are excited to be here 40 years later. We have a model that works. The flexibility in store design works for multiunit operators as well as new store owners. It works for anyone who wants to get into frozen desserts. +