At Nella’s Frozen Yogurt, owner Jennifer Allen has the backs of the soft-serve machines labeled with images of classic rock stars: Paul McCartney, Gene Simmons, Steve Perry and others.
For utilitarian purposes, Allen could have simply adhered the softly churning units with letters, numbers or a banal combination of the two. But that, unlike the fluorescent splashes of color on the walls, wouldn’t be much fun.
“If I could have Journey (playing) here once an hour every hour, I would. But I don’t think that would bring a lot of customers in,” laughed the admittedly bubbly Columbine graduate, noting that the business’ cone-saturating palette of turquoise, hot pink and lime green was also a matter of personal taste. “Yogurt’s fun. That’s what it’s supposed to be. … The colors, my mom would never let me have on my bedroom wall.”
Nella’s, the name of which is the result of the owner’s name in reverse, opened April 14. The shop, which seats about 50, has an ever-evolving assortment of 16 different flavors and 52 toppings. Customers fill their own cups, mixing flavors and sprinkling garnishes ranging from cereal to crushed peanut butter cups in a buffet-style line.
At 39 cents per ounce, the average cup of yogurt costs less than $4, said Allen, who months ago left her job with an Idaho-based homebuilder to develop the yogurt business.
Making Nella’s a self-serve operation was a non-negotiable aspect of her plan, said Allen, who won’t let anyone dictate how many sprinkles she puts on her own dessert.
“I am kind of bossy. … I don’t like people doing what I know I can do better. I just think there’s something about choice and getting to choose how little or how much you want. Nobody likes being told what they have to have,” said the 2002 graduate, who not surprisingly was elected class president. “I really feel food’s an experience. You get to come up with a creation. Once you get your favorite flavors, you get to top it off with your favorite toppings — hot fudge or peanut butter.”
The business is a contrast to the once-ubiquitous yogurt shops of the early ’90s. Though the offerings are similar, Nella’s polished ambience is an attempt to make the shop a welcoming hangout for students.
And despite a decade-long dominance by ice cream, frozen yogurt is making a comeback, Allen said. She realized the potential for such a business in South Jeffco after seeing the prevalence of yogurt shops in Texas, where her younger sister was attending college.
“Down there, there’s a lot of frozen-yogurt stores, so when we would go down to visit, as a family, we ended the night with some frozen yogurt,” she said. “(Soon) there’ll be a lot of frozen yogurt in the market. … Everything kind of has a life cycle.
“I think we could see the trend coming, and we wanted to stake our claim. We needed to pick the areas that we wanted to be in, first.”
Making Nella’s a family operation was more important, she said, than what the shop sold. Testifying to that, her father, Rick, manages the payroll for the shop’s 20 employees. And when the machines get low, he adds yogurt. Her mother, Lorie, picks out the shop’s fruit. And her sister, Jessica, a 2006 Columbine graduate, tends to the register part time. Even her uncle, a dentist, is responsible for the abstract paintings on the walls.
“My dad never probably even made a PB&J. Food was not his thing, and so to him this is more cooking than he’s done in his entire life, and it’s not even cooking,” she said. “I wanted to do something with my family, and I wanted to do something where I could interact with the customers and maybe change their day, get to know people better (and) not sit behind a desk.”
Though Nella’s has the unblemished appearance of an established franchise, managing the nascent business is at times challenging, Allen said. She received about 300 applications for jobs at the South Jeffco store, and she recently opened another location in the Denver Tech Center.
“With this type of job, there’s a lot of high school kids, so there’s a lot of turnover … always new faces,” said Nella’s assistant manager Caitie Grant, a fellow Columbine grad and friend of the Allen family. “It’s just been two weeks, but for us it feels like months, since we’ve been talking about (Nella’s) forever.”
And making certain that ingredients — pre-made yogurt flavors and dozens of toppings — are in adequate supply has so far been the most difficult task, Allen said, adding that the South Jeffco location drew about 2,000 customers on its busiest day.
“Right now it’s managing inventory, just because things fly off the shelves,” she said.
And though the yogurt aficionado has her pick of dozens of flavors and countless combinations, she admits a bias for the simple classics.
“I’m pretty much a chocolate-vanilla (person),” she said. “But I have a different flavor every day. I guess the one benefit of owning the place is that you get to experiment.”
Nella's Frozen Yogurt
8086 W. Bowles Ave.
Littleton, CO 80123
Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday – Saturday 10 a.m. to midnight
Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.