By Kris Kitto - 07/09/08 05:50 PM EDT
Remember fro-yo? That icy glop that passed for a healthy dessert in the 1980s? Well, it went to Los Angeles, got a makeover and has come to Washington to flaunt its new look.
Tangysweet, a spin-off of Pinkberry and the other fruitily named frozen yogurt chains offering the latest Hollywood celebutante accessories, opened in Dupont Circle in June.
The store’s owner, Washington native and Capitol Hill alumnus Aaron Gordon, also went west for a while to live a glam life in entertainment marketing. The ex-staff assistant to former Rep. L.F. Payne (D-Va.) eventually tired of the movie business and returned to the East Coast with a bright idea.
This new dessert is not ice milk, a “frozen dairy treat” or custard. Yes, it comes out of a soft-serve machine, but the first spoonful reveals a flavorful twist that tells you it’s different and delicious. It says, “There are live, active cultures in here” while tickling the palate with that pleasantly sour taste you’d detect if you were eating a cup of, say, Dannon Fruit on the Bottom.
Tangysweet’s frozen treat is made of yogurt; skim milk; water; a “very limited amount” of sugar, Gordon says; and a yogurt base that comes from an Italian vendor. It is all-natural, has no fat and contains less than 30 calories per ounce (a medium serving has approximately 175 calories).
Which brings us to yogurt’s fruit toppings, a feature Gordon calls “the stars of the show.” Visitors can opt for a serving of the store’s frozen yogurt, which comes in original, green tea and pomegranate flavors, with fresh blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, mangos, peaches, bananas, kiwi, pineapple or passion fruit. Dry toppings include almonds, coconut, granola, chocolate chips, crushed Oreo cookies, Cap’n Crunch cereal and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.
The store opened with a free day of desserts on June 6, and Gordon estimates that 2,000 people stopped by. Since then, he says, approximately 500 people buy his yogurt every day.
“We had no idea what we were in for,” he says.
But he did have an idea that frozen yogurt was the perfect entrée back into his hometown.
Gordon, 34, grew up in the Capitol Hill and Upper Northwest neighborhoods, graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in government and minority studies, and landed a job as a staff assistant in Payne’s office. He had laid the groundwork for a professional life in politics, but after a year of opening letters, he aborted his plan.
“I saw that, while exciting, and while fast-moving … it was going to be a difficult life in politics,” he says. “These are people that really want it, and really want to work hard. Your heart has to be fully devoted to it for your entire life to do it. And there’s a lot of competition on the Hill. I just didn’t think I’d be able to sustain that kind of love for it, basically.”
He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1990s and began work in the industry. After a shift from an entertainment-PR firm to the communications department of a trade-college system, he jumped on the late-1990s dot-com boom with a company he started that reviewed movie scripts. Like scores of other dot-coms, his company deflated, and Gordon started his own marketing and product-placement firm.
One day his sister, who had followed him to Los Angeles, persuaded Gordon to take the 50-minute drive from their Culver City home to Hollywood to try Pinkberry. “I was pissed off,” he said, noting his mood after the long car drive. “I made her wait in line; I sat in the car,” he recalls. “She brought it out. I tried it, and I was like, ‘This is awesome!’ ”
It took another year for Gordon to think through the prospect of bringing the updated frozen yogurt concept to Washington. For one, he had to evaluate how his hometown had changed since his departure in the mid-’90s.
“When I left, D.C. was like the Hawk ‘n’ Dove and Morton’s — those were the only places to go eat,” he says.
But several trips later proved that Washington was transforming into a modern, vibrant city.
He settled on a Dupont Circle location because “people live and play here,” and he spent between $400,000 and $500,000 on the space. Many of the store’s construction materials are environmentally friendly, and the space is illuminated by a neon-esque light system inspired by Gordon’s former home airport, Los Angeles International.
Gordon has come a long way from his days sorting mail on the Hill, but still follows politics. He helped run his father’s 2006 campaign for the District of Columbia City Council (they lost), and found this year’s Democratic presidential primary “fascinating.”
Gordon steers the conversation back to frozen yogurt — he’s working on introducing a mango yogurt flavor, adding new toppings like Heath candy bar to the lineup, and looking at real estate in Eastern Market and Penn Quarter for new Tangysweet locations.
A final point: “We’re not political here at Tangysweet. We just serve frozen yogurt and try to make people happy.”