Swirlberry froyo hits A2
Plus more marketplace changes
by Sally Mitani
In the rest of the world, a dessert that's good for you is an oxymoron, but in the United States it's a perennially reliable business plan. Frozen yogurt has come roaring back into the picture after a few decades of slumber. Unlike the 1980s TCBY and imitators, the new froyo (as it's called by the yognoscenti who have blog wars about brand loyalty) is very tart and contains added probiotics. The leading new-generation chains--Pinkberry and Red Mango--haven't reached Michigan yet, but Ann Arbor has its own homegrown entrants: Yogo Bliss on South U and now Swirlberry on State Street. (Yogo Bliss also is working on a State Street store, in the old Ritz Camera space.)
Swirlberry is owned by Nico Leo and Gaal Karp and was developed with the help of Plum Market owners Matt and Marc Jonna, who have a licensing agreement to sell it there.
Made to the owners' specifications in a dairy in the Midwest that Leo declines to name, Swirlberry comes in about half a dozen flavors, as well as several flavors of nondairy sorbet. The sour tang is a much-prized attribute among true believers, making the "Original Tart," the most puckery, the best-selling flavor. Leo refuses to brook comparisons with other froyos, and he's particularly irked that he gets compared to Pinkberry. And what about the two ice cream shops, Ben and Jerry's and Stucchi's, across the street? That just makes him laugh: "Not an issue. We're not in competition. While you can doctor things up to make it a dessert," at twenty-nine calories an ounce, he says, Swirlberry is so healthy that "people use our product as a meal replacement."
If you want to keep the calorie count low, exercise restraint at the self-serve bar. For 65 cents an ounce you can mix and match any of the flavors and add whatever topping you want from a vast selection of fresh fruits, nuts, cereals, and candy. Fresh strawberries are the favorite topping, says
Leo, and mochi is, he admits, is decidedly the least favorite. Mochi is a Japanese confection made from rice flour with a gummy texture.
Plum Market sells Swirlberry in its coffeeshop in four- and ten-ounce servings, toppings extra. (Consumer alert: the putative four-ounce serving is really close to eight ounces--a good value, but it can throw off your diet).
Swirlberry, 209 S. State. 222-1707. Sun.-Thurs. noon-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon-11 p.m. www.swirlberry.com
Weng's Kitchen becomes Maple Gardens
Weng's Kitchen, a small, homey Chinese restaurant in the Miller-Maple Plaza, quietly became Maple Gardens Chinese Restaurant a few months ago. New owner Sam Lin says the Wengs wanted to retire. Lin had worked for several years at a Chinese restaurant in Canton and wanted to own his own place. Lin brought some of his favorite recipes with him. "New dish you must try! Crispy Chicken in Yummy Sauce," advises a sign in the window. (It's deep-fried chicken bits that are sauteed a second time in a sweet lemony brown sauce, like a subtler, toned-down sweet-and-sour.) Lin, like Weng's, delivers, though he says it's been a challenge, because he's still new to the area. He's game if you are.
Maple Gardens, 1506 N. Maple (Miller-Maple Plaza). 669-8889. Mon.-Thurs. 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Sun 4-10 p.m. www.mymaplegardens.com
Sweet U closes
Sweet U, the tiny bulk candy store tucked into a nook between Oasis Grill and Rendez-Vous Cafe on South University, closed in July. Mike Abi, manager of Rendez-Vous, thinks he knows why. "People, they don't like candy!" he says disapprovingly. "It's not good for you! Also the economy--people want to spend their money on something more healthy," he says, gesturing toward his fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies.
Oasis, Sweet U, and Rendez-Vous are all owned by Nizar Elawar. He plans to replace the candy shop with a place that sells pizza by the slice, but it's a big project, Abi says, requiring a new hood and ventilation system and pizza ovens, so it won't happen overnight.
[Originally published in September, 2009.]