This post is the first of two parts. To read Part 2, please click here.
Somewhere along Solomon Choi’s DNA helix there must be a franchising gene. His parents were multi-unit owners of the Todai sushi and seafood buffet franchise system in Southern California and Choi worked within the family business while studying marketing at University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business.
He learned more about food service when his family became developers of Bistro Ka; and by the time he was in his late-20s, Choi was head of his own chain of frozen yogurt franchises called 16 Handles, one of the most recognizable fro-yo brands in New York City and one of the first to push the self-serve concept to the Big Apple.
Today, 16 Handles is holding its own in the competitive Northeast market, with 37 stores (nine corporate-owned) in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Florida. With another 10 set to open soon, including those in Boston, Miami, and Washington, D.C., and 20 additional units in development, the franchise has grown by emphasizing quality and Choi measures its success not by number of units, but by the company’s ability to become a No. 1 competitor in new markets that it enters.
16 Handles seems to have achieved success by combining features of some of the other leading frozen yogurt chains—proprietary flavors, lively store interiors, social media interaction with customers, a choice between healthy and decadent desserts—incorporating them into a business model with key differentiators.
Conquering the Big Apple
Having seen the phenomenal expansion of the frozen yogurt sector in Southern California while living there, but knowing it would reach saturation, he set his sights on what he considered the next biggest market to be conquered: New York. Establishing a connection to the boroughs and America’s culinary capital, he believes, gives his brand a certain cachet (if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere).
Quality is a part of that cachet, and 16 Handles takes it a step further by offering both chef-created flavors, such as this summer’s special offerings—Fresh Peach, Blackberry, and Blood Orange Sorbetto—and toppings—Apple Cider Pound Cake, Crispy Crispix, and Goji Granola (a mix of all-natural granola with chia, Goji berries, and pumpkin seeds).