Brian Mendler's career has come full circle.
A former elementary school teacher, Mendler has written several books on teaching and now has a consulting firm. But his latest endeavor has him working with children again, in a sense.
"I was traveling all over the country doing other jobs," Mendler, 37, says. "I kept seeing these really long lines at frozen yogurt stores and I knew Rochester didn't have one (at that time). So we decided it would be a really cool thing to do here."
Thus was born the idea for Yolickity Frozen Yogurt, a yogurt buffet Mendler started a year ago with business partner Jon Crabbe.
"It's the most fun thing I've ever had in terms of business. The best thing is watching the little kids," Mendler says. "We really gear our store toward little kids. You can see them run up (the ramp) and how excited they are to go in. It's the best thing about it."
Yolickity has some 15 employees at its Webster location and recently opened a second store in Greece. Mendler expects to have roughly 17 employees at the new location during its busy summer season.
While he declines to discuss revenues, Mendler says the business has exceeded his and Crabbe's projected numbers in its first year of business.
"We've done very well," Mendler says, noting that similar stores have begun to crop up around Rochester. "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
Yolickity offers 18 flavors of frozen yogurt that customers dispense themselves in one of three different sized cups. Some 40 toppings are available, from candy and fresh fruit to cereal and hot fudge. Customers are charged 46 cents an ounce for their creations.
"We have something for everyone," Mendler says. "We always have a no-sugar-added option and we always have a dairy-free option as well."
The company also offers birthday parties and catering services.
Yolickity does not have traditional small, medium or large size bowls, and the company offers a rewards program that allows customers to earn free yogurt, which sets it apart from competition, Mendler says.
More important, he says, is that Yolickity gives back to the community. The business has a fundraiser program that can help some 40 organizations in Webster, Penfield and Rochester raise money through the store. On Christmas last year store employees served yogurt to 250 homeless people at a shelter in Rochester.
Though Mendler already was an entrepreneur, he says the amount of time and dedication it takes to run a high-end store surprised him.
"It never stops," he says. "The business never stops. You think you close at a certain time, but you don't. It really is all the time when you own a retail business."
And while he and Crabbe are flattered that so many other entrepreneurs have mimicked their idea and opened similar stores, Mendler says it can be frustrating when market share fluctuates as a result. Hence the opening of the new store in Greece.
"If you told me five years ago I'd own a frozen yogurt store in Rochester, N.Y., I would have told you you were crazy, but here we are," he says. "We're looking for locations right now in Rochester and Buffalo to open more stores. And hopefully within five years we'll have 10 stores, but who knows? It'd be great if we did."
The best piece of advice he could give others contemplating a new business is to know what you are good at and know what you struggle with, he says.
"Surround yourself with people who are really good at your weaknesses. That's why Jon and I work extraordinarily well together. We're extremely different personalities," Mendler advises. "I think a reason businesses fail is because they think they're good at everything or they're too proud to know what they're not good at. That's been the most valuable thing for me in my business life and my regular life."
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