Only 150 feet of Second Avenue sidewalk and two businesses separate two of the most popular frozen yogurt shops in the Upper East Side: the trendy Pinkberry and the newcomer 16 Handles. A crowd of 16 Handles loyalists waits in line, sometimes up to 20 minutes, to experience its unique variety of yogurt flavors and topping combinations. Pinkberry fans, on the other hand, disregard the long line next door and enjoy what they consider to be the freshest yogurt flavors that perfectly match their name.
Pinkberry thrived comfortably on the corner of Second Avenue and 82nd Street since 2007 until new fan favorite 16 Handles began renting space two doors down in December 2011. With an energetic air and self-serve style, 16 Handles attracts Upper East Siders new to the “fro-yo” scene and creates crowds that overshadow the local Pinkberry loyalists.
Pinkberry, the original tart frozen yogurt shop that arrived in West Hollywood in 2005, maintains more of a minimalist approach when it comes to its frozen yogurt. The only flavor sported year-round is original tart; five additional flavors—currently chocolate hazelnut, pomegranate, peanut butter, mango and coconut—fluctuate along with the seasons. Maintaining a light and clean appearance, Pinkberry appeals to health-conscious New Yorkers that occasionally fall victim to a sweet tooth.
Vibrant pink and green signs outfit the 16 Handles storefront while the inside emanates with pumping upbeat tunes and a sugary scent. Fun digital animations display the day’s 16 yogurt flavors, ranging from tart fruit sorbets to delectable recreations of New York cheesecake. Launched in New York in 2008, 16 Handles now manages eight locations throughout Manhattan, creating direct competition with four of Pinkberry’s 13 Manhattan shops. What’s more, 16 Handles plans to open two additional downtown locations soon.
The calorie contents of both chains are almost identical; 3.5 ounces of Pinkberry yogurt ranges from 100 to 170 calories, and 3 ounces of 16 Handles yogurt ranges from 83 to 160 calories. The price differential, however, can be somewhat significant. 16 Handles operates on a pay-per-ounce setup, charging $0.52 per ounce of yogurt and toppings, or $0.60 per ounce of yogurt only. When converted to ounces, Pinkberry sells their small, 5-ounce cup without toppings for $0.83 per ounce and increases it to $1.09 per ounce with toppings. Yet, consumers tend to pay around $5 per cup of yogurt at both venues, suggesting that the self-serve style at 16 Handles encourages customers to eat twice as much as portion-controlled Pinkberry lovers.
New “fro-yo” lovers in the Upper East Side attribute their new addiction to the fun atmosphere, the plethora of yogurt flavors and toppings, and the create-it-yourself design at 16 Handles. “We had never been to any other place before, and we have already come here four times in the past two weeks,” said local Upper East Sider Barbara, who was enjoying a Sunday afternoon snack with her husband.
Young college couple Lovonne and Tvrtko felt a similar attachment to their weekly dessert stop. “It’s so colorful and fun; it makes you feel like a kid,” said Lovonne. “We liked them on Facebook and everything.”
Pinkberry loyalists, on the other hand, are not as impressed with the 16 Handles operation. “I think it’s kind of gross,” said Erica, an Upper East Sider since childhood. “Everyone puts their fingers on the handles and under the yogurt dispensers and in the toppings.” Others question the freshness of the fruit toppings, a skepticism that never arises at Pinkberry where they cut all of the fresh fruit daily.
Pinkberry’s manager on duty Khaaliq Johnson acknowledges the battle of the yogurt shops as good, old-fashioned fun. “It’s like a New York Mets and Yankees type of thing. The Mets are cool, but the Yankees are better,” said Johnson. On the other hand, 16 Handles’ shift leader Jonathan Castro alleges that several random kids publicly destroyed 16 Handles’ cups in front of Pinkberry to receive free frozen yogurt from the competition earlier this year.
The differing styles of the two shops inspire new loyalists each day to decide on which side of the 150 feet of sidewalk they fall. Folks with complex cravings and budgeting brains head over to 16 Handles while health-conscious consumers enjoy their afternoon treat without guilt at Pinkberry. This neighborhood may be big enough for the two of them; but, at the end of the day, their fate lies in the spoons of their loyalists.
Originally written for my graduate writing/reporting workshop