Frozen Favorites

The self-serve yogurt trend has come to Tucson, thanks to BTO

Hey, frozen-yogurt fans: Imagine what frozen-yogurt heaven would look like.

It's a place where that first chilly spoonful makes you shut your eyes and sigh. Perhaps you serve yourself and get to choose from a variety of low-calorie flavors. However, there's no judging in yogurt heaven: If you want a mix of chocolate and mango yogurt, or maybe espresso and peanut butter, have it. Better yet—combine all four. Add some toppings; there's an abundance of fruit, sweet treats and sauces.

Now, place your one-of-a-kind creation on the scale. (It turns out that frozen-yogurt heaven charges by the ounce.)

Guess what? Yogurt heaven is real. It's more commonly known around here as BTO Self Serve Yogurt, and there are three locations in Tucson, and one in Marana (plus one in Greenville, Ohio). Another location is slated to open soon.

Self-serve yogurt is a new concept that has increased in popularity in recent years.

About three years ago, Doug and Dawn Carr decided to start a new venture. Initially, the two wanted to bring trendy Los Angeles yogurt chain Pinkberry to town. Pinkberry declined, and the Carrs soon discovered the self-serve concept. According to Doug, after developing their brand idea and creating their flavors, BTO Self Serve Yogurt opened in February 2009 at 6860 E. Sunrise Drive. Now, a mere eight months later, BTO is starting to branch out nationally. The Carrs own two locations so far, and have franchised out the other locations (including the BTO in Ohio).

BTO feels more like a destination than most frozen-yogurt joints. Free Wi-Fi is offered at all of the locations; there's also television and ample seating. It's kind of a high-tech-looking place with TV menus on the wall, but it doesn't deter from the yogurt, which is the first thing you'll see when you open the door.

First, grab a cup. Next, get some yogurt. A wall is lined with eight self-serve machines, and each machine has two flavors. Try them individually or swirled.

Now, on to the toppings bar. Choose fruit ranging from strawberry to lychee. There are decadent choices like cheesecake bites and crushed peanut-butter cups, as well as cereals and the classic sprinkles, chocolate chips and sauces like chocolate or butterscotch.

Finally, set your yogurt concoction on the weigh scale. It costs 39 cents per ounce. Get it? You're paying by the ounce, hence the BTO name.

What makes this yogurt so desirable?

"It's the perfect amount of sweetness," says customer Barbara Soto.

"It's healthy; this is potentially addicting," says repeat customer Kasia Ygnevska (who may already be addicted).

Doug says the yogurt starts with base powders: vanilla, chocolate and plain tart. From there, flavors like Oreo, New York cheesecake and peach tart are created. New flavors are always rotating into the machines, so you'll never get used to the same old thing.

"This is close to the consistency of ice cream, but we maintain the quality of the yogurt," says Doug.

They serve dairy and nondairy flavors that range from 73 to 88 calories per half-cup serving. Doug reminds us that, yes, the yogurt itself is healthy (even probiotic!)—but remember, he uses real ingredients, and Oreo cookies and New York cheesecake will add calories.

Michael Cunneely works at the Sunrise location. He has some crazy yogurt stories.

"Some people like Tabasco sauce on the plain tart," he claims.

Dawn says she thinks the self-serve yogurt concept has caught on because yogurt is a comfort food. Doug says people like the fact that people have control and can get what they want.

"It's an awesome, eye-opening experience," he says.