Punk'dberry or the Madness of Crowds. Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt. Hollywood, CA. (Melrose Ave.)

punkdberry

I’m a born optimist but also a trained skeptic. When I hear about something being heralded as the latest “to die for” thing, I react with an initial shudder of excitement followed shortly by thunderous doubt. Now if this news is coming from someone I know and trust, my initial excitement is decorated with glee, anticipation and even a sense of well-being; the doubt part is tempered or maybe nonexistent depending on the messenger.

You should also know that I’m not an early adopter. I don’t have the latest gadget as soon as it’s released. I don’t bother with seeing a film on the opening weekend. I don’t need to be the first one on the block to own the brand new Pussycat Dolls CD. This “Johnny-come-lately” mindset usually includes food trends and especially snack food trends. Snacks like doughnuts.

No snack food in recent history has made the kind of impact on a national level like Krispy Kreme Doughnuts has. At its pinnacle, Krispy Kreme was still a relatively new phenomenon in California, but this former doughnut juggernaut was nothing new to other parts of the country like the east coast. Some years ago while I was visiting New York City, my sister invited me to have a taste of the famous doughnut that I've only heard fantastic chronicles about. These were crazy tales of how people waited desperately in hour long lines that piled out of Krispy Kreme's door onto the street and into the freezing sleet. These generally rational individuals voluntarily endured these miserable, Eastern Bloc conditions just for a bite of a glazed doughnut. "What kind of idiots are these?" I asked myself. I couldn't believe it. I had to try one.

I was under strict orders from my sister to only enter the Krispy Kreme shop when the “HOT NOW” neon sign was illuminated (an ingenious bit of marketing if not a little gimmicky). This beacon promised to all that a fresh batch of hot doughnuts had just rolled out of the Krispy Kreme doughnut machine. Also, when this "HOT NOW" sign lit up, an enormous crowd of demented doughnut devotees suddenly materialized from thin air creating a frightfully lengthy queue that went out the door. Thankfully, I happened to be near the front of it.

Anticipation was thick in the air as I gripped my first Krispy Kreme Doughnut. It was light and irresistably arromatic like the scent of its birthplace, almost floral. I took a chomp. A nice portion of the Original Glazed doughnut tumbled about in my mouth like a bready piece of Cabernet. I wanted to experience every note of this legendary snack and fully appreciate all of its well-documented wonders. I was more than willing to join the Kult of Krispy Kreme, that army of aficionados who are happy to wait in line an hour or more for their doughnut fix. I truly wanted to get it. I wanted to believe. Certainly, it was a good doughnut, toothsome, slightly airy and extra sweet, though it wasn’t a brilliant doughnut. After consuming it I knew I wouldn’t need to eat another one right away or ever again. In the end I just wasn’t sure what all the hysteria was about.

Today Krispy Kreme as a mania has been relegated to the food fad files of pop culture shows. With its stock dropping figuratively and literally, Krispy Kreme’s sudden and dramatic decline can be attributed to many factors like capricious consumers, Krispy Kreme Korp’s overexpansion, market saturation, Dr. Robert Atkins and, really, a “not all that” product.

The nature of trends and fads is the fast rise in popularity and just as rapid fall of a thing. It makes no difference if the thing is a pop band or Pop Rocks. Later in life, the best these trendy discards can hope for is nostalgic value.

I’m not surprised that Krispy Kreme lost its luster so quickly mainly because I don’t think the doughnut ever lived up to its impossible reputation. However, I don’t feel it’s impossible to live up to legendary levels of expectation either. Take for example the beignets at Café Du Monde in New Orleans. For years I had heard stories about the venerable coffee and beignet stand. Established in 1862 and located in the New Orleans French Market, Café Du Monde serves heavenly squares of crispy, delicate dough topped with a heap of confectioner’s sugar. Pair three beignets with a cup of hot Café Du Monde’s chicory coffee and you’ve not only eaten something simple and delicious but you’ve tasted a grand part of New Orleans (the part without the bourbon and the barf). Café Du Monde’s beignets are only available in Louisiana at seven locations so they’re not easy to come by (if you don’t happen to live near a branch). These beignets were probably not invulnerable to the low-carb diets and probably saw a drop in sales for a time, but unlike Krispy Kreme, Café Du Monde was able to bounce back and open more locations. This is not to say that if Café Du Monde decided one day to aggressively expand and saturate the market with its beignets, it would not see the same fate as Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Those factors aside, Café Du Monde's beignets possess the taste, quality and cachet that will protect it from food fad fate.

My day late dabbling into trendy foods would also lead me into the bakery world where I would evaluate overpriced cupcakes like the ones offered at Manhattan’s Magnolia Bakery. I’m a big Sex and the City fan but even one of my favorite television shows couldn’t sell me on the allure of these cupcakes. The show, however, did help Magnolia Bakery sell lots of cupcakes to locals and tourists alike with lines around the block. Funny thing is the day I tried my first Magnolia Bakery cupcake was also the day I walked right by Sarah Jessica Parker as I was crossing Sixth Avenue at Eighth Street. I couldn’t help staring at her with my mouth agape, and I tried hard to keep the drool in my mouth. Sensing my intense gaze, she looked up and said, “Hi. Hello.” My drool pooled onto my “I heart NY” hoodie. I was completely stunned. It was like being in an outtake of Sex and the City. Even if my cupcakes weren’t crazy delicious, strolling right by Carrie Bradshaw, to use her colorful language, abso-fuckin’-lutely was.

The cupcake fad has strutted its length of the catwalk and is on the way out. However, eagerly taking its place is the real frozen yogurt trend led by the Pinkberry chain in Los Angeles. Pinkberry’s tart and subtly sweet flavors and addictive qualities have been the talk of Los Angeles foodies and food bloggers. Even the LA Times boasts that Pinkberry is “The taste that launched 1000 parking tickets,” a reference to Pinkberry’s notorious West Hollywood location where legal parking is virtually impossible. The implication also being that a serving of Pinkberry is worth the cost of a $60 parking ticket. I could hold out no longer.

Diane and I planned to visit Pinkberry’s Melrose location during what we hoped would be a slow point in the store’s day which was about 5pm on a Friday. We planned wrong and had to wait in the infamous Pinkberry line that snaked out the door and onto the parking lot. But as others have mentioned, if you’ve never had Pinkberry before, the line actually serves you well by giving you time to observe what other people order, decide what to order and get to know some real life Pinkberry addicts and find out why their lives are so empty. Our wait time was about twenty minutes. Not bad, relatively speaking.

We decided to each get a different yogurt flavor (there are only two flavors – plain and green tea). We also decided to get the small size because it was our first time. The trickiest part of placing your order is determining which of the many toppings go well with the plain or green tea frozen yogurt. But don’t count on the cashier to dispense any helpful words of wisdom. When I asked her what toppings would go well with my green tea selection, she, without much thought, replied, “They’re all good.”

It’s all good, homegirl! Right on! So I picked pineapple. For Diane I requested the walnuts and mango toppings on her plain frozen yogurt.

At last, we got the yogurts. I whipped out the spork and dug in. The first bite was very good, nicely tart and just sweet enough. But the pineapple topping was not harmonizing at all with the green tea flavor. It might’ve been the worst topping to pair with my flavor. So I removed some of the pineapple to get to just the yogurt and continued eating. Weirdly, the more I ate the less I experienced that initial pleasant taste and now it just seemed bland. I tried Diane’s plain. It was good but I detected none of its acclaimed tartness and mild sweetness. It almost seemed watered down. If this is what people have been nicknaming Crackberry, then the version I had was largely cooked with baking soda and not much cocaine.

pinkberry froyoCold but so not cool.

This lackluster flavor may or may not be a matter of taste but what clearly is a flagrant form of “watering down” is the stingy swirl with the hollow center. This likely is the most time consuming skill to master as a Pinkberrista. If you’ve ever tried your hand at swirling a soft serve cone the legitimate way, then you can appreciate how difficult it must be to construct a swirl of fro-yo with nothing but air at the bottom - it’s difficult and deliberate and that’s just plain (or green tea) deceptive. The only acceptable hollow snack, in my opinion, is a chocolate Easter bunny, and I, as far as I know, didn't order one. Besides, even a chocolate bunny lets you know in advance that it is in fact hollow.

Where is Pinkberry's sign or product label disclosing this hollow bottom? There ought to be one and it should read: Pinkberry customer, be advised, the frozen yogurt you are about to enjoy is half-empty or half-full. (Depending on your disposition.) Instead, Pinkberry treats its customers like half-wits and thinks, maybe, nobody will notice.

How would Pinkberry like it if its supplier delivered cans of mango toppings with big empty cylinders running through the centers making it appear as if the cans were full of fruit? Not very much, I’m guessing. I’m also guessing that there’s no good reason other than for Pinkberry’s benefit to do this. I mean, does the air in the center magically awaken Pinkberry’s popular tartness and thus give the customer a better experience? I'm guessing not.

It’s just not sound business. What else is Pinkberry cutting corners on? From a business standpoint, it’s not worth it. People will tire of this treatment once the hype inevitably fades. This is the kind of practice a company implements in order to maximize short-term gains. Unless, of course, Pinkberry is onto itself and realizes that this real frozen yogurt craze is only a fad and is doing all it can to get as much out of it while the gettin’ is good.

However, indications show that Pinkberry is strategizing for the long haul with 30 more locations in the works. So if the cheap “pour” doesn’t slow down the Pinkberry bullet train, perhaps overexpansion will. How about a Krispy Kreme with your Pinkberry?

This is by no means an obituary piece for Pinkberry but even Chuck Berry, the still living, 80 year-old, rock and roll icon, has his ready to go in newspapers all over the world when he kicks it. But, if food fad cycles prove accurate, Mr. Chuck Berry may just outlive Pinkberry, and this fro-yo chain may need that obit sooner rather than later.

Comments

Juliet said…
I'd be complaining about the hollow yogurt, too. What a ripoff! I don't think I've ever had frozen yogurt that's all that great, except for at Stucchi's in Ann Arbor. And even that is only okay after the first few times.
I've never in my life tasted a Krispy Creme.
elmomonster said…
Well, that about does it for PinkBerry. I haven't even tried it yet, but this review has put the kibosh on my curiosity for it. And that hollow center you got is nothing short of fraud.

When the PinkBerry train (or the others brands) comes rolling to OC, I will try it just to try it, but with your scathing critique in mind. The infectious enthusiasm of other bloggers notwithstanding, yours is the opinion I was waiting to hear most. And the fact that you had to break into your regularly scheduled "Deep End" programming to put this message out (with the title "Punk'dberry") says volumes.
Chubbypanda said…
Word, Eddie. Word. I've always found it amusing that we share the same last name, and know I know why. You too share my appreciation for the value of our hard-earned lucre, and the outrage when it feels like someone is gypping us. Screw hollow centers in Pinkberry fro-yo. Screw the steamed cabbage mound hidden underneath that plate of kung pao chicken. Screw non-refillable soft drinks that are all crushed ice. Screw $3+ for any mixed caffinated drink that isn't at least a third boba, dammit! We worked for those dollars! That's blood and sweat money they're stealing from us!

Ahem! In Pinkberry's defense, I believe they weigh all the fro-yo. So, while I deplore the fact that it's swirled to make it look bigger (and hence help justify the markup), they did give you the exact amount that they charged you for.

Too bad it was mostly bullshit.

You rule. Keep on rocking, my friend, and thank you for this public service announcement.

- Chubbypanda
Tokyoastrogirl said…
Nice investigative reporting, DED. What a rip!
Rose said…
Down in Australia, we have no choice about being 'a day late'. Try several years. Krispy Kreme only opened doors in my state a year or so ago, and opened the first Melbourne store about a month ago. But I will be a brat and sing the praises of their doughnuts nonetheless. Maybe it's still the honeymoon period.

About PinkBerry.. strange! That's not good at all - I'd be annoyed about a hollow centre too. Being the absolute alien I am, I have to ask - how much do they sell for?
Subtle flavours are all good and well, but what in the heck do they suppose should go with green tea flavoured yoghurt?

Well, I'm sure I'll find out in about ten years time when PinkBerry decides to come to Australia.
Brian Gage said…
1. I told you to get the live squid sashimi yogurt.

2. i'm a pb fanatic and have to defend one thing: they weigh their yogurt by the serving size, so the "hollow" wasn't actually a rip off - just what you paid for...

3. When are you gracing us again with your presence?
cliff said…
Two thumbs up for you, good thing you publish this on your blog
Colleen Cuisine said…
The Pinkberry trend is totally over. Yeah, that's right, I said it.
Eddie Lin said…
juliet,

frozen yogurt is a nice thing. pinkberry is a nice thing but it's not worth $3 for a tiny little half full cup of plain no topping fro-yo and certainly not worth the half hour wait.


elmo,

try it. you may like it more than me, but i doubt it. this thing is mainly fueled by hype.


chubbypanda,

i'd gladly wait in line for a thrifty's ice cream cone at the local rite-aid over the ordeal at pinkberry. it's just fro-yo, y'know.

yes, they do weigh their servings but my point is the hollow swirl serves no purpose other than to make the product look larger than it is. that's deceiving.


tokyoastrogirl,

thanks. have you tried pinkberry yet?


rose,

i'll happily ship you a sample of pinkberry so you won't have to wait ten years just to be disappointed. heehee. was that too nasty?


brian,

1) sashimi pinkberry: i wish.

2) hollow bottom is still a hollow bottom. it is misleading. it's like everything else in LA...trying to be bigger than it actually is. pinkberry's swirling practice is the fro-yo equivalent of a guy stuffing his pants with rolled up socks. not that i would know what that's like.


3) you will see me during the next full moon at your window. keep it cracked open.


cliff,

you're welcome. thanks for reading.


colleen,

you got influence over there in the world of pinkberry. (don't you own majority stock in the company? joking, everyone.) can you let ms. pinkberry know that this hollow swirl nonsense just makes them look bad.

clearly they know how pathetic their serving size appears so they hollow out the center. so either

a) sell a solid serving of what you offer now, meaning not hollow and more fro-yo. or

b) serve without the hollow bottom and show people how miniscule this overpriced fro-yo actually is.

easy. oh yeah, also make the fro-yo taste better. that's all.
Big Tasty said…
I can't help but agree. Although I like the fresh yogurty taste that Pinkberry has, hypes generally don't pan out the way they should.

Let's see some organ meats already!

Have you tried the fried frogs at Palm Thai? I haven't...

I also agree about the Krispy Kreme thing, they're good, but nope not all that.

Making donuts at home is much better!
Dan said…
Since the yogurt is sold by weight, I don't see how the technique is a ripoff. I find it makes it easy to mix in the topping.

Next time, if you have one, discuss the toppings with the locals. The green tea is for tourists.
Eddie Lin said…
big tasty,

fried frogs. ribbit. yum. burp.


dan,

"Since the yogurt is sold by weight, I don't see how the technique is a ripoff." it may not be a "ripoff" but it is deceptive. making a product look bigger than it is, that's deceiving. plus, this weight thing is really confounding. who cares if they weight it. is there a frozen yogurt standard of serving size pinkberry is adhering to? no. they could be serving a 2 ounce or 8 ounce yogurt if they wanted. the point is: don't make your 2 ouncer look like an 8 ouncer.

"Next time, if you have one, discuss the toppings with the locals. The green tea is for tourists."

Sorry, dude, didn't know customer service it was the customer's job. and i didn't realize green tea is for tourists either. not sure what the reasoning is behind that one...care to explain? by the way, i did try the plain and it was very plain.
KT said…
Totally agreed on the Pinkberry phenom, as you know.

And while I'm not too incensed at the hollow center, I think the pants-stuffing analogy is pretty apt. Especially since looking at the large size made my stomach hurt without even ordering it, it looked so gigantic.

Now that I have read Jonathan Gold's assessment of Fiore's green tea yogurt flavor as tasting like "low tar cigarettes," I have this strange compulsion to try it. I am sick and I need help.
Robert said…
Hey Eddie,

We went with a group of friends and I don't remember if any of us got a hollow center. Regardless, this email is about two things.

1. If by some miracle you do happen to go again, then try this flavor combo - strawberries, Captain Crunch, and mochi. The sweet crunchiness of the cereal with the chewy mochi, and the fresh fruit is a great combo with Pinkberry's tart yogurt. It was the standout combo out of all our friends, and alos happpened to be the recommendation of one of the servers.

2. Parking is no joke here. We dropped off friends and circled around the block because we couldn't find parking. We pulled over momentarily to let other cars go by, and this was our mistake. Apparently, the parking nazis in West Hollywood think its okay to mail you your parking ticket if they can't attach one to your "momentarily stopped, engine still running, driver behind the wheel" car. I suppose that the city won't need meter maids anymore driving around the city, just a fold up chair to sit in while writing down license plates of cars who teeter on the edge of the smallest infraction.

If anything brings down Pinkberry, it won't be the hollow core yogurt serving deception, but the City Parking dictatorship.
Eddie Lin said…
kt,

thanks for visiting again. yes, jonathon gold's "low-tar cigarette" description of fiore's fro-yo made me quite curious and crave it. but, then again, i am a smoker. addiction sucks. maybe nicotine is the secret ingredient in all this stuff and that's why there are all the crackberry addicts. it's all beginning to make sense.


robert,

how are you? thanks for the comment.

actually the hollow center thing is documented on other foodblogs as well like lafoodblogging. maybe they stopped the practice. i hope so.

yeah, parking is tough at the pinkberries. i didn't have too much difficulty at the melrose store and i didn't see a single parking nazi patrolling either. i'll definitely avoid the westwood branch...that is if i ever go back for a second try.
people keep saying the taste of pinkberry is an acquired one. maybe that's part of the insidious scam too. it's all too fishy.
BoLA said…
Did I read CC write that "the Pinkberry trend is totally over"????? LOL!

Dude... I would have been p*ssed with that hollow center too! The first time I went, I was sold on the stuff. But the second time just wasn't as good, and I haven't been back since.

Eh... I still prefer Pazzo Gelato. :)

ps) sorry I can't make it this Sunday, but can't wait to see you all again soon!
Nikky said…
I have had Pinkberry SEVERAL times now, and have NO idea what this 'hollow center' is you speak of, not one of my servings was prepared that way. Like anything else, it's just about personal taste. If people are curious about Pinkberry, go try one. The stuff has a very unique taste that absolutely requires one to try for themselves. It's popular for a reason, still one should decide on their own.
Anonymous said…
now they have mice toppings... in NYC..first the fake advertising and now mice crap toppings.
prexus said…
tastes like the chinese yoogloo yogurt drink. but frozen. haha definitely not worth the wait, but its still not bad to have.