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