The first 16handles was opened in Manhattan’s East Village on 2nd ave between 9th and 10th street in July of 2008. Now, the brand is celebrating it’s 9th birthday and proudly boasts over 40 stores throughout the states and three locations internationally.
However. the big numbers and outreach hasn’t stopped founder Solomon Choi (37) from making 16Handles a staple in many communities or losing track of their goal of becoming a unique product and a friend to the consumer.
The Heart of A Businessman
With his most recent location opening at the Hudson Lights in Fort Lee, NJ, we sat with Solomon to discuss his business ethic, success and overall feelings regarding his dream coming true in 16Handles.
“Our mission is simple; we focus on three key values. Quality, self-expression and fun! Our motto is to ‘Flaunt Your Flavor,’ and you can see that all throughout the store which encourages individuality in our customers.”
First, we want to know a little more about the quirky name – why 16Handles?
“I grew up in LA, and I moved out here to start my business.”
“The story behind the name is long but unique. I grew up on Baskin Robbin’s 31 flavors and I understood the power of a number and what effect it has over people. It was my happy place and seeing that number always made me know the best ice-cream was around. I wanted the same effect with 16Handles.”
But the name does offer a deeper meaning than simply being rooted to childhood memories according to Solomon.
“Many froyo consumers are women and I wanted to relate the number 16 to a sweet sixteen without excluding a male audience. However, I drew inspiration from the movie title ‘16 Candles’ and the fact that we have over 16 froyo machines in our stores with select flavors – hence 16Handles.”
Why start a business in froyo? What made it so special that you started a business in something so extraordinary?
“Frozen Yogurt took off in 2005 because of our competitor Pink Berry. Believe it or not, people treat frozen yogurt like a lifestyle product to eat all throughout the day – not like dessert. So, I wanted to create something that people can frequent and expect variety from, not just dessert.”
“I also wanted to develop a brand surrounding the frozen yogurt trend. After I saw America’s Cup of Yogurt brand I loved the concept and format of self-service because of the personal experience. It was customized, offers lots of samples and I feel I can make it myself. I had to use this business model for my yogurt as well.”
The Steps To Success
But for Solomon, imitation wasn’t the only step in creating the perfect business. He went the extra mile and became a trainee.
“I asked the owner, Mr. Hong, of a local froyo store if I could work under him (for free) so I could learn more while making my own brand. He took me under his wing for three months and I started my business plan from there. He only started with 8 types of froyo and gradually made 10 flavors and I was impressed by the variety he could create.”
But now after spending some time observing and planning, you have created a phenomenal frozen yogurt brand that can be found in many locations such as the Garden State Plaza. Can you tell us about your current success?
We are actually NYC’s leading frozen yogurt shop. It only took two years to get there. Many people refer to us as one of the healthiest models of frozen yogurt but 16Handles wasn’t about health, which is what other products try pushing. Sure, it is a healthier alternative than ice-cream, its counterpart, but we aim to please people the same way a dessert would.”
Are there any health benefits you can let people know about when trying frozen yogurt?
“Yes. The level of fat and calorie content is significantly less. It is easy for digestion and (depending on your choice and toppings) doesn’t contain as much added sugars. Plus you can add on lots of fruits which also has probiotic benefits like the yogurt itself.”
What is the most popular flavor and what do you recommend?
“Our best selling flavor is our Vanilla Bean. Vanilla is always very popular no matter what dessert, but it gets more interesting from there. Our chocolate variations are very popular as well.”
“My personal favorite is the mango sorbet. I loved the taste of mangos during my trip to India. I tend to gravitate more towards the pure, fruit flavors, so I decided to add that to our yogurt.”
But there is something that makes your flavors more amazing, right?
“Yes. We pride ourselves in knowing that nothing is made with powder mix and high fructose corn syrups. Our chefs make them out in michigan and even our mangos come from India. We lead with quality not chemicals.”
The Future is Bright
Any plans for expanding your business?
This is a family business and not some big business corporation. We want to be the friend of the people and maintain our quality with our 40 stores in the U.S. We do have 3 stores in the Middle East. Fortunately, a business conglomerate from Qatar visited NYC and wanted to try the best dessert product to bring back to his country. He kept seeing people filling our shop and eating our yogurt and once he tried our yogurt, he offered us a chance to become established internationally.”
Fortunate indeed! But what your motherland, Korea. Do you plan to expand there?
“I hope so. I was born in Seoul, but immigrated here when I was 1. However, I would love to get back in touch with my roots by becoming established with my brand there and becoming popular in my home country.”
What are your recent plans?
“My newest venture is a brand refresh. We have been working on how to keep evolving. Rebranding will help us promote our products and not just be another average frozen yogurt shop.
“When it comes to my personal passion and purpose, being able to help inspire other entrepreneurs is something I use as a platform to promote. I do a few speaking engagements and talk with students about business often. I like motivating people the way I was motivated too.”
Overall, Solomon Choi is a man of variety and flavor – just like his yogurts! With a passion and drive to succeed, he proved that as long as you have the right mindset, you can push yourself to go even farther. From the time spent training at a local shop to evolving into a huge business, Solomon has become a great representation of being an entrepreneur to Koreans everywhere. So don’t waste time and try a spoonful of his pride and joy at 16Handles!