Q&A: Reese Travis, CEO Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, Oklahoma City

Reese Travis and his business partners were looking for a unique food concept that they could bring to Oklahoma. After considering creating a new chain, Travis went back to one that had already impressed him.

Orange-Leaf"A group of investors I work with tested the competition. We looked at starting our own concept, but kept coming back to Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt," Travis says. "We felt it had the best product and, after evaluating the price points, offered the best value."

A year after Travis opened Orange Leaf shops in Wichita Falls, Texas, and in Norman and Lawton, Okla., in 2009, he approached the chain's two owners about purchasing the company. The deal was done on April 2, 2010, and Travis and his partners moved Orange Leaf's headquarters from San Francisco to Oklahoma City.

At that time, the chain consisted of 15 stores. Just two years later, Orange Leaf has 151 locations, with two sites in Australia. At press time, there were 64 locations under construction. All locations are franchised, and there are 11 corporate-affiliated stores. The plan is to have 425 stores open in the next few years. "We will continue building it out and taking it to the next level," Travis says.

Orange Leaf was listed among the top 10 fastest-growing yogurt operations under $200 million in Technomic's Top 500 report. Sales were $46.5 million in 2011, a 210 percent increase from 2010 sales, which were $15 million.

FE&S spoke with Travis, who discussed Orange Leaf's concept, equipment requirements and unique approach to the frozen dessert segment.

FE&S: Describe your concept.

R.T.: We are a self-serve frozen yogurt concept. The majority of our stores have eight machines with two separate flavors for a total of 16 varieties. Customers determine the portion size, dispense the yogurt themselves, then move on to the toppings bar to choose from fruit, candy, sprinkles, etc. When it's time to check out, we weigh the cup with the yogurt and toppings inside. Customers are charged by the ounce.

FE&S: What makes your operation unique.

R.T.: There are a couple other self-serve concepts and some full-serve yogurt shops, but we have embraced our model. Customers can get exactly what they want and make the yogurt how they want it.

FE&S: Describe your locations.

R.T.: Orange Leaf stores are between 1,600 and 1,700 square feet, 18 to 20 feet wide and 16 to 20 feet deep. There is custom Orange Leaf seating in the front of the store. The self-serve area is located in the back, where there are cup stands with 16- and 24-ounce containers. This flows to the wall, which contains custom yogurt machines. Adjacent to this area is the toppings bar, which is right by the checkout area. The back of house is small, only 400 to 500 square feet. It includes worktables and blenders, since we do a lot of prep work. We fill and clean the yogurt machines from inside the kitchen. Shelves along the wall store ingredients. We also have a three-compartment sink and three four-door refrigerators, in addition to a freezer. Stores have between eight and 13 employees who work two six-hour shifts. We are open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

FE&S: What do you look for when purchasing equipment?

R.T.: We are always looking for ways to become more efficient and encourage franchisees to look for good service providers. We provide listings of spec'd equipment. It's important to build relationships and find support mechanisms, even with something as simple as buying a refrigerator.

FE&S: What do you predict for the frozen yogurt segment in the years ahead?

R.T.: We're in this first wave, and there is room for more self-serve yogurt concepts. It's a land run in terms of who can get the best location. Our franchise model allows us to use people in their local market. They know traffic and consumer patterns and can get us great locations for our concepts. Our franchisees become pillars of the community, so we like to empower them.

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