Cupcakes have inexplicably failed to gain a foothold in Lincoln Square, but the fro-yo trend will not be denied. First the “Coming Soon” sign, then “Help Wanted,” and now Ali Ozturk is ready to hang “Open” on Yogurt Square, his self-serve frozen yogurt venture at Lincoln and Leland. If he can work out the kinks in his credit card processing system, Ozturk will welcome his first customers this Saturday, Feb. 18; if not, folks will have to wait until next week to belly up to the fro-yo bar. It’s worth stalking the shop: Anyone who pops in on launch day will be rewarded with a free helping of yogurt.
Look for 12 flavors of fro-yo on tap to start with, including sugar-free and lactose-free options, with plans to expand to 16 by summer. Ozturk intends to rotate selections based on customer requests–his yogurt provider offers more than 40 different flavors. Yogurt Square, notably not a franchise, will also serve smoothies, fresh juices and coffee.
Seating ranges from roomy armchairs to cafe-style tables and chairs to counter stools. “People should feel free to hang around,” says Ozturk, adding that Yogurt Square’s free wi-fi provides a “really fast” Internet connection. The bright blue, green and orange decor is a nod to the Mediterranean colors favored in the owner’s native Turkey. When the temperatures outside match the warmth inside, the floor-length windows will open onto Leland, where Ozturk envisions a shaded sidewalk patio.
Though longtime residents will recognize Yogurt Square’s location as the former home of Enisa’s European Pastry and Cafe, to the neighborhood’s relative newcomers, the space has long been known as that vacant storefront anchoring the otherwise thriving Square. Ozturk, who previously managed taxi and limo businesses, hopes to revitalize this prime piece of real estate with fresh blood. “If I don’t invest, who will?” he asks.
So why fro-yo, especially with Cold Stone and Paciugo already established in the market? Simple: Ozturk’s friends own similar ventures around Chicago and urged him to do likewise. “It was peer pressure,” he explains.
He spent $200,000 renovating the property, thinking winter would be the optimal construction season for a frozen treat enterprise. “But winter was nice,” says Ozturk. A steady stream of curiosity seekers, peering in the windows and knocking on the door to check his progress, suggests an eager customer base. “Sometimes we could not even work,” he says of the interruptions. Just leaving the lights on overnight generated Internet buzz. “Before I even opened, people tried to buy the business.”