World's largest sweetFrog frozen yogurt shop opens in Belfast
Before they knew what they wanted it to be, they knew they wanted their new business to be about: fun, family and community.
Shawn Doll, Stephen Racioppi and Crystal Ballard, three friends with nearly 60 years collective experience working at Bank of America, had been planning on opening a business in Belfast for some time. They settled on sweetFrog, a frozen yogurt franchise, because "it stands for what we stand for," said Racioppi. The family-oriented shop offers 14 flavors of self-serve frozen yogurt and gelato, with an extensive toppings bar.
The three owners are all Maine residents. Racioppi, of Hebron, has two children attending Belfast Area High School. He and Ballard still work at Bank of America, and Doll, of Bangor, has quit his position there to manage the day-to-day operations of the new business. Ballard was not present when The Journal visited the store, but Doll and Racioppi emphasized her importance to the team.
"This would have never gotten off the ground without her," Racioppi said. "She has kept us on the right track throughout the entire process."
Every step of the way toward opening the business the owners made sure they were communicating with and supporting the local community. All the work at their Renys Plaza location in Belfast was done by local contractors. General contractor Brent Waterman, of Belmont, Liberty East Electrical, of Liberty, Young's Plumbing, of Belfast, and local carpenters Pete and Matt Walker renovated the space in a little over five weeks.
"The town of Belfast has been nothing but phenomenal, from code enforcement to the chamber of commerce, to the former mayor, to the local businesses," said Doll.
"The community has been unbelievable," said Racioppi. "We've gotten so much support — l'll use the word 'love.'"
In the 12 days since their opening July 29 sweetFrog has had 8,000 customers, he said, eighty-five percent of whom were locals.
Derek Cha opened the first sweetFrog in Virginia in 2009, and the franchise has since expanded to 360 locations, including one in London and one in the Dominican Republic. None are as big as the one in Belfast.
The ample space lends itself to hosting birthday parties, events and large group outings. When the owners got a call asking if they'd be prepared for 80 people to come in one day, they told them, "we'll be more than prepared." At 4,000 square feet, the restaurant can seat 90 people with additional space in their event/party area.
Doll and Racioppi also want people to see sweetFrog as a place to come in and relax. "The kids can go draw with chalk on the [designated] walls while the adults can sit and talk," he said.
The usb internet bar and the leather couches also make it easy to linger after finishing dessert.
"We want this to be a destination for people," Doll said. "People from Rockland or Camden can come with their whole family and spend an evening here."
Doll said the location is excellent: it is in Renys Plaza, one of the few places in Belfast with ample parking available. Neighboring businesses Scallions and Renys have given advice and guidance about what to expect from the space.
"For us it's about collaborating, if other businesses in the area do better, that's a good thing," said Racioppi. "You can't ask for anything more."
And the owners plan to give back to the community in more direct ways as well. SweetFrog will host "Spirit Nights" where a local cause will receive 20 percent of proceeds of sales from customers who mention it.
During the grand opening weekend, 20-percent of proceeds of sales, when customers request it, will go to local schools. Customers are encouraged to mention the school of their choice when making their purchases. At the end of the weekend, 10 percent of the total sales for each school mentioned will be given to its athletic boosters and another 10 percent will go toward its performing arts program.
SweetFrog will hold its grand opening celebrations the weekend of Sept. 6 and 7 with promotions and giveaways including a drawing for one free yogurt a week for a year.