TCBY, which bills itself as the country’s original frozen yogurt chain, wants consumers in the Boston area to help themselves.
The company plans to open 15 to 25 self-serve shops in the region over the next three to five years, starting in March or April. Currently, there’s just one TCBY store in Massachusetts, on Washington Street in Norwell.
Famous Brands International, TCBY’s Colorado-based parent company, said the improving economy, as well as the popularity of frozen yogurt chains in the Northeast, were factors in the decision to expand here.
“Some of our highest volume stores in our system are located in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York,” said Rich Hankins, director of franchise development at Famous Brands International. “As we walked into the other Northeastern markets, we got such a positive response we thought we’d just go further north.”
In addition to the city, the company is considering communities such as Framingham and Marlborough for its Massachusetts locations, said Chris Schlueter, director of real estate and construction at Famous Brands.
Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based industry research firm, said TCBY had seven Massachusetts locations in 1990 — including one in Framingham. When Famous Brands purchased TCBY in 2000, there were still four or five TCBY stores here, including the current Norwell location, said Brian Mooney, East Coast director of regional operations at Famous Brands. Many TCBY locations failed because they didn’t keep up with demographic changes in their neighborhoods, he said.
The self-serve model, Mooney said, has helped revive the business. Customers can combine as many flavors and add as many toppings as they want — for a price.
Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of food service strategies at Ohio-based restaurant consulting firm WD Partners, said the frozen yogurt industry has increasingly moved toward self-serve outlets.
“Most of it is about the fun, the engagement, the theater. It’s certainly something fun to do with kids,” Lombardi said. “All of that is good progress for the frozen yogurt segment of the industry.”
The chain has more than 400 US stores across 45 states, with about 30 percent of them operating as self-serve, according to the company. Decisions about whether to run a shop as self-serve are based on the “needs of the local municipalities and the customer base,” Hankins said.
When the new stores launch in the Boston region, TCBY will compete with frozen yogurt chains that are successful in Massachusetts, including Pinkberry and Red Mango.
Red Mango has four stores in Massachusetts and said in a statement it plans to add more next year. Pinkberry, which has eight locations in and around Boston, said it expects to open two more in the city by the end of this year — at Logan Airport and South Station.
In June, Pinkberry chose Boston as one of the debut locations for its Greek yogurt, which the company said will be offered in all of its US stores early next year. TCBY will be a formidable competitor in Massachusetts, Hankins said, because of the strong brand the company has built in more than 30 years of business, as well as the quality of its products.
“We have yogurt that tastes the closest thing to ice cream. And of course we’ve got our Greek yogurt,” he said. “We’re not mixing in the back room with powder and milk.”