Clinton’s leaping into a new era today, as the city — and really the entire county — makes way for its first frozen yogurt business, opening its doors in the Coharie Shopping Plaza this afternoon.
The announcement isn’t really news to everyone since the sweetFrog logo has been on the building for a few weeks now and loyal followers have been eagerly watching for news of its opening on its Facebook Page, which has been offering tempting morsels about the business for weeks, and even months, now.
Inside the building, nestled between Papa John’s Pizza and Star Communications, the trademark bright pink and green hued-walls invite a wow from those walking into the business for a quick peek late last week and a warm hello to Anthony Sessoms, one of four partners in the Clinton business. Sessoms is making one of several last-minute quick checks before the doors are thrown open to the public, giving a nod to store manager Jerry Powell as he peruses first the tables, then the chairs, then the light fixtures.
Standing in the center of the business, among the shiny silver tables and chairs, Sessoms smiles, satisfied that the interior and exterior of the building is exactly as it should be, then he takes a quick walk to the back, where the yogurt flavors are arriving and being sampled by some of the employees who give up a thumbs-up as they pop pink spoonfuls of the cool treat into their mouths.
“I think we’re just about ready,” Sessoms says as he returns to the main floor and takes a seat. He waves a hand toward the bank of self-serve yogurt stations which, today, will be filled with myriad flavors of the frozen treat. “This is so exciting for us all. I think we’ll have something here to satisfy anyone’s tastebuds.”
And they should. Sixteen flavors are on the menu, with a promise to listen to customer pleas for changes in the menu — and flavors — as they are tasted and more are desired.
There’s the standard favorites of vanilla, chocolate and cake batter — the mainstays — and others, such as raspberry, pomegranate, orange burst sorbet, N.Y cheesecake, cookies n’ cream, peanut butter, mountain blackberry, strawberry, banana, English toffee, peppermint and cappuccino and no sugar added vanilla and chocolate.
And then there’s the toppings bar, with everything from gummy bears and cherries to coconut and strawberries waiting to take that yogurt treat right off the taste charts.
“This is a healthy alternative,” Powell attests as he takes a moment to interject his thoughts about the business. “It’s going to be a great place for people to come and enjoy some really good yogurt and a lot of good fellowship.”
And that is what Sessoms and his partners are counting on with this venture that began not quite a year ago.
Along with Sessoms, partners include Gwen Denning, also of Clinton, and out-of-town partners Marty Taylor and Thomas Womble.
All, Sessoms points out, are excited about the new venture and its possibilities in Clinton.
“Yogurt seemed like a natural thing to do,” Sessoms says in answer to why a frozen yogurt business and, particularly a sweetFrog. “It’s a healthy dessert and, quite frankly, it’s a very popular thing right now. When the opportunity came along, it just seemed like a good fit.”
That opportunity presented itself in early 2011, when one of the Frog partners approached Sessoms, a CPA with Denning & Sessoms, about the venture and the possibility of he and his CPA partner, Dale Denning, joining the Clinton team.
“I thought sweetFrog was a great opportunity, something that would be really wonderful to bring to our community,” Sessoms said.
Dale Denning, Sessoms said, thought so too. Calling Denning the “yogurt baron,” Sessoms said the two CPA partners thought the venture would be a great one in which to get involved. “We just thought this was an ideal community for sweetFrog and we believed our community would embrace it,” he stressed.
What the business stands for, Sessoms said, is what attracted he and Denning to the business.
Founded by Derek Cha, sweetFrog started in 2009 with the goal of creating a business, in the midst of a unfriendly economy, that could thrive and bring hope and happiness to a very down market. With faith, prayer, and the support of family and friends, sweetFrog began, the website notes.
Frog stands for “Fully Rely On God,” and the business is geared toward high moral standards and strong values, two things in which Sessoms and Denning believed strongly.
It was March 2012 when the first sweetFrog seeds were planted, and it wasn’t long until the ideal blossomed into a full-fledged plan with Denning and Sessoms, along with their other partners, searching for a location and eventually deciding on the Coharie spot.
By the end of July, Sessoms was dropping hints about a possible sweetFrog location in Clinton, hints that eventually made their way onto a sweetFrog Facebook page he set up as the sort of thermometer and excitement builder for the soon-to-open business.
There were delays along the way, mostly dealing with a move to franchise stores — the Clinton location is one of the first, if not the very first to be a franchise operation — and then the tragic loss of Dale Denning that nearly put the brakes of the venture altogether.
“It was a double-whammy for me,” Sessoms recalls of losing his partner in both the CPA business and the up-and-coming sweetFrog endeavor, not to mention Denning was also a close friend.
But after discussing the issues with all the partners and Denning’s family, the concensus was to move ahead.
“Dale loved sweetFrog. I mean he loved everything about it — the concept, the brand, the product, what it stands for in terms of being Christian-based. He truly was immersed in getting this opened and he was so excited. Moving forward seemed the only appropriate thing to do.”
Denning’s wife Gwen agreed, as did his children. “They wanted to do this for Dale because he loved it so much and was so excited about it.”
And so, they moved forward, hired Powell, began searching for employees and, now, are opening the doors.
In addition to Powell, sweetFrog will employee 14 others, most of them local teenagers and young adults, all eager to serve up the tempting sensations.
On Friday, just a few short days before today’s opening, Sessoms was reflective about sweetFrog and his hopes for the business.
“First and foremost, we want to deliver the very best customer experience possible. We want to have a lot of happy customers leave here every day and be eager to come back. And, we want this to be a great experience for our employees, too, giving them a place to work that promotes strong values and gives them the opportunity to make new friends,” Sessoms said.
He envisions sweetFrog being a place where youth came come to fellowship with their friends or share in family time with their parents and siblings.
“We want people to have a good time, enjoy our product and be glad they came,” Sessoms said. “We are going to work hard to make that experience happen each time someone comes through our doors.”