Chill Berry Frozen Yogurt
Frozen yogurt shops have been springing up throughout midtown and downtown Manhattan over the past few years. This healthy trend finally made its way uptown when Tiffany Civers opened Chill Berry in May 2011, through her own capital investment and a start-up business loan from Union Settlement Federal Credit Union.
Tiffany Civers is the owner and visionary behind the very first frozen yogurt shop in Harlem, located at 414 Lenox Avenue. In just a few months, Chill Berry has already become a focal point in the community, attracting youth and adults alike. All of the yogurt flavors are self-serve, so customers can fill their cups with as little or as much as they want of such flavors as strawberry, banana, mango or pistachio. Toppings for all tastes range from fresh blueberries, pineapple and kiwi, to walnuts, peanuts and pecans. And then to the more eclectic – like Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Nilla Wafers, or gummi bears.
Tiffany was already an active member of the community when she decided to open Chill Berry. She grew up in Harlem, and has been working there as a public school psychologist for the past 12 years. Frustrated by the lack of healthy snack options in the neighborhood, she decided to unleash her entrepreneurial spirit and tackle this issue herself. Since her family members were already big fans of frozen yogurt, she was confident that Harlem would embrace this healthy new addition as well. Now all she had to do was put her idea into action. With the help of an accountant, Tiffany developed a business plan for Chill Berry. She understood that she would need to invest her own savings to get it started. Two-thirds of the initial investment came from her pocket, but she still required $50,000 to cover initial operating costs.
Tiffany visited Columbia University’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to inquire about a start-up business loan. As a start-up, the SBDC discouraged her from applying for a loan from traditional banks, as she was not likely to be approved. Instead, the SBDC referred her to Union Settlement Federal Credit Union, where they were certain she would have greater success obtaining the capital required to launch her business. Union Settlement’s small business lending team saw that she had all the right elements in place: a fully developed business plan; substantial collateral; a credit score over 700; a regular paycheck from the public school where she continues to work; and a husband with experience in small business operations.
Union Settlement helped her apply for an SBA Community Express Loan, which was approved in March 2011. Union Settlement’s small business team also helped her negotiate the lease for her storefront at 414 Lenox Avenue on a heavily foot-trafficked block in Harlem. Once Tiffany secured her loan and location, Chill Berry became a reality. Chill Berry now serves hundreds of customers daily and employs a staff of six. Tiffany and her husband are frequently on site to help customers and manage the business. Chill Berry has been profitable since its doors opened in May, and Tiffany is constantly monitoring cash flow, and identifying efficiencies, to ensure it continues to stay in the black. Going forward, Tiffany plans to offer frozen yogurt cakes and cater off-site frozen yogurt parties and events as well.
Tiffany sees enormous opportunities ahead for her business, and she has already been scouting out new locations so that she can open a second Chill Berry in the coming months. On her philosophy behind Chill Berry, Tiffany explained: “Our whole idea is to make frozen yogurt fun, but in the process we also want to benefit the Harlem community.” … “We invite classes from local public schools to come visit us, so that we can take the opportunity to teach them about healthy eating habits. And we see that learning paying-off immediately when the students actively choose to put fruit toppings on their yogurt, rather than candy.”