Yogurt Vi creates student jobs, supports community


Yogurt Vi is a new frozen yogurt business located on Water St. past Erie St. . Photo by Hannah Potes.

Brittany Hill

During the opening of new downtown addition Yogurt Vi Friday afternoon, Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala stood off to the side with spoon and bowl in hand.  Mayor Fiala was eating a bowl of Yogurt Vi’s frozen yogurt, pistachio flavored to be exact. When asked what brought him downtown that afternoon, he nodded at his bowl.

“The real reason I came is because I love it,” Fiala said. “Good stuff.” 

You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who disagree with Fiala. Putting aside the positive affect of Yogurt Vi on taste buds, how will this new business benefit it’s new home in Kent? 

Fiala said one of the largest benefits of a new place like Yogurt Vi is its creation of new jobs for students.

“I understand what education costs today,” Fiala said. “And the little bit from having a part-time job is wonderful.”

Kelly Wherley, Yogurt Vi operations manager, said that the new location opening has already created about 20 jobs, most of which are filled by students and start at more than $8 per hour with opportunities for raises and advancement. Wherley said she knows Yogurt Vi will continue to stimulate the Kent economy when the student employees spend their money at other local businesses in Kent.

“When you pay employees a fair wage, it inevitably stimulates the local economy,” said Wherley. 

Wherley said supporting the community is important for Yogurt Vi. According to owner Michael Lam, that is precisely why Yogurt Vi participates in local fundraising.

Lam said the company will distribute tickets to different organizations, such as sororities and fraternities. These organizations can then pass them out. When a customer comes in to make a purchase and brings a ticket, Yogurt Vi will give between 10 and 30 percent of the proceeds to the organization they’ve partnered with. 

Yogurt Vi often have the staff running to the local grocery store when they’ve unexpectedly run out of an item, but at this point Yogurt Vi does most of it’s work with local food vendor Sirna & Sons, located in Aurora, Wherley said. However, she said Yogurt Vi is open to the idea of working with local Kent farmers if the opportunity were to arise. She encourages both organizations interested in fundraising and local farmers to contact Yogurt Vi online about doing business together if interested. 

Dan Smith, Kent economic development director, said the owner of Yogurt Vi’s new building, Fairmount Properties, was the one who sought out Yogurt Vi to join the Kent community.

“Fairmount Properties, having done a few college towns, had contacts with retailers and said ‘Hey, we’re doing this $27 million project, part of a $106 million downtown revitalization deal,’” Smith said. “And obviously, Yogurt Vi was one of those retailers interested in serving the Kent community.”  

The city of Kent had done previous market research through Buxton Retail Group roughly five years ago that provided insight of a need for a place like Yogurt Vi in Kent.

“We did show that we were deficient in ice-cream-type companies,” Smith said.

Fairmount Properties Principal Randy Ruttenberg said Fairmount Properties has also been working closely with President Lester Lefton, who charged their company with finding the best-in-class retailers and restaurants around northeast Ohio to come to the Kent community.  

“President Lefton, throughout the process, has been very focused on creating a real sense of place for the Kent State community and as a result, our vision for this project was guided by that type of thinking,” Ruttenberg said. “Yogurt Vi is owned by one of the greatest entrepreneurs that I have met in my 27-year history in this business. … We were fortunate in that we had four different [frozen-yogurt] operators to choose from, but as you can see, if you go into Yogurt Vi, they’re head and shoulders above their next closest competitor, and with the growth of the self serve concept and the lack of this category in the Kent market. We are thrilled that Yogurt Vi has agreed to come into this project.”

Based on the trendiness of many of the new restaurants and eateries being added to downtown Kent, the concern becomes what will happen once these places are no longer on trend with students.

“The business cycle is ‘some make it and some don’t,’ but I think most of the companies that are willing to invest the type of money that Yogurt Vi and the other retail establishments that are part of Fairmount, they have done a fair amount of market study before they want to come here,” Smith said. “That doesn’t guarantee their success but it means they’ve lowered their risk by studying the market, and I think they have a good sense that Kent State University market is going to be good for them to come here.”

As Fiala finished his bowl of yogurt, he acknowledged the flow of the business cycle and the dynamic of business in a college town, but says that he thinks the $27 million in development currently happening in that block will help ensure Yogurt Vi and other new businesses’ success.

“Obviously with the students being here nine months out of the year, they’re going to be very busy. But what we’ve done here is brought two corporate businesses downtown,” Fiala said. “And when the hotel opens, you’re going to have conferences, people staying overnight. They’re going to be walking the streets. They’re going to be looking for something. You have a cookie shop down there open until 3 a.m. You have this yogurt place. You have Dave’s [Cosmic Subs]. It’s hard to say somebody isn’t going to be able to find something they like in downtown Kent.” 

Contact Brittany Hill at [email protected].