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Friday, Jun 9, 2023

From Cheesecake to Yogurt

There’s no doubt that the Pinkberry craze is one of the most notable to strike Southern California in recent years. With the opening of the frozen yogurt franchise at the Americana at Brand in Glendale, the Valley is now home to the largest Pinkberry in the nation. And that’s not the only tie the Valley has to Pinkberry. The company snagged Michael Dixon, the vice president and chief financial officer of its newly formed executive team, from one of the largest restaurant chains headquartered in the Valley the Cheesecake Factory. Jumping ship from Calabasas Hills-based Cheesecake Factory after eight years as chief financial officer to serve in the same capacity for a startup is arguably a risk, but Dixon sees his move to Pinkberry as an adventure. “I think for me I was looking for an opportunity to get into more of a startup organization to build a team,” he explained. “Pinkberry is an incredible concept that has created a lot of buzz in the marketplace. It seemed like a great opportunity to get into a group that had such a strong concept in place.” While Dixon feels that change of any kind is a risk, he said that he thought that the potential rewards of working at Pinkberry were worth it. Dixon, whose entry into Pinkberry was formally announced in September, was first notified about the opportunity to work for the company by a recruiter. According to him, Pinkberry’s competitive edge in the frozen yogurt world and time spent with Shelly Hwang and Young Lee, who founded Pinkberry in 2005, ultimately impelled him to take the position. Dixon was the last of the executive team to be announced, with the exception of a yet to be named member who will join the team to focus on real estate. In addition to Dixon and CEO Ron Graves, Pinkberry’s executive team consists of Mark Friedman, vice president of business development and general counsel; Karen Kelley, vice president of store operations; Todd Putman, vice president of marketing; and Eric Snyder, vice president of people. “We’ve finally got our team in place,” Dixon said. “We’re well primed to accelerate the growth over the next 12 months.” Richard Laermer, author of “2011: trendSpotting,” was interviewed by Fortune magazine last year about Pinkberry. He tracks trends in a range of industries. “I think you have to have chutzpah to do this,” Laermer said of joining a new company such as Pinkberry. “A lot of technology CEOs who have made millions and millions of dollars have gone to startups because they have nothing to lose.” Dixon has no qualms about working for a startup because he worked in new business development for the Walt Disney Company and at an Internet startup for a brief period as well. “Even going to Cheesecake in 2000, we had 30 some restaurants,” Dixon recalled. In time, the number of Cheesecake Factory restaurants grew to 150. “Each one of those (jobs) was an opportunity to grow a business.” Dixon believes that having the task of expanding a new business is simply more exciting than maintaining the status quo at an established company. “I will feel successful if in 12 months from now I’ve developed a team to support me and to support the company, the successful growth of Pinkberry,” he said. Pinkberry currently has stores in California and New York. In the Valley, there are stores in Burbank, Studio City, Canoga Park, Northridge, Valencia and Westlake Village, in addition to the Americana store. With nearly 70 stores open, including 15 in New York, Dixon said that Pinkberry is set to expand both domestically and internationally. Laermer believes that Pinkberry should be cautious about rapidly expanding, lest it suffer the fate of companies such as Krispy Kreme. Within a year or two of its launch outside of its base in the South, Krispy Kreme stores could be found everywhere and the brand’s popularity began to wane, Laermer remembered. If Pinkberry expands too quickly, it could suffer the same fate, he fears. “The whole idea of being exciting is scarcity,” Laermer said. The author, who lives in New York but spends time on both coasts, is concerned about the number of Pinkberry stores opening up in New York. “People loved it when there were a handful of them,” he said. “It was a cool idea. They were very elegant, a little over the top and fun. In many regards, it was more exotic than anything else.” Laermer believes that Pinkberry is more fad than trend. “A trend takes you to the next level of your life. This is a fad. It makes you smile and giggle,” he said. Pinkberry would be a trend, say, if it made yogurt that caused people to lose weight. “Fads are ‘poof, they’re gone.’ If you’d do it once twice and never do it again, you’d be just as happy. Trends they make you change.” But isn’t the fact that Pinkberry has inspired a series of imitators known in some circles as “Fakeberries” including Rosegreen in Glendale a sign that it is indeed a trend? Not so, said Laermer. “Just because it has been imitated doesn’t mean it’s a trend,” he asserted. “The Fakeberries they won’t be around long, too.” Dixon isn’t concerned about Pinkberry’s detractors, though. He believes that the combined work experiences of Pinkberry’s executive team, as well as his experiences at Cheesecake Factory, will give the business staying power. “Frozen yogurt is a very competitive market,” Dixon acknowledged, but he believes his background in growing the infrastructure of businesses will allow him to contribute to Pinkberry’s success.

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