This is not the first time that Jersey Freeze has had to contend with a suburban
frozen yogurt craze. The nearby Freehold Township soft-serve ice cream institution, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, has weathered this storm before; but this time may be different.
A new business model, self-serve "fro-yo", is all the rage at Yo Mon Yogurt and Let's Yo Yogurt, two frozen yogurt establishments that opened within 16 months and a half-mile of each other on West Main Street in Freehold. There is also a Let's Yo location in Howell and another similar establishment expected to open nearby.
While the owners of both yogurt establishments tout a "room for everybody" mentality in the marketplace, competition is competition to Bruce Blackmore, long-time owner of the more traditional Jersey Freeze.
Blackmore, whose father, Carlton, opened the shop in 1952, admits that business has gradually been getting slower over the past few years. While some is just economics, Blackmore admits that the fro-yo shops do nip at his heels.
Conversely, the proprietors of Yo Mon and Let's Yo see markets that differ from traditional ice cream's, pointing to their more health-conscious consumer.
"The trend in frozen dessert shows that there is a current migration towards yogurt because of its health benefits," said Pete Chalfin, owner of Let's Yo.
Blackmore says his non-fat and sugar-free options have basically the same properties as yogurt. He also points out that his store offers specialty items such as banana splits and root beer floats that the self-serve places do not. But even sales on those "date-night items" are way down.
"Ten years ago on a Sunday I would sell over 200 root beer floats. Last Sunday I sold 12," said Blackmore.
Perhaps that is because some customers' needs have shifted.
"I have a grandson who has a dairy allergy, and a lot of places don't cater to [that]," said Yo Mon customer Marilyn Cohen, as she and her grandson shared sorbet, a non-milk product.
Dessert is not the only thing that brings consumers through the doors of fro-yo establishments. Social media plays a clear role, evidenced by both stores' online presences as well as the 12 iPads for customer use in Let's Yo.
On his end, Blackmore is considering changes to revitalize Jersey Freeze. His future plans may include moving towards gourmet hard ice cream and adding more indoor seating.
Despite the new trend, Jersey Freeze still has its loyal customer base and an unmatched nostalgia-factor.
"I was born and raised around here, and this has been my favorite ice cream place since I was a kid," said now-grandmother Darlene Vorhees of Howell, as she enjoyed a three-generational ice cream cone with her daughter and grandson.