Fraiche Founder Almost Went Into Medical Tourism

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Answers by Fraiche Yogurt, an artisanal food shop based in Palo Alto, on Quora.

A: Fraiche was started by Patama Roj (now Patama Gur). In Jan 2006, I had just moved to the Bay Area and took a moment to reflect and think about what my dream job would be. I made two lists: a list of all my passions and a list of all my experiences/skills and mapped them across market opportunities in an effort to find potential competitive advantages. My initial ideas for a business were wide-ranging (Medical tourism, anyone?)

As I pushed on the specifics of making each idea a reality, the idea for Fraiche floated to the top. I'm a huge foodie. I also had just left a three year stint at Burger King HQ helping them with their turnaround so I knew a little about quick service/food retail. I love feeding people at home and the thought of feeding our community was alluring.

My initial thinking went like this...To me, yogurt is a perfect food and it had evolved too far from its roots for no good reason. Its fermented nature is naturally healthy and in the greek form, it's high in protein and deliciously creamy. Also, yogurt is a global staple and also very versatile in many savory and sweet recipes. It can easily be eaten all day. With such demand and so many great ways to serve yogurt, why wasn't there a high end retail experience that could spotlight this perfect food. The possibilities seemed endless.

The key was to make my idea original and special so I took everything to the extreme by constantly asking how I could make the best product without compromises. For example, "How can we make the healthiest yogurt available?" Answer: by making it as fresh as possible, so all the healthy cultures are still really active...so we built a full dairy plant right in our shop. "How can we avoid all the artificial frozen yogurt stabilizers and binders that keep product evenly mixed and consistent?" Answer: by developing procedures to constantly mix our product before it separates too much.

I was really excited about offering up an honest, high quality product to our community. Something that was so indulgent it would make you smile but also something that I could feel proud of because it was nutritious and pretty good for you too! And nothing brings people together like good food.

It's a beautiful thing when a career and a passion can come together. The timeline was fast. By Aug 2006, I settled on artisanal greek yogurt shop idea and incorporated. By Nov 2006, I had signed a lease and by June 2007 Fraiche was open. Jessica Berlinger, a good friend from my investment banking days in NYC happened to move to the Bay Area at the same time and she helped me launch Fraiche for the first couple of years before she went back to the corporate world.

I can't believe it will be almost ten years since we started!

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A: Most frozen yogurt shops just pour pre-flavored mix into a machine so making frozen yogurt can be as easy as cutting open a bag. This is the equivalent of an ice cream shop just scooping pre-made ice cream say from Breyers.

Making froyo the way Fraiche does takes a lot more effort because we wanted to first make real organic greek yogurt as the base vs just buying a chemical-laden froyo mix. So we literally had to build a mini dairy plant with a pasteurizer. We also have to have an incubator to grow our cultures in milk. These probiotic cultures and the health benefits that they impart are really what makes our frozen yogurt healthier than ice cream. Ice cream shops, even the ones that make their own ice cream, typically won't be pasteurizing or growing cultures.

As far as selling, ice cream shops have an advantage bc they only need one freezing machine to make all flavors while frozen yogurt shops need one machine for every two flavors. This is a lot more expensive and takes up more space so usually frozen yogurt shops offer fewer flavors than ice cream shops. Also ice cream shops can sell pints of their product and customers will almost have the same experience whereas the frozen yogurt texture changes if you put it in a freezer at home.

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A: We haven't change our core recipes since we opened. Sometimes guests think we have bc there is natural variation in the way the yogurt is "cooked". Our incubation process is sensitive to time and temperature and the speed at which the bacteria grows effects texture and flavor. We try to measure and be as consistent as possible but we do notice some variability ourselves. We try not to serve any batches which do not meet our standards.

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