PARIS -- The aproned man inside spoons strawberries, chocolate, and an over-sized gummy spider on top of a swirl of creamy dessert. Those strolling around the Canal St-Martin slow down in front of the window, confused, gaping at the scene as the mother and her child leave with their yaourt glacé, or frozen yogurt, happily in tow. The Italian-born owner of the boutique, Baci Bisou, is just one of the newest "froyo" boutiques that have been peppering Paris.
While frozen yogurt has been popular in the United States for some time, with chains like Pinkberry operating since 2005, France has yet to embrace the trend. In recent years, boutiques have popped up, making it one of the new trendy foods in this culinary capital. Though slow on the uptake, Paris proves that she's not entirely set in her ways.
Historically, locally produced ice cream brand Berthillon has been the place to get something frozen and sweet in the French capital. Only in 2002 did French-owned Amorino open, offering Italian gelato on a wider scale. Smaller, artisan gelaterias opened over the years, but frozen yogurt debuted only in 2007 with a Pinkberry clone called MyBerry opening in Paris's hip Marais district.
Today, several shops sell various types of yogurt. The machines and toppings familiar to Americans provide a welcomed change for Parisians who don't usually decorate their own desserts.
Chacun Ses Goûts in the Marais offers four different flavors and a self-serve toppings bar, allowing patrons to pay by weight. "We carefully select our toppings from local artisans or in partnership with specific pastry shops," said owner David Serratrice.
The Yogurt Factory, also in the Marais, offers no-fat yogurt and a toppings bar as well, like its counterpart MyBerry down the street. But you know a trend exists when a new food truck rolls out in Paris. Marguerite du Pré, a French endeavor, is offering artisanal organic yogurt on the go.
The owner of Baci Bisou, Luca Pizzato, from Turin, is an artisan gelato and yogurt maker who worked in Italy for ten years. But he was ready for a change. After a brief trip to the US where he considered opening up an Italian ice cream shop with his brother in Dallas, of all places, he decided to return to Europe, setting his sights on Paris instead. He said that the market was wide open for a frozen yogurt maker since so few boutiques existed.
Launching a trendy product in Paris is a risky endeavor. Pizzato said finding a location was one of the most difficult hurdles. But with an artisan coffee shop across the street, a trendy vegan superfood restaurant next door, and a new Korean restaurant across the street, the Canal St-Martin neighborhood was the perfect fit for an oddball shop.
Baci Bisou offers the traditional unflavored frozen yogurt but Pizzato also offers a homemade gelato each day like pistachio or hazelnut. His clientele, a mix of people who learn from word of mouth or who wander in from a picnic along the canal are both yogurt connoisseurs and amateurs. The concept of creating one's own dessert confuses some Europeans, like a family visiting from Belgium who asked for toppings after they paid for their yogurt. Pizzato, ever the good businessman, told them they can pay next time -- even if it may be a while.
But he hopes that the trend will catch on as frozen foods, be it yogurt or gelato, like in his home country. "In Italy it's considered something to replace lunch, along with lots of fruit, when it's hot," he said. "It's a full meal, not just a dessert," he said, gesturing to the nearly two dozen toppings available, ranging from hazelnuts and granola to Nutella sauce and fresh seasonal fruits.
Using fliers and word of mouth, Pizzato and his colleague are looking to spread the word to attract locals and tourists. He said the next step is to vamp up their Facebook page, though between finding suppliers and ordering his products, which come mostly from Italy, he's had his hands full.
It remains to be seen if frozen yogurt fervor cools like other trends, notably the cupcake, or explodes like artisan coffee shops. Still, with yogurt shop it mylk opening branches in the Charles de Gaulle airport and the gamed Galeries Lafayette department store, there's clearly palpable interest in frozen yogurt, and not just from health-conscious expats.
Photos: Shea MacNeil