When I was a child, there were two TCBYs in Ocala, Fla. My mom and aunt would load me up in the back of her Isuzu Trooper and head over to Ocala Shopping Center or Skylark Plaza to score some of The Country’s Best Yogurt from a guy or gal dressed in a green polo shirt.
The Country’s Best Yogurt was found everywhere my family went on vacation. To be fair, this meant there were TCBYs in Daytona Beach. The white chocolate mousse tasted just as special in Daytona as it did in Ocala.
Of course, it did. We’re talking about The Country’s Best Yogurt here.
But frozen yogurt fell out of this country’s taste for a while, and TCBYs started disappearing. By the time I graduated high school in 2002, the TCBYs near me had become an Army recruiting center and a video game store. I just assumed the chain had quietly died.
Even though yogurt has made a big comeback this decade, TCBY — still the presumed manufacturers of The Country’s Best Yogurt — stayed elusive here in the Southeast. It seemed like no matter what city I found myself in, there was never a TCBY around when my childhood craving came around.
Granted, yogurt shops are everywhere now, and if you’ve been in one of these newer places, you’ve been to any of them. Instead of having someone who knows what they’re doing create a delicious dessert for you, you’re now left to fix your yogurt yourself.
Why has America decided this is how we want our yogurt? If I wanted to make my own dessert, I’d open the freezer in my kitchen. Hell, I spent 3 years as an ice cream professional at Baskin Robbins — top tip: avoid the yogurt there — and I still don’t trust myself to make my own yogurt treat.
Where have you gone, TCBY employee in the green shirt — maybe a staff leader — in this DIY dessert hellscape?
On Tuesday, I found her. As it turns out, there is one remaining, standalone TCBY in the greater Jacksonville area. After 10 years away on a tour of Ocala, Nashville, Athens and Atlanta, Ga., and Dallas, I’ve come home to the greatest city in the Southeast.
Need proof? Did I mention there’s a TCBY here?
On Wednesday, I start a new chapter in my career as the public relations lead for RS&H, a nationwide engineering firm and creator of entirely too many cool projects.
On Tuesday, as I wrapped up my two-week bender with a shopping trip for pants and candles, that familiar childhood craving hit again. After a decade of searching, the white chocolate mousse that tastes like late summer mornings in that old Trooper and rewards for straight-As in Mrs. Tomich’s third grade class was just 12 miles away.
I pulled up to my destination in a Publix shopping center on the south end of town. The familiar green color scheme was gone, replaced with magenta and a sign font that says, “I buy my towels and sheets from Bed, Bath and Beyond.” As logos go, it’s perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable.
I walked inside. And I immediately realized I was in the wrong yogurt shop.
Just like every other yogurt restaurant that will be washed away with the next recession and shift in consumer tastes, this new TCBY had all of its yogurt machines out in the dining area, ready for self service.
I asked the two TCBY employees in the empty restaurant what happened? When did The Country’s Best Yogurt deem itself so pedestrian that it no longer needed a professional gatekeeper?
Unfortunately, this DIY TCBY is the only TCBY experience these employees have ever known.
This is not a good thing. I picked up my own cup, filled it with white chocolate mousse and scattered a few toppings about. My swirl was asymmetrical. I looked at the two employees and wondered what exactly they were there for. And I thought of how much better the entire experience would be if I was able to order a medium size and have them make it for me.
Seriously, I don’t have to make my own burger when I walk into a Wendy’s. Chick-Fil-A doesn’t ask me to fry the chicken nuggets. Smoothie King knows better than to trust me with a blender.
Some light reading tells me that this DIY model is a new concept for TCBY. I hope this concept never makes it to full production.
As I’ve mentioned six times already, TCBY has The Country’s Best Yogurt. It should be treated as such, handled by professionals and presented as the edible art it deserves to be. Otherwise, it’s no more special than the self-serve yogurt at Racetrac or a strip mall near you.
Unless white chocolate mousse is the special flavor of the day.