From behind a frozen granite slab, the staff of Cold Stone Creamery uses twin spatulas to blend custom servings of ice cream and creative mix-ins to fit customers? exact specifications. Founded by Donald and Susan Sutherland in 1988, Cold Stone began under the hot Arizona sun, eventually spreading its frosty fingers to encompass more than 1,400 locations worldwide. Despite the size of the company, each location?s staff keeps up the handcrafted quality, making ice cream onsite every day and using those signature spatulas to create delicious pointillist art against the freezer wall.
Christopher and Melanie Romano?s kids have long loved the music, iPads loaded with games, and fun flavors of Let?s Yo! When they?d frequent their neighborhood outpost, they felt assured they were feeding their kids a healthier alternative to ice cream. "Even in the winter, my kids wanted to go," Christopher says. "They would have gone every day if I'd have let them."
When the couple decided they wanted to quit the corporate world and open a business, Let?s Yo! seemed like a natural fit. They soon opened up shop, where customers self-serve 18 all-natural, organic flavors brimming with live active cultures. The flavors rotate regularly, with varieties such as sea-salt-caramel pretzel, red velvet cupcake, and California tart. Next, guests pile on premium toppings such as Andes mints, mixed nuts, and Kashi cereal?as well as about 10 different types of syrups, including Reese's peanut-butter topping and mango syrup. The staff members get fresh-fruit deliveries daily, which they chop up or splice via laser vision.
Along with iPads loaded with the latest apps, Christopher outfitted the shop with a flat-screen TV and free WiFi. He chats regularly with the customers who swing by for a cup or stop in after the gym for a yogurt protein shake. And he says it's definitely a change of pace from his Wall Street job. "The hardest choice you have to make is what topping you want," he says.
Since 1848, Applegate Farm has existed under many guises, but its purpose has always remained the same: to provide fresh dairy products for local families. Originally home to the Sitger family and their golden guernsey milk, the farm has changed hands several times since the late 1800s and survived through the Civil War, both World Wars, and all six Star Wars. It experimented with its first ice-cream cone in the late 1920s under the guidance of owner Julian Tinkham, who also had the good foresight to preserve the farm's historic structures so that future generations could visit the 19th-century farmhouse that once helped slaves to freedom or count the number of tiles in an authentic 1919 tile silo?one of only three built in the state.
Since then, the farm has expanded and operates under the current leadership of the Street family, who hold themselves to the same dedication to quality that has sustained the dairy for more than 164 years. The range of ice-cream flavors changes seasonally but usually includes at least 63 distinctive varieties ranging from orange pineapple and toasted almond to vanilla peanut butter and Graham Central Station?which won top prize at the New Jersey State Ice Cream Festival. No-sugar-added and dairy-free treats, like apple cider donuts, can also be found in scoopable form, along with ice-cream cakes, ice-cream pies, and ice-cream sandwiches.
Red Mango's frozen yogurt has been garnering national attention for more than five years, unlike that musician strumming away next to the foosball table in his basement. The shop earned a place atop Zagat's 2011 lists for Best Smoothie and Frozen Yogurt Chain and Best Healthy Options Among Quick Refreshment Chains. Red Mango showcases its award-winning reputation by dishing up all-natural and gluten-free yogurts—all of which are either low-fat or nonfat—that promote healthy digestive and immune systems with natural probiotics. Friendly staff members are always on hand to whip Ghirardelli dark chocolate, POM pomegranate juice, and seasonal pumpkin spice frozen yogurts into Stevia-sweetened smoothies or parfaits layered with organic granola and fruit. The toppings bar brims with crunchy cereal, cheesecake bits, and nuts, allowing creative customization.
Though it only recently opened its doors, Blue Sky Cafe has already carved out a niche as a neighborhood hangout. The laid-back eatery doesn't rely on juice mixes and canned veggies?instead, it creates juices brimming with carrots, apples, oranges, and beets, and dresses its wraps and sandwiches with vegetables fresh from the ground or plucked directly from lettuce trees. The cafe uses freshly baked bread, brews coffee on site, and even caters to events, including meetings and graduations.
From a full menu of more than 50 flavors, Swirl Whirl Yogurt Buffet chooses 10 of its sweets to fill its cups every week. Concoctions such as carrot cake, cookies 'n' cream, and key-west-lime swirl into self-served cups, with nonfat, no-sugar-added, and gluten-free options available. Freshly cubed fruits topple onto the snowy peaks of each cup, along with scoops of nuts, crushed candies, and cereal flakes in the shape of tiny sleds.