Local Businesses and COVID-19: ‘Swirl’ Frozen Yogurt

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Frozen yogurt with toppings from Swirl on Cherry Street in New Canaan. Photo courtesy of Sonny Yi

For today’s Q&A with a local business, we talk to Sonny Yi, on-site owner of frozen yogurt shop Swirl. The popular Cherry Street business is open 12 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Yi is taking orders by phone and text (203-434-7726) as well as “walkups” to the shop who must remain at a safe distance outside. Those picking up are getting delivery to their cars.

Frozen yogurt with toppings from Swirl on Cherry Street in New Canaan. Photo courtesy of Sonny Yi

During our exchange, Yi credited his landlord, saying, “Brock Saxe and his family have always been supportive and understanding, and they truly care about their tenants.”

Here’s our interview.

New Canaanite: How are you faring?

Sonny Yi: We are OK. We are hanging in. It’s been pretty heartwarming to see the community rallying around us and everyone is continuing to support us. So at the moment, without any sort of financial assistance from the government, we are able to still sustain and keep moving forward. And I actually looked into the whole PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] and stuff, but that is like hitting the lottery. Within minutes the funds are not available. Or maybe the bigger companies or bigger franchises, well-known franchises, get first dibs. But for us smaller guys, it’s kind of difficult to get it. The second round started [Monday]. I called the local bank and—nothing. It’s full. They are not taking applicants. So for the second round there’s no difference. But luckily we are able to stay afloat and continue operating without funds. 

Frozen yogurt toppings from Swirl on Cherry Street in New Canaan. Photo courtesy of Sonny Yi

At this point we don’t know how long the restrictions will be in place? What is your sense of Swirl’s ability to outlast the crisis?

I don’t what will be considered ‘normal’ moving forward. Are people going to be hesitant or nervous about coming in here and, just like any other restaurants, sitting and eating? I don’t know. That is one of my worries. Will it ever go back to what it used to be? Does my self-serve yogurt shop now moving forward turn into full-serve, what we are doing basically doing now? We are making the yogurt for customers, but the whole experience is for them to serve themselves and create their own masterpieces. I don’t know. There are definitely a lot of uncertainties. But at this point, worrying about what is going to happen is just a waste of time. I just want to focus now what is happening now, today, and how to serve customers at the present moment.

Frozen yogurt machines at Swirl on Cherry Street in New Canaan. Photo courtesy of Sonny Yi

What are they asking for? What are your most popular offerings?

Since day one, vanilla, chocolate and cake batter have been our most popular yogurt flavors, but we also have die-hard fans of peanut butter and sea salt caramel pretzel. We are still offering all 50 toppings we have, from fresh-cut fruit to nuts to hot fudge and different syrups and liquid toppings. Everyone has their own combination they love and I have customers, the majority of my customers, have their combinations that they have stuck with for the last nine years that I have been open. They have their favorites and they stick with it. It’s hard to say which items are more popular than others. 

Frozen yogurt toppings from Swirl on Cherry Street in New Canaan. Photo courtesy of Sonny Yi

What’s your message for customers?

I am just so grateful and thankful that they are putting their trust in me, putting their safety in my hands because obviously they’re very nervous—‘How are they handling food that I am about to consume from that shop?’ They put that trust in me and I am very grateful and thankful and we’re doing everything we can to keep everything clean and sanitary and continue offer items they enjoy. To be running a business in such a tight-knit community, I am just so thankful and blessed to have customers so generous during this difficult time. I really thought they may all step away and kind of really not show any interest because of everyone being so scared and paranoid, but it’s been amazing how they continue to come out and support us. I’m so thankful.

3 thoughts on “Local Businesses and COVID-19: ‘Swirl’ Frozen Yogurt

  1. I love Swirl. They have always provided fantastic service and wonderful choices in a spotless shop. So happy to hear that I can enjoy their offerings during this time of social distancing.

    • I agree. Wonderful people, great choices and a spotless shop. Please support this business; would hate to lose them.

  2. SWIRL, operated by Sonny Li and his spouse, is a local treasure. The unique approach to self-serve flavors and toppings is a culinary adventure in itself. Alas, the experience is temporarily muted by the need to remain distant from the vast array of colorful and tasteful morsels, each a creation that melts in one’s mouth. I hope we’ll all stop by to support this wonderful couple.

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