When a sign advertising CUPS Frozen Yogurt, with two perky little containers of yogurt and the slogan “That’s hot,” went up in Barracks Road Shopping Center a few months ago, it didn’t go unnoticed by parents concerned about serving their kids a helping of sexual suggestions along with their sweet treats. After all, last spring, as CUPS began gaining popularity in New Jersey and New York, viral news website BuzzFeed described it as “The Hooters of Frozen Yogurt” in a piece accompanied by photos of teen girls with long hair, big…smiles, and pink tank tops with plunging necklines.
“I’m disgusted that Barracks Road would consider opening such a shop!” local mother Katie Van Liew wrote in an e-mail weeks before CUPS opened. “I’m sure I’m not the only one.”
She has company.
UVA Ph.D. candidate and father of three Ben Maton said his young son has already noticed the new yogurt shop, and he doesn’t know how to explain to him and his two daughters why the family will be getting their dessert elsewhere.
“The atmosphere, the combination of the sexual innuendo and ice cream,” said Maton. “It’s just not something I’m comfortable with.”
He noted the irony of Sweet Frog—whose name is an acronym for “Fully Rely on God” —being across the street from the new spot.
“You’ve got the God yogurt on one side, sex yogurt on the other,” Maton said, noting that his biggest concern about the shop is the message it sends to kids, both male and female.
“It says that girls can use their own sexuality to market things, to sell things,” he said. “And that’s a dangerous message to be sending.”
But CUPS co-founder Rick Barbrick, president and COO of The Briad Group, the New Jersey-based company that operates both CUPS and its Barracks Road neighbor Zinburger, seems to think Maton, Van Liew, and other concerned parents should, well, chill out.
“We have wholesome young people working in a fun, high-energy environment,” said Barbrick in an email, noting that he has two teenage daughters who helped conceptualize the brand, and that he’d be happy to have them work at CUPS.
“The only message is CUPS is a fun place that offers an energetic atmosphere with its beach-themed decor, upbeat music, and high-quality yogurt and toppings,” Barbrick said. “We have not experienced concerns in any markets, and we feel when people visit CUPS, they will have a positive experience and all potential concerns will be alleviated.”
Barbrick blames the media-created Hooters comparison— “a phrase that does not represent our brand as intended”—for stirring unwarranted controversy. “We run a very responsible business, and we are good corporate citizens,” he said.
So, is CUPS a frozen den of iniquity or a fun family dessert spot? I decided to investigate last Thursday night.
It’s hard not to notice the night-club-beach-party theme when you walk into the brightly lit space between Zinburger and Zoës Kitchen in the new building facing Emmet Street. Top 40 music is blasting from the speakers, and the seating area walls are covered in 1960s-style beach posters, featuring both men and women in skimpy bathing suits, posing with surfboards and frolicking in the sand. High school student Jenna Jansen is working the register, and she’s wearing black leggings, a pink tank top, and a pink zip-up hoodie—the same type of outfit I’d wear to go for a run, and arguably less revealing than what we’ll start seeing around UVA now that the weather’s warming up.
Customers flowed steadily through the yogurt line, and by 9pm the place was packed with high school and college students, couples, and families with kids. One little boy was clearly displeased by the loud, thumping dance music, and he kept his ears covered until Mom handed him a cup of chocolate frozen yogurt with rainbow sprinkles.
As I made my way down the yogurt line, helping myself to samples of everything from cookies ’n’ cream to strawberry shortcake, I noticed two middle-aged couples peering through the window from outside. The women stood side-by-side, chatting with one another and thoughtfully sipping on their to-go cups from dinner next door as they pointed and observed the shop from the sidewalk. I stepped outside, slurping my sample-sized cup of chocolate-banana swirl, to ask them if they had any thoughts on the controversy.
“What? Controversy? We just wanted to know what it was,” one of the women replied.
I pointed out the signs inside that read “Size matters…fill up your cup,” and “Don’t go topless…sprinkle on your favorite toppings.”
The group laughed and said they hadn’t even noticed the signs or innuendo. “Just looks like frozen yogurt to me,” one said with a shrug.
I’m not a parent, so I’ll leave the ice cream and boobs controversy alone. But for what it’s worth, that chocolate-banana-strawberry-cake-batter concoction I topped with crushed Oreos and cookie dough was sublime, whatever size cup it was in.