Yogurt Hut opens second store in Medford

A nice, simple retirement business has turned into something of growth industry for Ashland residents Susan and George Orrego.

The Orregos moved to Ashland from Danville, Calif., in 2008 after he wrapped up his career as a fire chief in the Bay Area.

Last spring, they opened The Yogurt Hut on Lithia Way in Ashland. The business boomed and they opened a second location in the South Gateway Center in Medford this week.

"Like everybody else, our retirement portfolio was not as strong as it had been," said Susan Orrego. "We thought if we have to do something to generate more income, let's do something fun, and it's turned into a solid business."

There's nothing bizarre or fancy to draw customers, just well-priced frozen yogurt and a staff that clicked with both theater-going tourists and locals, she said. Coupled with social-network marketing via Twitter and Facebook and charitable-cause Wednesdays, it didn't take long to build a following.

When it became apparent in the fall that demand had outstripped what a single, 750-square-foot shop could supply, the Orregos started looking for a second location in Medford.

Main Street, where the city's first frozen yogurt shop — the Yogurt Grove — opened in 1983, was quickly crossed off the list because of earthquake retrofit costs.

Medford Center, where a TCBY franchise flourished in the 1990s before fading along with the chain in the new millennium, looked promising.

"We thought it was a natural and it was meant to be, because people would have missed getting frozen yogurt," Susan Orrego said.

But negotiations with shopping center giant KIMCO proved unfruitful.

Finally, they signed a deal in December to move into a 1,700-square-foot space formerly occupied by Beneficial Finance on Center Drive near the Rrrink ice skating center.

"This gives us room for birthday parties," Orrego said. "We could only do that on a limited basis in the afternoon before."

Hiring eight employees along with manager Nick Palmesano, who previously worked at the Ashland shop, was one thing. Getting all the furniture to seat 50 customers was another.

While the Rogue Valley was unscathed by the winter blasts and snowfall pounding the country, in far away New Jersey the company supplying the Yogurt Hut's furniture was snowed out of commission for a while.

"The furniture hadn't arrived and we couldn't get ahold of anyone back there on Saturday," Orrego said.

The quick fix was renting tables and chairs from nearby Party Place and setting them up prior to Monday's 11 a.m. launch.

"We get a call about 11:15 and guess what? Our furniture just arrived in town," she said.

The next few hours were spent swapping out furniture.

If the Medford shop fares as well as Yogurt Hut in Ashland, there might be more in the future.

"Medford is large enough to sustain two locations and then we move to Grants Pass," Orrego said. "We're not looking to go to Portland, but within Southern Oregon there is certainly enough space to put a few more."

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com.

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