Cultured Swirl: Organic fro-yo in Fountain Sq 

click to enlarge MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee

Andy and Gina Purcell have always loved frozen yogurt. When traveling, they make a point to seek out yogurt shops around the country - not the chains, but the local mom-and-pop shops. The ones putting an emphasis on a quality product with a great atmosphere. That are warm and playful inside, offering something beyond the run-of-the-mill.

Which is exactly how you might describe Cultured Swirl - the organic frozen yogurt shop the Purcells opened in April on the Cultural Trail in Fountain Square. Two rope swings suspended indoors are your first clue. And while the wall-dispenser style of yogurt-retrieval and open-top jars of toppings are the fro-yo status quo, one taste from a sample cup sets the yogurt apart.

The Purcells live on the east side - Gina grew up in the Garfield Park area - so they spend a good bit of time in Fountain Square, which seemed a perfect fit for their business. But while location and atmosphere were important, the top priority for Andy when creating the store was the actual yogurt, which is certified organic and contains live probiotic cultures. "I was mainly concerned with the flavor of the yogurt without the toppings, and the texture of the yogurt," he says. "We wanted a product that, if you left it sitting out, it would actually turn back into a cream."

Which is more unusual than you might think, Andy explains. "An organic yogurt has no additives, so when it breaks down, it turns back into its original state. It melts right back down to its basic form which is the milk and the raw sugars." The Purcells, along with marketing manager Allison Barber, searched for a distributor offering a "base" organic yogurt with live cultures. When finally landing on their current product, they knew they had a winner - a yogurt that was delicious on its own.

"When people come in, we suggest that they sample all the flavors first to get [what] they want - but when they taste it, a lot of them forego the toppings because the yogurt is so good," says Andy. Allison adds that the yogurt has no artificial flavors or colorings, and is non-GMO.

click to enlarge MARK LEE
  • Mark Lee

Cultured Swirl adds organic flavorings to the yogurt in-store. The flavors are divided into what they refer to as the sweeter, cream-based flavors such as the standard chocolate and vanilla, plus the wildly-popular salted caramel - and tart flavors, such as pomberry and pineapple. Their plan is to rotate a couple specialty flavors monthly, having a flavor-launch party that coincides with Fountain Square's First Friday celebrations. But they frequently run into protest from loyal customers.

The customer base they've built can be exceptionally loyal - when they conducted customer-satisfaction surveys after being open for 38 days, some customers reported having been in the store over 30 times.

Cultured Swirl charges by the ounce - 55 cents per ounce (including whatever toppings you might choose, which range from local and/or organic fruits and berries to chocolate chips and Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal). This price is a little higher than other yogurt shops - the difference adds up to less than a dollar more for a full cup of yogurt - but the Purcells consider the purity and flavor of their product to be a premium worth the extra change.

For frequent customers, Cultured Swirl has the I'm Cultured club: buy 10 cups and get your next one free. Special discounts are announced to followers via Twitter (@CulturedSwirl) and Facebook (fb.com/CulturedSwirl). And while the yogurt is currently only available in-store, they would like to see that change. "We're open to partnering with other local places," Allison says.

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