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From Fro-Yo to Gelato, Mill Valley is Chock Full of Frozen Desserts

Despite the closure of Baskin-Robbins after more than four decades in town, all is not lost. Mill Valley has a plethora of shops serving up frozen dessert treats in a variety of forms, from fro-yo to gelato.

closed its downtown Mill Valley shop on June 30 after more than four decades at its Miller Ave. location. Owner Ron Gonsalves posted a simple note on the door apologizing for the inconvenience and inviting customers to his Baskin-Robbins on B St. in downtown San Rafael.

But while many are sad to see the ice cream giant close after so many years, Mill Valley has no shortage of shops serving up frozen dessert.

Woody’s

Although Baskin-Robbins had been in downtown Mill Valley for more than 40 years, it didn't enjoy the distinction of oldest frozen dessert shop in Mill Valley. That honor belongs to Woody’s, the veritable granddaddy of frozen yogurt, which has maintained a continuous yogurt presence in Mill Valley for 48 years. The shop was the third tenant in Strawberry Village in 1962 and has been dishing out frozen yogurt there for decades.

Current Woody’s owner, Tiburon resident Michael Woodson, says they serve about 200,000 people a year. 

Known for their “Wow Cow,” a low lactose, low calorie yogurt, Woody’s also carries custard, regular yogurt from YoCream, 28 flavors of Dreyer’s ice cream and milkshakes and smoothies. For those who cannot or do not eat cow’s milk, sorbet is also available.

With six machines, 12 flavors (18 with swirls) are available on any given day. “We always have vanilla and chocolate custard and vanilla and chocolate yogurt,” Woodson says, “but we rotate the other machines between sorbet, tart, and other flavors.”

Available in small, medium, large, pint and family, Woody’s charges by size not weight, does not use gravity-fed machines and is not self-service. “There are no surprises at the cash register,” Woodson said. 

The 411: Woody’s, 802 Strawberry Village behind Pizza Antica; (415) 383-4881

Swirl opened in April 2010 across the street from the Whole Foods Market on Miller Avenue. With five machines and 10 flavors (15 with swirls), “we rotate as often as needed,” said owner and Mill Valley resident Jeff Shine.

Known for the two large flat-screen TVs inside the shop, one TV is set to sports while the other is dedicated to customer photos taken at the shop. “People sit down with their yogurt and can’t take their eyes off of the screen,” said Shine. “Everyone cheers when they see someone they know.”

Like Woody’s, Shine said Swirl must keep certain flavors on the menu at all times. “We have to have chocolate and vanilla, one organic tart flavor and one dairy-free sorbet.” Other flavors rotate but cookies and cream, red velvet and cake batter have been popular since doors opened. 

Finding the right chocolate yogurt, however, proved a challenge.  “We started with an all-organic local vendor,” Shine said, “but the kids didn’t like the flavor.” Six vendors later, Shine found the ‘right’ chocolate and it's now a best seller.

At Swirl, yogurt and toppings are priced at a flat rate of .43 cents per ounce and is self-serve. Shine, who grew up in Fairfax, is in the Red Hill Shopping Center in San Anselmo, across from Memorial Park. “I grew up playing baseball there,” said Shine.  If all goes according to plan, the new shop should be open later this month.

The 411: Swirl, 417 Miller Ave, across from Whole Foods, 415.388.2636. Open Mon. -Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. - Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Yolo, the newest fro-yo spot in town, opened in July 2010 in Tam Commons next to . With four machines, Yolo has eight flavors (12 with swirls) and over 50 toppings according to owner and Mill Valley resident Karen Kauh. “Five of our toppings – brownies, cookies, granola, graham cracker crust and mini-smores - are made in-house,” Kauh said. "And we always have one organic fruit topping as well.”

Due to Yolo’s proximity to , Kauh’s best-sellers skew more towards creamy flavors than trendier tart flavors. Vanilla and chocolate along with one organic, one gelato and one no sugar added flavor are always available with cookies and cream a current best seller. Like Swirl, yogurt and toppings are priced at a flat rate of .45 cents per ounce and is self-serve.

Flavors are often customized in house – oatmeal cookie gelato was a hit last month – and Yolo takes suggestions for flavors on its Facebook page. “We started making root beer floats from a suggestion we got on our page,” said Kauh.

A fro-yo sandwich recently debuted, as did smoothies and shakes – $3.95 for 16 oz. - boosters are coming soon. Kauh also works with a local party planner to host birthday parties at the store on weekends before the store opens. “We can make the party as simple or as elaborate as you like,” Kauh said. Or Yolo will deliver the yogurt to you, anywhere in Mill Valley, $30 minimum order please.

The 411: Yolo Yogurt Lounge, Tam Commons, 505 Miller Ave, 415-381-9656.

Opened in June 2007 as Cici Gelateria, the shop rebranded itself as Noci Gelato in 2010. Slow Food delegates to the Terra Madre conference in 2008 in recognition for their local, in season sourcing, Noci owners and Mill Valley natives Liana and Michael Orlandi source 98 percent of their ingredients from local businesses.

“The only things we don’t source locally are coffee beans, mangos and vanilla,” Michael Orlandi said.

Straus Family Creamery provides all the dairy, Clover Organic Farms provides all the eggs and customers bring in fruits, too. “We make sure to recognize the grower on each flavor,” Michael said.

Everything in the shop is organic, made daily from scratch by Michael (Liana runs the shop) and is largely season-dependent. Luckily, chocolate does not have a season and is regularly available, as are coffee, vanilla and fresh spearmint flavors.  “We also always have one nut (noci) flavor,” Michael said. With berry season upon us, look for strawberry and raspberry, peaches and cream, frutti di bosco (fruits of the forest) and nectarine or Galia melon sorbet.

Recently certified by the Marin Energy Authority as using 100 percent renewable energy, the shop uses one-time fill refrigerated glycol to cool the gelato and sorbet cases, rather than a water-cooled system which required up to 700 gallons of water/day. And after he finishes making the gelato, Michael takes to his “kinetic ice cream” truck, a push-pedal delivery bicycle that makes deliveries “close to downtown” and appearances at special events.

Sensitivity to food allergens is a primary concern at the shop as Liana was recently diagnosed with celiac disease. “We are soy-free, GMO-free, and corn-free in addition to gluten-free,” Michael said, “and tree nut flavors always are made last to reduce cross-contamination.”

Prices are determined by the number of flavors or scoops, toppings are sold separately and service is at the counter. Fresh coffee is also available.

And if you are looking for a flavor with a short season or a small but dedicated following, like avocado gelato, be sure to get in touch with the store and added to their email list. Otherwise, it will be here and gone before you know it.

The 411: Noci Gelato, 17 East Blithedale at Throckmorton Ave., 415.388.2423.

Julie Hanft July 14, 2011 at 12:23 AM
And it looks like another place is in the works next to USBank on the Depot Plaza . . .
Christina Mueller Welter July 26, 2011 at 04:41 AM
Yes, that's right. I've had my eye on that shop for months but nothing is "stirring" lately. I'll post news when there is some to post.

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