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Yolo Kicks off Fro-Yo Wars

New self-serve frozen yogurt shop at Tamalpais Commons gives Mill Valley an abundance of frozen delights.

It won't be hard to find a dessert to cool you down in Mill Valley this summer. With the arrival of Yolo Yogurt Lounge at the new Tamalpais Commons on Miller Avenue, a frozen-delight fight is in full swing.

The self-serve Yolo Yogurt is slated to open Monday pending permit approval. It will join three other "fro-yo," ice cream and gelato dispensaries in Mill Valley's 4.7 square miles. Mill Valley Swirl opened in June just a few blocks down on Miller, across from the original Whole Foods. There's also three-year-old Noci on 17 East Blithedale Ave., and Baskin Robbins at 29 Miller Ave.

Despite the close quarters, Yolo owner Karen Kauh remains optimistic that Mill Valley can handle another frozen yogurt establishment.

"I decided it was a good time to take a leap and thought it was a good 'mom' business," said the married Mill Valley resident and mother of two kids, ages 3 and 6.

Kauh is banking on location to be the key to her store's pay-by-the-ounce success. Situated at Tam Commons at 505 Miller Ave., it shares space with Dish restaurant and ToyHouse toy store. Already, the three businesses are discussing ways to combine forces to attract more customers.

"It's the perfect relationship," Mill Valley Chamber of Commerce President Kathy Severson said. "All three of them can partner well in this situation."

Yolo is also within easy walking distance from the hungry teenage hordes at Tamalpais High School, many of whom, Kauh said, are looking for better food options and lunchtime destinations.

"We wanted to create a fun, cool, hip environment," she said, adding that there will be indoor standing counters and outside patio seating.

Along with a lounge atmosphere, Kauh is putting her focus on the yogurt toppings, many of which are homemade, such as granola, brownies, fruit crumble and graham cracker crust.

"My hope is that someone who's not a big frozen yogurt fan will come in and buy toppings," said Kauh, adding that she will also offer healthy and some organic grab-n-go snacks such as drinks, nutrition bars and chips. She is also busy pursuing her green business certification from Marin County.

Jeff Shine, owner of fellow fro-yo shop Swirl, is good-natured in his appraisal of the new kid on the block. While Swirl sells its frozen yogurt at 43 cents per ounce, Yolo charges 45 cents per ounce.

"Obviously, we're a little too close for comfort, but there will be no yogurt wars," he said with a laugh. "I wish her all the luck in the world."

At the same time, Shine is hoping his tables and chairs inside, extra yogurt machine, and early jump on the summer crowds will keep him ahead of the curve.

With mere days separating Kauh from her dream, she's not the only one who's excited for the store to open.

"(My kids) think they own it and it's all theirs. It's fun to see how excited all of their friends are," she said. "We just want it to be something for everyone."

Yolo Yogurt Lounge, 505 Miller Ave., 415-381-9656. yoloyogurt.com.

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