Mark Underwood spent the past three years eating frozen yogurt.
He visited more than 20 shops in and around his previous home of Atlanta, studying flavors, customer service and even décor. And finally, after tasting countless cups of the stuff, he's getting ready to open a shop and sell a few cups of his own.
32 Below, one of many new eateries popping up along Barracks Row and the only frozen yogurt offering in that neighborhood, opens the week of July 4.
"I love the concept, I love the yogurt, I love it. I've been eating it consistently for three years, and I know it inside and out," Underwood said. "And it's just simple. It's a healthy way, a flavorful way, of taking a break from the summer heat."
The simplicity of 32 Below won't come just from the frozen yogurt. The bright blue and orange shop will offer eight self-serve flavors, with 12 toppings that patrons can scoop up themselves. Underwood said that although self-serve may seem more complicated to new patrons, it actually streamlines the process and allows his workers to offer better customer service.
That good service is something he believes will set his brand apart from the mass of frozen yogurt shops that have proliferated in the city in the past few years.
"We've been taking our staff to some other places to let them see what it's like to get bad customer service," he said, adding that he wants to provide patrons with "true customer service."
His focus on customer service stems from Underwood's 20 years of experience investing in and developing restaurants. But owning his own business has been his dream, and he hopes 32 Below will grow to offer others the chance to live that dream as well.
"It's not really about being a business owner — it's more than that because I'm providing opportunities for a lot of people that are in this business with me now," he said. "As we grow, they grow."
Underwood believes a combination of good customer service and community outreach will keep folks coming back. 32 Below will let patrons vote on a rotating flavor each month, and Underwood will sell the winning flavor in the shop. Across the front of the staff's shirts, in friendly, rounded lettering, reads "Icecreamsucks.net," which directs patrons back to 32 Below's website.
"It's all about being playful," Underwood said of the shirts. "So we're not calling out Ben and Jerry's, but we're kind of jabbing at ice cream a little bit."
That playful sensibility pervades both his business philosophy and the shop's décor.
For those who haven't been to a self-serve frozen yogurt shop before, there's the "32 Below Operating Manual," a four-step process that will be displayed on the wall behind the cashier.
Visitors get their first look at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened to the public on Monday, Oct. 6, 2014. The new memorial is located off Independence Ave. SW between the Rayburn House Office Building and HHS. Buy photo here.