Are you all ready for another featured spotlight?? This will be my last one for the summer and I am super honored to share this as this person really hits the spot when it comes to success. Not to mention he is someone who can easily inspire you to do ANYTHING your heart desires.
Recently, I had the opportunity of meeting founder of 16 Handles, Solomon Choi, at a friend’s birthday dinner. Sitting across from Solomon with good friends, I listened to his story about finding the frozen yogurt company and was inspired by his philosophy, his passion and drive to go beyond simply having a good product to sell. I remember when he shared, “Be authentic. Stand for more than your product if you want to build a lifestyle brand.” So I asked if he can share this story with Lilspirations and we enjoyed a nice interview and conversation over a frozen yogurt at one of his stores. For those of you who seek to be entrepreneurs, perhaps this may give you a little push and bring a smile as well!
Solomon, I love your enthusiasm and passion about 16 handles (and life in general)! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I’ve always known I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I started selling baseball cards since I was 7. Then at the age of 10 I wanted these rollerblades that were $100 but my mom said no. I knew I would never get it from her unless I did something myself. I borrowed an oversized pair from a kid I knew but it didn’t matter how big it was- I loved them. He said if I gave him $50 cash, he would sell it to me. So in a week, I liquidated my assets. I sold my cards to peers, paid and got my rollerblades, and wore them till I was about 16 or 17.
Did you know then that you wanted to study business?
I went to the University of Southern California to study business and marketing. I worked for Enterprise Rent A Car and learned retail management for 3 years prior to working for my father at the largest Japanese Buffet franchise in the US. Then I joined a startup Hospitality Group in Los Angeles that developed 8 different Japanese restaurant concepts and a gelato franchise.
16 Handles was the first self service yogurt shop in NYC. But how does it still differ now from other yogurt places?
I learned a lot from working at Enterprise. What makes them different from other car rental places is the guest service. They always excel at service. It’s not just about their commodity products, their brand is about their different experience. At 16 Handles, we provide yogurt but it isn’t just about that. It’s a meeting place, a social and fun place, one that’s for everyone. Kids, guys, families. There’s something for everybody. Now we have tart, ice cream flavor yogurt, dairy-free, soy-free, low-fat. I believe that the best brands focus on quality, the guest experience, as well as the products.
Is that where your slogan comes in, “Flaunt your flavor”?
I wanted to create a place that is fun and everyone can feel good about it. People have different personalities and they should feel that they can walk in a place with no judgments, no wrong answers. I want it to be a lifestyle and empower people to be themselves. Working in the food industry, staff must wear hats, but instead of making them wear a standard hat, I want my staff to wear whatever hat they want. If they love a specific team, then wear a team hat. There is no judgment.
You focus on quality and guest service. What other companies do you look up to that you believe have the same philosophy?
Apple. Soul cycle. Chipotle. Chipotle proudly features where the products come from, and for consumers, it has changed the way we look at how food is sourced. When Chipotle found out that their pork supplier wasn’t maintaining the agreed upon quality standards, they removed the popular item because it wasn’t meeting their standards. That shows how important quality is to their brand as well as standing by their values.
Something I love about 16 Handles is that everyday, the company plants 16 trees. Can you tell us about this initiative?
We go through a lot of paper products at 16 Handles. In California, styrofoam packaging is actually banned from restaurants along beach cities . Our custom compostable cups and recyclable spoons are supplied by another company I created called Greeno Products. This company was created out of necessity as I saw growth potential for not only 16 Handles but other foodservice startups that would need branded disposables. We partnered with Trees for the Future which helps educate farmers in third world countries cultivate their land so crops can be grown for generations.
Thank you Solomon for sharing your story and being an inspiration.
Never been to 16 Handles? Check them out at multiple locations (and coming soon worldwide!) But if you’ve been, what’s YOUR favorite flavor? Enjoy and share!