With passion for own business, couple serves up a ‘healthy indulgence’
Warwick residents Rick and Ana Loud fulfilled a dream when they opened Chill Out Loud, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop in Airport Plaza, last November. The couple hopes their business remains family-oriented and provides locals with a dessert spot to call their own.
Owning a business has been their dream since they met in 2004, but coming up with an idea they could agree on proved challenging. Until the pair, who married five years ago, came across the concept of self-serve frozen yogurt and toppings, which was gaining popularity, specifically in Florida. “Once we saw the self-serve concept, we knew it was something we could excel at,” said Rick.
If a self-serve frozen yogurt place with endless topping options sounds familiar, that is because similar businesses have been started across the state. National franchises in the area include Orange Leaf on Bald Hill Road and Pinkberry in the Warwick Mall and Garden City. Ana believes the trend has taken off because people are looking for healthy indulgence.
“People are more health conscience than ever,” she said. “Yogurt is naturally good for you, but the customization makes it popular.”
The Louds feel they went into business at the ideal time.
“[Once we had the idea], we said ‘we’re doing it now,’ otherwise we would have been out,” said Rick.
The duo considered franchise opportunities, but decided to create something on their own.
“Being locally-owned is a huge thing,” said Rick, who grew up in the area.
Starting from scratch came with its share of learning experiences.
“Being new and independent, you don’t have the guidance a franchise has,” said Ana.
“To actually open the doors was the hardest part,” adds Rick, citing legal concerns and finding the best product as just two of the challenges they faced.
Ana said their biggest challenge had to be getting together the funds to fulfill their dream. Ana estimated that the couple raised more than $200,000 to get their business off the ground. “Nothing came from small-business loans,” said Ana. “I wasn’t too happy about that.”
Although they had been saving for almost five years, Rick and Ana had to take out personal loans from the bank and receive financial help from Rick’s parents and Ana’s three older sisters.
“Nothing would have been possible without our family,” said Ana, who was born in Dominican Republic but moved to the States when she was 14. Since both of her parents have passed away, Ana feels incredibly lucky to have the support system of her sisters, even though they live so far apart (one lives in Providence, another in Europe and the third in Dominican Republic). In addition to providing financial support, family members and friends assisted with everything from generating names for the shop to babysitting the couple’s 3-year-old son Manny.
In addition to their ability to overcome challenges, the Louds are proud of the product they offer, which is sold for 49 cents an ounce. Their yogurts are all low-fat or fat-free, and Certified Live and Active Cultures, which are good for one’s health. There is also non-sugar, non-dairy sorbet options. Rick, who favors Cookies and Cream, believes their product is successful because it tastes like what it says. Ana, whose favorite is a toss-up between Cookies and Cream and Triple Chocolate, also emphasizes that their toppings include fresh fruit, cut daily.
Since opening, Rick and Ana have been dedicated to customer service. They have experience in the customer service industry, meeting during a training session at Cox Communications in 2004. Rick believes meeting was fate because he had to attend the session despite receiving side-by-side training already. Rick still works in sales at Cox, but Ana was laid off in 2010 and chose to pursue her bachelor’s degree in management online through Northeastern University; she hopes to finish this summer.
Rick and Ana know their dedication to customers sets them apart from the competition. They take suggestions seriously, especially for toppings. “When we first opened, a man said to us that we should get Nutella for a topping. We said ‘OK,’ and went out to the store that day,” said Rick.
Ana had a similar experience just last week. When a customer noticed the Strawberry Sensation and Cheese Cake flavors, she suggested graham cracker crumbs as a topping. Ana provided them right away. While flavors change regularly, the business monitors which ones sell out quickly and keep those around longer.
“We are here for the customers, asking their opinions and making the changes right away,” said Ana.
She or Rick is in the store at all times, talking to people and providing a welcoming environment they don’t see at similar establishments.
“We have a full seating area, popular music playing, the TV on,” said Rick. “You go into other places that have 10 people inside and it feels crowded.”
Chill Out Loud also hopes to give back to the community. In addition to hosting birthday parties and organizing fundraisers, the business is going to be a sponsor for the Warwick West Side Little League this season.
Although Rick and Ana had planned to open Chill Out Loud last May and benefit from opening in the warm weather, they are incredibly pleased with the business they have generated this winter.
“We were able to learn during a slow time,” said Rick. “We have exceeded expectations.”
Their son is also a big fan of the business. Ana said that Manny is always excited to go into the shop.
“He has woken me up and said, ‘Mommy, we have to go to work,’” said Ana.
Rick feels the customers are equally excited to see Manny, often asking where he is.
Rick and Ana believe they have succeeded in creating a local, family-oriented business. They now hope to expand the menu to include items such as smoothies. While they want to focus on one store for now, they have not ruled out multiple locations in the future.