I went to dinner with some friends in Winter Park recently, and while we were enjoying our entrees they started talking about Menchie’s, a yogurt shop in Winter Park Corners. They seemed stunned when I told them I had never been. Yogurt shops have been around for decades, I thought; what’s so special about this one?
They said I had to experience it for myself to truly understand. So instead of lingering over coffee and dessert at the restaurant, we all headed for Menchie’s.
It was about 9:30 on a Saturday night and the place was buzzing with people all bouncing around the small space. At first it looks like a conventional yogurt place with a counter in the center where a couple of young staff members stand. Behind them is a bank of stainless steel yogurt extruders. But the staff doesn’t do the extruding — the customers do.
It was a good thing my friends knew the drill or I think I’d have been lost. One of my guides stepped right up to a tray on the counter and picked up a stack of small, white sample cups, which he handed to me. He said I should just go from machine to machine and sample as many of the yogurts that I want. It takes a bit of getting used to the rhythm of the machine — you just need to lift up on the handle and release it very quickly, lest your sample cup overflows and you’re left with frozen dairy product all over your hand.
So then, you sample all the yogurts and decide which one you want — or maybe you want a combination of all of them; that’s fine, too. After you decide, you get a larger cup from the counter and start filling it with yogurt. Then, step over to the condiment area and put on whatever toppings you fancy. You’ll find more healthful things like fresh fruit (but let’s not kid ourselves that his is a healthful dessert, shall we?). But there are also fun indulgences, such as M&Ms, Cap’n Crunch, crushed cookies, nuts, granola (see comment above about healthfulness), fudge, caramel and nonfat, no sugar-added fudge (fool yourself if you must).
Once you’ve got your cup loaded, you hand it to the person at the counter who weighs it. You pay based on the number of ounces — or pounds, as the case may be. The genius of the system is allowing the customers to do the dispensing themselves — and giving them really large cups to fill. I saw only one size cup, which I didn’t fill even halfway. To save on money — and calories — you might want to do the same. And avoid the chocolate covered lead topping.
I was impressed with how neat and tidy Menchie’s was, especially the toppings area. It’s really easy for something like that, with dozens of wet and dry toppings and hordes of people swarming and scooping, to become unkempt quickly. But there were a couple of staffers whose sole job, I was told, is to keep the area looking good. They were doing their job nicely.
I wasn’t all that thrilled with the variety of the yogurts on the night I visited. I finally chose the dulce de leche, but it was a choice of last resort (and, to be fair, was pretty good). If those were the only choices all the time I probably wouldn’t return. But Menchie’s rotates the flavors regularly — you never know what you’re going to get.
Menchie’s is at 1939 Aloma Ave., Winter Park. There’s another at 7339 Sand Lake Road, Orlando; and one at 2617 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee. Another is set to open soon in Winter Park Village. Most of them open at 11 a.m. and serve (or watch you serve yourself) until 10-ish during the week and 11 on weekends. For specific hours and more information, visit Menchie’s Web site.