Sunday, July 20, 2008

Jessica Gilmartin, Founder of Fraiche Yogurt

Yogurt Evangelist of Emerson Street

Jessica Gilmartin wants to convert you. She wants to convert you from your obsession with frozen yogurts that are more of a dessert than a healthy snack. And she wants you to know the joys of both fresh yogurt as well as frozen yogurt.

And the converts are lining up -- often out the door and around the block since Gilmartin, along with her business partner, Patama Roj, launched Fraiche Yogurt in Palo Alto, CA in June 2007.

A typical day finds Gilmartin in her colorful and hip orange and white shop. Today she is ripping blue tape off the floor that a well-meaning employee thought would help customers queue in a more efficient manner.

She notices everything even though she is talking one-on-one with a customer: She corrects a staff member when he tells a customer they are out of fresh pineapple topping. She notices that someone left the store without buying anything and you feel like she just might run after them to find out why. Customers want a minute with her to give her a compliment. Parents of her young staff want to tell her how glad they are that their kid is working there. She greets most customers by name. You aren't surprised when she says that, "community is everything to me."

How did the thirtyish Wharton School of Business graduate find herself co-owner of not just a yogurt shop but also poised at the beginning of a market that is just getting ready to explode with competition?

Gilmartin spent the last ten years helping large corporations with their business restructuring efforts. When the New York native relocated to California, she decided to launch her own company. But she had two criteria that had to be met: she wanted to sell a healthy product that she was passionate about and she wanted to be in business with her fellow graduate and good friend, Roj.

While brainstorming business ideas, the two entrepreneurs realized that they were both crazy for the tangy yogurt they had experienced in their European travels.

"Most yogurt shops offer frozen yogurt that is, in my opinion, junk food," says Gilmartin. "That type of yogurt is usually a powdered mix blended with milk that contain none of the healthy live cultures that make yogurt such a healthy snack option. And we didn't find any shops that offered both fresh as well as frozen yogurts.

"We realized that there were very few healthy, delicious food options to enjoy on-the-go. We wanted to open a yogurt shop that had a cafe feel to it that health conscious people could enjoy."

In a first for a yogurt shop, the owners of Fraiche make and pasteurize their yogurt on-site with the help of a 50-gallon custom-fabricated steel tank that they imported from Italy.

Gilmartin's business savvy also helped her pick the location of her cafe. Fraiche is located near many startup companies including Facebook. And Steve Jobs and other Silicon Valley elite have been spotted in her shop.

When Gilmartin is asked about franchising Fraiche Yogurt, the high-energy field that seems to emanate from her subsides and she gets very calm and careful in her answer.

"Our heart and soul are in this shop and this community," sys Gilmartin. "Yet we have both made big financial commitments to this venture. So while we do want to expand from a profit standpoint, we want to make certain we don't lose our unique vision and our sense of community."

Sounds like an evangelist preaching to her choir.

According to the July 23, 2008 edition of the Palo Alto Weekly, Gilmartin and Roj are opening a new store in San Mateo, CA. Stayed tuned for opening date.
Go Fraiche (or don't go at all)!


  1. Patricia,
    Thank you for your lovely post. I'm so glad that you understand our mission, our values, and our belief in supporting the community.

    I hope to soon see you again in the store!