Walk into a frozen yogurt shop after dinner on a warm evening and you are likely to find children, parents and grandparents standing at the self-serve machines.
They survey the options.
Then customers sample the flavors on tap, from cake batter to thin mint, root beer float to berry sorbet.
You may choose one flavor or combine a couple; you might want just a dollop or a large heaping cup.
Then the fun starts.
Crushed cookies, candies, chocolates, cereals, fresh fruits, nuts, sauces and sprinkles are among the dozens of choices that tempt and tantalize your taste buds at the toppings bar -- the place where one-of-a-kind creations are made.
"The experience is fun for kids and for the adults," says Adrienne Tranberg, of South Bend, on Facebook. "Creating something new at every visit is what is appealing to my son and myself. The environment is fun and does give me a sense of community. Everyone is happy when making a yogurt sundae."
Frozen yogurt shops burst onto the scene during the 1980s, when TCBY served as the industry giant among health-conscious consumers.
The national trend never completely disappeared, but it waned. That is, until about four years ago, when the number of fro-yo shops dramatically grew, especially on the West Coast. Some cities saw frozen dessert shops popping up on every street corner like coffeehouses.
Last year, two locally owned businesses opened within weeks of one another in South Bend and Mishawaka, introducing local diners to the popular concept and product that's generally considered healthier than ice cream and frozen custard.
A 4-ounce serving usually has between 80 to 120 calories, without toppings. That is between two to four Weight Watchers points.
An average cup contains between 8 to 10 ounces, and costs $3.50 to $4 -- or more depending on the toppings.
"Yummy," says Pat Morgan, of South Bend, on Facebook. "It's the yogurt, the choices, and the fun of making your own and enjoying family and friends."
Let's Spoon opened its first shop near Notre Dame in April 2011. The owners added a second location at Erskine Village on South Bend's south side, and it has became kosher certified by a local rabbi.
"I feel we're still continuing to grow, especially being near Notre Dame with students coming in and out," says Holly Lederer, co-owner. "We couldn't have chosen a better spot."
In Mishawaka, Urban Swirl debuted its first yogurt bar in June 2011 at Heritage Square. Not only is Urban Swirl planning a Goshen location in July, but the owners are expanding to West Lafayette, Ind., and St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I think there are people who come specifically for the yogurt, and others come for the social aspect of the experience," says co-owner Nancy Hildebrandt.
"It's a place to hang out, and somewhere to always see someone you know," she says about Urban Swirl. "Even in recessionary times, people will allow themselves a small treat. I think the self-serve part of this concept helped bring the popularity of frozen yogurt back."
And the number of area shops is expected to more than double during the next few months.