With frozen yogurt shop, Tucson's Flores family turns over new 'Leaf'
Dave Perry/The Explorer, Bianca Difonzo draws a yogurt sample at Orange Leaf Self Serve Frozen Yogurt, now open in Oracle Crossings next to El Charro Café.

Tucson's Flores family, widely known for its El Charro Cafés, is now in the dessert business.

Orange Leaf Self Serve Frozen Yogurt was welcomed to Oro Valley with a Saturday ribbon cutting. The Oracle Crossings sweet spot is right next door to El Charro, and El Charro president Ray Flores already sees how one business complements the other.

"People need to have a night out," Flores said. Mexican food and a cold yogurt make for "a date night out, light and airy."

Orange Leaf was festive Saturday, with orange and white frosted cookies, orange and white popcorn, people clad in orange and plenty of smooth yogurt flowing.

Orange Leaf has a five-step process to satisfaction. Customers pick their cup size, choose their yogurt flavors, select their toppings, weigh the creation and pay for it. A sixth step?  "Enjoy it," Flores said.

"Customers are more interactive," Flores said. "I can take as much or as little as I want."

On Saturday, customers could choose among non-fat yogurt flavors such as peach, pomegranate, original tart, orange, strawberry, mango tango and raspberry, low-fat offerings in vanilla, chocolate and coffee, even non-dairy Dole pineapple. There are no-sugar choices, too. Toppings include fruits, nuts, sweets and more.

Yogurt is beneficial, with protein and calcium, and it's "high in active cultures" that assist with digestion and fight disease. Yes, there are calories, but "if you are looking for something really tasty that can still be good for you, this is it," Flores said.

"Our product is better than what's out there," Flores said. The yogurt is made with skim milk, and is dispensed through Stoelting machines, the U.S.-made brand used by Dairy Queen. "It keeps the yogurt creamier, more ice cream-like," Flores said.

Flores makes a point to emphasize Orange Leaf's appeal to children. "We're cognizant of children," said Flores. A kids' area up front has a low-placed TV. In the restrooms, kids can climb up on a box to wash their hands, and there's a mirror at child's height. For adults, mist cools the patio.

Above all, he said, the eatery is clean.

Orange Leaf is a franchise. "The concept came from California," Flores said. Pink Berry was a hit with the Hollywood crowd. Spin-offs followed. Flores met with the Orange Leaf people, liked them, and entered the family's first franchise venture. The business opened two weeks ago, and response has been favorable.

Carlotta Flores, executive chef and owner of El Charro, and Ray's wife Sasha join Flores in owning the business. Josue Limon is the store's manager. He went to corporate headquarters for training, and now knows "everything there is to know about yogurt." The business occupies a 1,500-square-foot space. There are 20 employees, primarily part-timers, many of them students. "There are a lot of first jobbers, which is cool," Flores said.

On hand for the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce ribbon cutting Saturday were Oro Valley Vice Mayor Bill Garner, council members Joe Hornat and Lou Waters, chamber president Ramon Gaanderse, and members of the chamber board.

"The United States runs on small business," Gaanderse told the audience. "That's why we're here to celebrate today, in these tough economic times," the opening of a new business.

"It's tough to get things done nowadays," Flores said. "We feel this concept is a perfect match for what we do next door" at El Charro. There may be more opportunities ahead, he added.

"It's a very positive statement for our community that business is doing well," Garner said.

Orange Leaf Self Serve Frozen Yogurt

7725 N. Oracle Road, #102

Next door to El Charro Café in Oracle Crossings

Oro Valley

10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

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