One year ago, Jean and Gayna Alerte had no idea they’d be in the frozen yogurt business. Today, it’s their passion.
Yep, a year ago, the married couple was busy growing their respective careers in real estate and other entrepreneurial endeavors.
Jean Alerte, who runs a small jewelry business and public relations company, also was putting the finishing touches on a self-help book he was preparing to publish, entitled “Do Right, Do Good.”
But when the tenants who were leasing the retail space the Alertes owned at 445 Marcus Garvey Boulevard decided to close up shop, things turned cold for them— literally.
This was the second set of tenants in less than three years to fold their businesses in that same space. What’s worse, the second tenants opened only one day before never opening again, after its chef quit on day-one.
So, unfortunately, the Alertes were stuck with the empty space again, in an area, ironically, they considered to be prime real estate.
“So my wife said, ‘You know what? Instead of renting it out to someone else, let’s try bringing something healthy into the neighborhood,’” said Jean.
Health-conscious themselves, the Alertes wanted to offer a fun and nutritious food item that adults, kids, vegetarians, vegans and meat-eaters alike could enjoy.
“We wanted to give kids and the neighborhood other options besides soul food, wine or liquor.”
In a quick decision, they decided to seek out a popular frozen yogurt chain.
“At first, we went after a few big frozen yogurt chains, like TCBY,” said Jean. “But they all said, ‘We’re not coming; there’s not enough people in that neighborhood.’
“I said, What do you mean not enough? There’s like three million people in a one-mile radius of this address. We can’t eat frozen yogurt? I was a little upset," said Jean.
“So, we decided to do it ourselves.”
On Thursday, June 21, 2012, the Alertes debuted in Bed-Stuy, “Brooklyn Swirl,” a frozen yogurt café that sells all non-fat, non-dairy and gluten-free yogurt, along with fresh fruit smoothies, homemade fruit crepes and coffee.
The yogurt flavors – which rotate each month – currently come in yummy options like Dutch chocolate, banana, cookies and cream, sugar-free vanilla, Caribbean coffee and mango.
“When people come in and want to try frozen yogurt for the first time, we often suggest the mango. Even people that are not vegans love that flavor, and when they try it, forget about it. They love it!” said Jean.
There are a variety of toppings, including the standard chocolate, strawberry and caramel syrups, brownie bites, graham crackers and sprinkles. But mostly, they focus on fresh fruit toppings, which they buy directly and locally from Brooklyn Organic.
The décor inside is playful for the children, while decidedly clean and simple for the adults, with two television screens and free Wifi for those who want to come in from a hot day and sit for a while on their computers. Also, there’s outdoor patio seating on a raised wooden deck for those who want to share a crepe and coffee in the afternoon breeze.
“We took our time and thought out everything carefully, as far as how we wanted the inside and the outside to look and feel,” said Jean. “We wanted it to be uplifting, bright, with pictures of fruit; we wanted a clean sleek look… We just wanted to be different from everyone else.”
Brooklyn Swirl is open Monday through Sunday, seven days a week, from 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
“Our tagline is 'Discover Your Passion,' because once you come in and taste one of these flavors, you’re not going back to ice cream.
“And you know, the kids love it too! They think it’s ice cream, but it’s not,” Jean said laughing, excited. “I love it, I love it!!”