By REBECCA OLSON
Walking into Toppins is like entering a childhood fantasy: heaps of chopped Kit Kats sit near gleaming gummy bears and toasted coconut, a wall is devoted to creative, blend-able frozen yogurt flavors and in the evenings, laser lights dance on the tables and floor beneath a disco ball.
Frozen yogurt isn’t the only thing that makes Oak Harbor’s new business cool; Toppins is entirely devoted to fun.
“People come in happy and leave happier,” said James Croft, who owns Toppins with his wife, Priscilla.
That’s not hard to imagine in the cheery interior of the shop located at 32650 Highway 20 Suite A101 in Oak Harbor. The colorful floor and ceiling, coupled with seasonal decorations, a Ms. Pac Man machine and the scent of freshly cooked waffle cones speak to the efforts the Crofts have put into their new business.
Toppins is a self-serve frozen yogurt shop. People grab a cup, fill it with as much frozen yogurt in as many flavors as they want, then top it with any number of 80 toppings available. With 10 frozen yogurt flavors and two sorbets as a non-dairy alternative, people can mix flavors manually or use the built-in swirl feature for frozen yogurts paired in each machine. A host of ever-changing flavors includes angel food cake, strawberry and cheesecake. The 80 toppings include everything from candy to cake bottoms to fruits and syrups and flavors of boba.
“You can make either a healthy yogurt or you can make an indulgent yogurt. Mine are usually indulgent,” James laughed.
The self-serve frozen yogurt business is sweeping the nation, James said.
“The concept (of Toppins) is pretty similar. It’s really what you put into the store to make it your own. For me, the experience is just as important as the toppings,” James said, adding that the idea was to make every visit to Toppins a fun experience.
Since the flavors are always changing, Toppins has a text message service to keep people up to date. Sign up by texting “Toppins” in the message line to 84444. The Toppins Facebook page also details the many events and treats in the shop.
While the idea of opening a frozen yogurt shop came easily to Priscilla, it took some convincing to get James aboard. Priscilla’s friend raved about Zinga, a frozen yogurt shop. Priscilla thought the idea of opening their own frozen yogurt store was wonderful, but James, who isn’t a fan of yogurt, didn’t think frozen yogurt would taste any better — that is, until he gave it a try.
“Frozen yogurt tastes very much like ice cream with the benefits of yogurt,” James said. Benefits include live active cultures, lower fat content and lower calories than ice cream.
“And it still tastes great,” James said.
Now a complete frozen yogurt convert, James said his intake of frozen yogurt has tripled since they started selling pumpkin-flavored frozen yogurt. His winning blend is pumpkin and cake batter frozen yogurts with chocolate chips and whipped cream on top.
“For us, the idea was to make it fun,” James said.
Everything about the shop is meant to be enjoyable and uplifting: bright colors, the smile on the logo and the many pairs of eyes stuck to napkin holders, the drink refrigerator and even the bathroom signs — a tradition the Crofts enjoy as patrons purchase the eyes and are free to stick them where they will. From holding pajama parties to encouraging the wearing of stick-on mustaches, there’s never a dull moment at Toppins.
“Our tagline is ‘pour some fun’ and our motto is to be kid friendly and family fun,” he added. Growing up in Oak Harbor, the Crofts realized there wasn’t much for youths to do in town, but they hope their fun spot becomes a popular hangout. “We encourage people to come in, enjoy their families, sit down, hang out.”
Despite continuing his position as Home Depot store manager, a job James said he loves too much to give up, the Crofts said it wasn’t difficult opening a business.
“We did most of the work ourselves. It was a lot of late hours but fun to see it all come together,” James said. “We’ve always wanted to open something.”
Fun for a purpose
Another reason to drop by Toppins for a treat: the biggest aspect for the Crofts is making their business community-oriented by giving back to their hometown. Since the shop opened in June, it has raised $5,000 to donate to the community through groups like the Boys and Girls Club, Ryan’s House for Youth, the Wounded Warrior project, sending the Malloy family to the Olympic Games in London and saving the Blue Fox Drive-In. This month, funds will go to Habitat for Humanity.
The goal is to raise $10,000 this year through their tip jar, proceeds from sales and events. Community is a priority in every facet of the Crofts’ lives. Through Home Depot, James gives back via events including the annual Fire Safety event and the Christmas Village.
“Nothing is more powerful than the embrace of your community,” James said is a saying he lives by.
James was born and raised in Oak Harbor and Priscilla moved to Oak Harbor in 1988. Both attended Oak Harbor High School.
Growing up in Oak Harbor, James said he remembers the feel-good, small-town favorite restaurants like Kow Korner Drive-In and Poncho’s. With Toppins, the Crofts hope to create a feel that Oak Harbor residents can recognize 10 or 20 years down the road.
“We love this community,” James said, adding that they have no intention of leaving.
For details, call 682-6695.