Sweet Alley, the only location that has sold frozen yogurt in Isla Vista over the past six years, has quietly changed owners. After a month of unexplained closure, the unassuming frozen yogurt and bulk candy store threw a grand re-opening Feb. 3 to announce Sweet Alley is back in business.
The sun had just broken through the fog of a dreary morning — prime frozen yogurt weather — when I went to investigate if Sweet Alley has undergone any major changes under new ownership. My photographer and I approached, excited for a frozen yogurt treat.
Except for a very unexciting grand opening sign, the storefront looked unchanged from the previous ownership. The inside also remained the same as it had been after the store’s remodel last year, with bleached wood and slick tile giving the place a modern, hipster vibe. A wall of bulk candy still sits across from the frozen yogurt dispensers.
The only new additions to Sweet Alley’s adornment were several pages displayed at the front counter picturing exotic new menu items. These items included various combinations of cubed mango, mango soup, sticky black rice, mochi balls, vanilla ice cream “snow,” and the Southeast Asian fruit durian, the last of which any curious student could ask to sample.
Intrigued by the new menu items and otherwise seemingly unchanged store aesthetic, I sat down with new owner Glady Shu for a brief interview. She told The Bottom Line the only significant change to Sweet Alley, besides ownership, is the new dessert offerings, which hail from Hong Kong.
“Asian students like the desserts, but Americans don’t,” Shu said, unconcerned. “Americans have [been trying them], and they like them then, but they’re not usually trying them. They’re coming here for yogurt.”
My photographer and I are Americans who went to Sweet Alley for yogurt. We got yogurt. I obviously had to first taste all eight available flavors. Although the vanilla, chocolate, yellow cake, and Italian tart were tasty, none of them stood out beyond other yogurt establishments. We opted for some of Sweet Alley’s more unusual offerings, crafting two bowls, one combining the chai and salted caramel flavors, one combining the acai berry and pineapple Dole flavors.
The pineapple Dole yogurt resembles Dole Whip ice cream, taking me back to memories of hot days wandering around Disneyland with a refreshing Dole Whip. When blended together and topped with fruit plus sour stix, the acai and pineapple yogurts became a tangy tapestry of flavors.
Chai and salted caramel mixed to taste like a caramel chai latte, but perfect for a sunny day rather than a rainy one. The chai stood out on its own as a unique flavor in comparison to the forgettable salted caramel.
Unfortunately, the chai and salted caramel yogurts began visibly melting immediately after being poured. The berry flavors remained frozen remarkably well, maintaining their icy texture until it could be eaten and enjoyed, but by the time we sat down to eat, a thick layer of yogurt-y slush covered the top of the chai-caramel combo.
Even when partially melted, the yogurt quenched my photographer’s and my cravings. To top the treat off the manager brought us a taste of durian, a signature ingredient in some of the Hong Kongese desserts. Before giving us the sample, she described durian as “a very special fruit, so when people like it they really like it, but when people don’t they can’t even smell it … it’s double sided — controversial.”
As she handed us two cups with sizeable blobs of durian mush inside, a powerful smell of rotten-fruity sulfur wafted to me. Undisturbed by the off-putting stench, I took a bite.
Unlike the smell, the durian had a sweet, creamy flavor, like a mix of dried mango and avocado with a slight smokiness. Although my taste buds are not used to this particular flavor, I can see why many consider it a delicacy. Shu told The Bottom Line that she has “lots of Asian customers that come for it,” so there is obviously demand.
The durian taste piqued my curiosity so much I had to return the next day to try a different Hong Kongese dessert. I chose a safe-looking, durian-less option: the mango addiction.
Composed of crunchy vanilla ice cream, a chewy ball of sweet sticky black rice, and succulent mango cubes, the mango addiction combined simple ingredients for a pleasantly unfamiliar flavor and texture. At $6.99, the mango addiction is a bit pricey, but it is more than enough dessert for two people.
Although mostly unchanged after its grand reopening, Sweet Alley’s unique, delicious yogurt flavors and large topping selection reaffirm it as the go-to frozen yogurt place in Isla Vista. Though the yogurt is expensive, at 49 cents per ounce, bulk candy is cheap at the same price. Only adventurous students should order a Hong-Kongese dessert with durian, but the other exotic offerings will satisfy anyone looking for an unusual treat.