Cheftell: Local Business Owner Molly Feinstein
I don’t even have to be anywhere near Northampton to find an excuse to visit Go Berry. Whether it be a new flavor or topping, I always go out of my way to get there. The whimsical cows painted on the walls and upbeat music creates an entertaining environment while you wait in line. The store is always full, but for good reason! One of my favorite treats is frozen yogurt and of all the places I’ve tried I can assure you that the frozen yogurt at Go Berry is exceptional. I recently sat down to interview Molly Feinstein, who followed her dream of someday opening a business with her husband, Alex. Together they now own and operate two stores (Northampton and Amherst MA). Molly and Alex are passionate about producing a quality product and supporting other local businesses. All of the yogurt at Go Berry is made fresh, in-house everyday using the best ingredients that The Valley has to offer. To find out more about the Feinstein’s inspiration behind Go Berry, read on.
L: Are you originally from this area?
M: I am not. My husband, Alex grew up in the area. We went to college together and on breaks we would come here and I totally fell in love with it. So, I am a happy convert but I am not from around here.
L: Where did you go to school? What did you study?
M: I went to Connecticut College, which is a small liberal arts college in New London. I studied molecular biology. So, this was definitely a departure from where I started off but a happy one.
L: Has working in the food industry ever been apart of your family? Did you ever work in any restaurants or food related businesses?
M: I was a hostess at a restaurant growing up and that was kind of it. My family definitely has more of a science background. I worked in health care immediately following graduation, but I wanted to do something more community oriented and more creative on a day-to-day basis. This has been a great fit for me in that regard. It’s been fun!
L: What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
M: It’s challenging. Everyday is new and different. I get to interact with a ton of people and that’s really fun. I am lucky. I have some of the smartest people who work here. They are super fun and creative. So I enjoy getting the chance to work with them. I love working in the community. I love making up the flavors. It’s super fun. I think up new toppings – we have a lot of flexibility. Like this past week we did maple week. We were like “oh it’s sugaring season everyone has maple syrup, let’s do this.” So being able to do that has been really cool.
L: What is the most difficult part of your job?
M: It is super demanding. It’s constant and it’s long hours. The stores open in the summer from eleven (am) to midnight. It’s a huge chunk of time and I don’t really sleep well until I know that it’s closed because it’s my first baby. So that’s really hard.
We always try to stay engaging by doing new and creative things (like offering more flavors, toppings). We don’t ever want to get too comfortable doing the same thing. We are always looking for new ways to be fun and different. It keeps us on our toes a lot.
L: What initially inspired you and your husband to open Go Berry? What was the initial vision?
M: It’s funny. We were living in Boston and we knew that we wanted to live in Western Mass. We knew we wanted to live in Northampton and do a business together. We were driving through town and I looked at Alex and was like, “you know the only thing that is missing from Northampton is some great frozen yogurt.” That was it. We opened two month later. It was crazy. I would never do it now! We have a baby now and it’s a different world. But we just went for it. We figured it all out and it was awesome.
L: That’s awesome. It sounds like it was a good business decision for you and your husband.
M: Oh yeah! It’s been great. It’s funny because we opened thinking it would be the two of us and it would be some Mom and Pop store, super laid back and by the end of the first week we were hiring people out of the line. People would be like, “are you hiring?” and I would be like, “Yes! Can you start now?!” And we would just bring them in. That was crazy! But it’s been great, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
L: How did you decide on the name?
M: I don’t even remember. I was thinking about that recently. It just sort of became Go Berry. We would talk about it and say “oh maybe we’ll do this…” because there is Pink Berry and things like that. So we knew we wanted something like that. I think it was one of the first names we threw out and it just stuck. And then suddenly it was Go Berry.
I emailed my cousin who is a graphic designer, she does graphic novels and comics. I told her, “we’re going to open a yogurt store. It’s kind of crazy. It’s called Go Berry. What do you think would be a good logo? Can you do a logo of what you think it would look like?” And that became our logo. That’s her handwriting – she literally did that and we were like, “that’s perfect! That’s it!” It just sort of happened.
L: When did you first open your Northampton Store?
M: We opened May 15, 2010, which was Spring Fest at the Northampton Community Center. It’s a non-profit here in town. My husband’s dad actually started it. Every year they have an event called Spring Fest, where they have all the musicians play in different areas. We opened that weekend, so it was a really special way to celebrate moving back to the area and being in town.
L: In a place like Northampton, where there are so many restaurants, ice cream shops, and candy shops nearby, what did you have to do to initially market your business and set yourselves apart? What makes Go Berry unique and different?
M: We are so lucky. I think it was a couple of things. We have been really committed to producing a quality product. We are so conscientious and diligent about making sure that everything goes out delicious. We make it fresh in house. We use the best ingredients we can. We don’t use anything artificial. I look at all the ingredients.
And then we are super responsive to the community. So I think it became this thing where like, one we were lucky. We opened at a good time. We had a good product that tasted delicious. We consistently (in an on going way) try to work with the community. We’re receptive. We didn’t come in being like, “here we are!” It’s always been a give and take. Every suggestion that people say we take into serious consideration.
Social media has been huge for us. If you look at our target demographic, our largest clientele are women from like sixteen to twenty-five and on Facebook that’s huge. They respond really well. We have this (Facebook) page that generates great marketing. So it was a lot of different things and our location is fantastic. We’re right here. I like to think the big thing is that we try to never say no. If someone says, “can you order chocolate sprinkles.” We order chocolate sprinkles. We started doing cakes, because someone said, “oh I want to do a birthday cake.” We just are very willing to work with the community and that seems to have worked well for us.
L: People know what they are going to get when they come in here. They know it’s going to be fresh and good.
M: Yeah and when we train people we just want our customers to leave happy. It’s not worth it [otherwise]. If someone wants a few M&Ms just give them. We try to have an attitude of generosity. It’s really important to us.
L: That is so important in this business.
M: Yeah, you know it really makes a difference. And you have to. Businesses come and go. It’s a tough economy right now, so you really have to. That’s something we try to not stray too far from.
L: What inspired you to bring in art from local artists?
M: Why not! It’s super fun. We needed something on the walls. It’s funny. Do you remember when Cold Stone was here? It had this awful wallpaper. So we slapped up some paint. When we were about two hours before opening we were like, “oh my gosh…the walls are so white! It looks so empty in here!” So then we decided that we should have local art in here because there are so many great artist in this area. It seemed foolish to not take advantage of the opportunity. So now we try to rotate it every month or two.
L: It is such a great way to bring in the community.
M: Yeah and we have had everything from an eighth grader to this girl who has got these amazing paintings which are like a thousand dollars. So we have had the full spectrum. We had Ed Hing. He was our first exhibiter. He is amazing! Just talking to him he is so passionate.
L: What is the most popular flavor? What toppings do you run out of the most?
M: Oreo is a popular one. It does really well. Strawberries. I think the classic would be original with strawberry and Oreo. Toffee. Have you ever had the toffee? That is a really good one. I like that one a lot. For flavors, strawberry, mango – the fruit flavors do really well. It’s interesting. We sometimes get flavors that have a smaller impact but have a passionate following. Mexican chocolate is one that has several die-hard fans. So every time we have it they are knocking down our doors.
L: I love the chocolate one!
M: I know! Chocolate, Nutella, Coconut are all good ones. It’s a good mix.
We started doing something that was really fun this winter. We started doing cake flavors, like we did gingerbread. We would literally just take a sheet cake of gingerbread and put it in the machine or blender. It’s awesome. We get it from a bakery in Amherst. It’s really fun to just find other ways to work with other businesses and get creative.
M: Yeah, it’s great. When we do our coffee flavor we get our coffee from there as well.
L: Oh I love the coffee one as well!
M: It’s so good! The Valley has so much to offer. There are so many people that are passionate about what they do and they produce really great products. It seems foolish to not take advantage of all the great things that are out there.
L: So would you say that supporting other local businesses is the philosophy and objective behind Go Berry?
M: Yep! I mean for the business as a whole we are constantly just trying to be community oriented, whether it be supporting the local farms, supporting local events, or just serving yogurt on a day-to-day basis. And the philosophy we always say to each other and reinforce is, “if we don’t who will?” The world is such a changing place. A lot of these decisions do have a financial implication. We pay as much for our milk as if you went to CVS. It’s more expensive to have the good local milk. Our compostable spoons cost five times as much as a regular plastic spoon but we were having our baby and we wanted to be headed in the right direction. Even when it comes down to making these financial decisions we just think about how much we love the area and if we don’t do it who will?
L: Do you think that the general public responds well to those decisions? Do they notice?
M: Yeah I think so! Different things resonate with different people. Some people are really excited by the local dairy. Some people are really excited about Rao’s cookies. Some people are excited about the fresh fruit. One way or another people do seem to rally behind businesses that support local farms or products. At least in my experience I think so.
L: There seems to be a large amount of local support for Go Berry and you mentioned how important local feedback is to you. What do you do to reach out to the community?
M: Facebook is amazing. Facebook has changed how we run our business because it is so accessible. If someone types something on there we see it. I manage our Facebook page so I can’t miss it when it’s right there in my face.
L: Do a lot of people post flavors they want to see? Or toppings?
M: Yeah! And we definitely try to honor those. I think if people really knew how much we paid attention to it, they would do it a lot more. So don’t tell them how much! (She laughs.)
L: You later opened a second store in Amherst. What were the rewards and challenges of owning and operating a second store? Is it helpful to have them located within a reasonable distance of each other?
M: It’s a totally different ball game having two stores versus one. We kind of joke that it is our second child because we opened this one and our offices are here and we spend a lot more time here. And Amherst is across the bridge, but we are there much less often. It does great. It’s very autonomous. The kids work very hard. It’s great. I mean, having two is a lot of work. It more than doubles the day to day work because sometimes things go wrong in both places and we’re just like, “oh my god!”. But it’s good. The communities are totally different, so it’s been interesting to navigate that process. There is just a very different dynamic. The university is much more of a presence over there. We did open it the day we found out we were pregnant, so it was a bit of an “oh my god!”. It’s been interesting to have a family and starting the businesses. It’s a lot!
L: I noticed that you also sell soups and you recently began offering more daily flavors? What made you decided to start doing that? Have those decisions benefited your business?
M: We’ve done soups since the beginning. We wanted to give people in the winter an incentive to come in the door. We don’t make that much money on soup. The margins on soup aren’t great. The rational was that at least you get people coming in. Like this winter was so awful, it was just so long. So doing that is fun for us. And honestly, we were just working all the time so I wanted soup because I ate yogurt for like six months straight. I said, “I need to eat something else!” So having soup was a selfish decision to some extent too.
Having four flavors…well I mentioned we are always looking for ways to stay competitive and get creative and take advantage of what we can do new. When we opened we were the only frozen yogurt in Western Mass. Now there is one in West Springfield. There is one in Amherst. There is one coming to Northampton. But you know competition is a good thing. It forces everyone to bring their A game and we are all for it. When we looked at what we could do to stay innovative, something that was new and interesting, this was a really easy decision. It’s been great for us. It’s really fun to offer more flavors and keep them rotating. We’ve introduced ten new flavors in the past couple of months, so we’re working.
L: What I love about Go Berry is the quality. Even though some of the other frozen yogurt shops in the area offer self-serve or more flavors, when you come into Go Berry you know it is going to taste good. It tastes like actual yogurt, which is what I like.
M: Yeah something that I don’t know that people always realize is that when we do strawberry, it is pureed strawberries in the yogurt. You really don’t get that anywhere else. It taste so good and you know when you’re eating it that it’s fruit. I’m not going to say it’s guilt free, but it’s good stuff. I eat it everyday. I give it to my baby.
L: Haha I’ve had it the past three days in a row and I don’t feel too bad.
M: Haha yeah! And you can make it as healthy or as indulgent as you want. You can put a lot of M&M’s and chocolate chips on it, which is my preferred way of eating it. But you can also put fruit on it, which is how I make my baby eat it (she laughs).
L: And lastly, what advice would you give to someone who is thinking about pursuing a job in the food industry or maybe someday opening a food related business?
M: That’s a good one. I would definitely say that it is really hard work, so know what you are getting yourself into and think it through on that level. I would really encourage people, if they are passionate and have an idea, then go for it. You don’t need to be an expert in anything. You really just need to bring passion to it and go for it!
To find out more about Go Berry you can visit their website or their Facebook page. But if you are now craving some frozen yogurt you can visit their Northampton store located at 80 Main Street, Northampton MA or their Amherst store located in the Amherst Cinema Building at 28 Amity Street, Suite 1E.