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16 Handles got new ownership a year ago and the two are changing the brand.

Why 16 Handles co-owners YouTuber Danny Duncan and Neil Hershman think froyo has a long runway

The two bought the brand last year and have grown it to double-digit sales increases

When the first 16 Handles opened in the East Village of Manhattan in 2008, there were several frozen yogurt chains including TCBY, Pinkberry and Red Mango proliferating the market with new units every month. The demand for frozen yogurt — or froyo, as restaurant brands lovingly call it — seems to have died down, with many of these brands either going out of business or remaining stagnant in growth. The new owners of 16 Handles, however, think froyo is just hitting its prime.

YouTuber Danny Duncan and Neil Hershman teamed together last year to purchase the brand outright. Hershman was the brand’s largest franchisee before purchasing all the corporate units and eventually co-owning the company and taking on the CEO title. Under his leadership, the brand has expanded to Duncan’s hometown of Englewood, Fla. And the brand has plans to open more locations outside of its native New York City, including with units in Texas, Massachusetts the Carolinas — plus more in Florida.

So, what led the 28-year-old Hershman to buy the brand? A love for the company.

“I was kind of butting heads sometimes with the franchisors about their plans and their active participation in their brand,” he told Nation’s Restaurant News. “They really weren’t active. They had moved on to other things and weren’t so focused on the efficiencies [of the brand].”

Hershman met Duncan in one of his stores in the Tribeca neighborhood of Manhattan, and they began talking about the future of 16 Handles. The two quickly realized that with Duncan’s marketing power and Hershman’s operations background, they could really turn the chain around.

This marketing power was put into play when Duncan — who has over one billion views of his content — hosted a grand opening party in the chain’s restaurant in Naples, Fla. Fans came out to see Duncan for a meet-and-greet but, rather than leaving after they got to meet him, the guests got frozen yogurt as well. This was a key moment for the brand as Hershman and Duncan realized that there really is a demand for frozen yogurt across all age ranges.

“Almost everybody took the picture and then got froyo,” Duncan said. “So it was cool to see [that] we didn’t have to tell them, we didn’t have to force them [to eat].”

That’s an issue with marketing that 16 Handles was facing, and Hershman knew it when he signed on. The impression most people have of 16 Handles is that it’s for families, but Hershman wants to let the world know that frozen yogurt is for everyone — couples on date nights, families, the elderly and more.

At the end of the day, the chain hasn’t suffered from any of these factors; in fact the demand never went away. 16 Handles has seen steady same-store sales growth over the past several years.

“If you actually look at same-store sales throughout the years, 16 Handles never really took a plateau or a decrease,” Hershman said.

Now, with the help of him and Duncan, the brand is seeing double-digit sales growth year-over-year.

Hershman, before becoming the chain’s largest franchisee, was only 22 when he opened his first store, so he knew exactly how the brand was being run — and the changes he wanted to make when he became the CEO.

“It seems obvious when you connect the dots [about Hershman buying the company] after but when you’re in it, it really felt like just acquiring that one store at the time was a really big move,” he said. “It really was 100% of my focus for months and months. And then it became, ‘Hey, I could actually scale and replicate what I'm doing here.’”

This is also Duncan’s first culinary adventure. He had been approached about a ghost kitchen using his name, but turned it down due to quality control issues.

Now, the two have teamed up to bring 16 Handles to everyone. The quick-service chain has 12 stores in the pipeline on top of its 35 existing stores.

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