Matcha on the Northwest Side allows customers to be innovative.

Fans of a hot trend, Joey Chong and her family decided to play it cool.
Not an easy thing to do in 90-degree weather.

Devotees of frozen yogurt, they wanted to open a store but were unimpressed with the inflexibility of national chains.

So they went out on their own.

On Saturday, on yet another sweltering day in central Ohio, they opened Matcha in the restaurant-diverse Bethel Centre. The independent store plays to the desires of the customer, Chong said.

"I have been helping my family and relatives with their restaurant business for many years and now I get to try a different food," she said. "It's dessert. When the idea of opening a frozen-yogurt store came up from the family, I was very excited because I already had frozen yogurt a few times in the East Coast and loved it so much."

Matcha, a type of Japanese green tea, offers 10 flavors a day, from the traditional -- vanilla and chocolate -- to the more exotic -- pomegranate-raspberry, mango and, of course, matcha.

The plan is to rotate the flavors often to see what customers favor, she said. Comment cards will be provided at the store.

Matcha is self-serve. Customers are given a 16-ounce cup and can fill it with as many flavors and toppings as they desire. The price is 44 cents an ounce.

The real gems, she said, are the toppings, which total more than 40. Again, there are the typical options, such as nuts, granola and M&Ms, plus others that are more likely to be found in a bubble-tea store, including coconut jellies, mochi (ice cream wrapped in a soft, thin Japanese rice cake), sweetened red and green beans and popping boba (tapioca pearls filled with fruit juice).

Fruit will always be fresh, never mushy, she promised.

"When I travel, I always look for something different or try some local restaurants," she said. "We will keep searching around for more unique foods and toppings to serve with yogurt."

Matcha is among a new wave of frozen-yogurt purveyors in central Ohio, which includes Orange Leaf, Red Mango, Josie's and Cuzzins.

Dean Small, founder and managing partner Synergy Restaurant Consultants near San Diego, said the resurgence of frozen yogurt can be attributed to a couple of factors. For starters, it is perceived as a healthier option than ice cream. Also, people tend to migrate toward indulgences in a bad economy.

"Comfort food always plays well," he said.

Small likes the build-your-own option being offered by Matcha and other frozen-yogurt places.

"You're putting the onus on them to create their own little masterpiece," he said.

Still, he sees a danger in oversaturation and lack of creativity from some frozen-yogurt vendors.

"Some of them just aren't that innovative," he said.

"I still think that frozen yogurt is very popular," he added. "I don't see it going away any time soon."

Matcha seats 20 in 1,500 square feet of space at 1462 Bethel Road. It is open for lunch and dinner hours daily. For more information, call (614) 564-9154.

...

Element Pizza is slated to open Aug. 1. The new pizzeria will take over the former Plugged Nickel location at 250 N. Third St. in downtown Columbus. The store opening was delayed after a car hit the building in early June.

The place, owned by Daniel and Dawn Lunsford, will offer pizzas made from hand-tossed dough. There will be 10 signature pizzas, plus a build-your-own option. Mr. Lunsford said Element will feature house-cured bacon and homemade ciabatta bread for sandwiches. There will be no pizza by the slice, but the store will offer 8-inch personal pizzas for lunch.

There will be seating fora about 30. Element will be open for lunch and dinner hours six days a week, closed Sunday. For more information, call (614) 232-8871.