Sweet Frog Founder Takes New Brand to Midlothian, Colonial Heights

By Michael Thompson, Richmond BizSense

Derek Cha is back in full-on expansion mode.

The founder and former head of locally based frozen yogurt giant Sweet Frog is ramping up the growth plan for his new venture, a fast casual restaurant chain called Zzaam Fresh Korean Grill.

With locations already open in Carytown and Charlottesville, Zzaam has leased space for three new outposts in Midlothian and one in Colonial Heights, Cha said this week.

Two of those – at 40 Southgate Square near Southpark Mall and 4600 Commonwealth Center Parkway in Midlothian’s Commonwealth Center Shopping Center – will be Zzaam corporate-owned stores and will open later this year.

The other two Midlothian spots are franchised locations in the works for a site on Iron Bridge Road, near a WaWa and Kroger in Chester, and another near Winterfield Road and Midlothian Turnpike, Cha said.

“We’re getting tons of great feedback,” Cha said of Zzaam, which he launched with his wife Annah Cha in 2014. “Our kimchi has been hugely popular. I didn’t think so many people knew about kimchi.”

Cha said he spends most days working the line at the Carytown location, which opened last year, making Zzaam’s signature customizable bowls and identifying shopping trends.

“I just want to see what the comments are right now,” he said. “The first few stores are the most important to make or break the concept. I just want to make sure everything is perfect. The customer experience is really important at this stage.”

Cha knows a thing or two about making a concept.

He grew Sweet Frog to hundreds of stores nationwide after opening the first one in Short Pump in 2009. He sold most of his interest in the frozen yogurt brand last year but retains a minority stake in the company and still owns more than a dozen franchised Sweet Frog locations.

He said he plans to grow Zzaam more slowly than he grew Sweet Frog. Still, his plans don’t exactly scream ‘slow.’ Cha said he wants to have a total of 10 Zzaam locations open by the end of the year and a dozen more next year. By 2020, he hopes to have 100 Zzaams up and running.

Cha said two Zzaam franchisees have leases for locations in Connecticut and New York state, and he is in talks with others to open more stores in Richmond and Northern Virginia. Zzaam’s franchise fee is $30,000.

“This type of quick-serve restaurant is popular all across the country,” he said. “I feel such a strong interest right now, I know there will be even bigger interest after 10 open.”