Pinkberry frozen yogurt chain is sold to Cold Stone Creamery owner

Pinkberry, the Santa Monica chain that helped introduce tart frozen yogurt to the masses, has been acquired by Kahala Brands, a restaurant franchising company.

Kahala Brands, which owns quick-service restaurant names including Cold Stone Creamery and the Great Steak & Potato Co., issued a statement saying that Pinkberry is "an excellent strategic fit for our company."

Pinkberry has more than 260 stores in 20 countries. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Kahala plans to use its infrastructure and experience to help Pinkberry "maximize the brand's potential for continued evolution and success," said Michael Serruya, chief executive of Kahala.

Pinkberry launched a Los Angeles food craze after it opened in 2005, followed by dozens of copycats peddling a tangy "froyo" to those who wanted a lighter alternative to ice cream.

The chain, which offers flavors such as green tea combined with fresh toppings, has been dubbed "crackberry" by frequent customers. Many young buyers began gathering at froyo stores with friends, a sort of 21st century spin on ice cream parlors.

At its height, hundreds of customers would queue up outside Pinkberry's first store in West Hollywood on a daily basis, risking a flurry of parking tickets in order to get a cup of frozen yogurt sprinkled with toppings such as strawberries and nuts.

But in recent years, the company and its co-founder, Young Lee, have run into trouble.

In 2014, Lee was sentenced to seven years in prison for beating a homeless man with a tire iron. The Los Angeles judge who sentenced Lee called the crime "horrendous" and "merciless." Lee was no longer active in Pinkberry operations.

Pinkberry has sued competing chains, accusing them of purposely copying its branding, including mimicking its minimalist decor or using part of its name.

Growth in the $2-billion industry has slowed as a horde of rivals has "saturated" the market, according to a report from research firm IBISWorld.

"Health concerns and consumption patterns will continue to drive industry growth," the report said. "However, industry revenue will grow at a slower rate than in the previous five years."

Earlier this year, the company raised some eyebrows by offering a 10-cent froyo deal and free edible gold sprinkles as part of its 10-year anniversary. Some in the restaurant industry speculated that the chain was struggling and trying to garner publicity to boost sales.

Pinkberry also tested self-serve machines this year, a concept pushed by popular rival Yogurtland and others. 

Kahala said it plans to consolidate Pinkberry's corporate operations and run the brand's franchising platform from its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters.

Follow Shan Li on Twitter @ByShanLi

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