Mt. Lebanon yogurt shop opening a bittersweet journey


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Middle-schooler Sammie Gorecki is a self-described frozen yogurt expert.

At the opening of Yogli Mogli, a self-serve frozen yogurt shop on Washington Road, she dug into a deep cup of yogurt with ample toppings and gave it a thumbs up, saying it offers more flavors and more toppings than other shops she's frequented.

"It's amazing," the 11-year-old said, with a bit of chocolate smeared on her chin. "I love it."

This shop, a franchise of the Yogli Mogli chain, was the vision of Brian Forrest Hall, whose varied career took him from the Air Force to leadership consulting to this brightly painted storefront in Mt. Lebanon's business district, where he hoped to build a connection with the community he now called home after moving here from Colorado Springs in 2008. He and a business partner, Brian Jones, would co-own the store.

But on Aug. 26, less than a week before its opening, Mr. Hall crashed his plane in Harrisonburg, Va. and died. On the Saturday the shop was slated to open, his family buried him. He was 50.

"It has been an incredibly intense mix of joy and sadness," said Mr. Hall's widow, Ellie, who took over some of his role in the yogurt shop when he passed away. Her husband would have been thrilled, she said, to see all the wide-eyed kid customers wander through the shop.

Mr. Jones pitched the idea to Mr. Hall after he stopped at a self-serve yogurt shop in Eugene, Ore., where his daughter attends the University of Oregon, said Mr. Jones' wife, Lynn. The two tried at least a dozen yogurt shops, and Mr. Hall, who loved ice cream, enthusiastically sampled them all. They finally settled on Yogli Mogli after flying out to Atlanta, where it's headquartered, to give it a try.

When Mr. Hall died, Ms. Hall never once thought of giving up on the shop. Friends and family stepped in and volunteered, cleaning the space and assembling chairs. Ms. Hall was involved in preparation, too, cutting up fruit for the toppings bar.

In addition to generating extra income so he could spend less time on the road as a leadership consultant, Mr. Hall hoped to create a safe space for kids to hang out, which is why he built a space in the back with a flat-screen television that will eventually host video game nights. He wanted to create a "coffee shop feel."

But while the day was bittersweet, the yogurt was just plain sweet, as curious passers-by lined up to get a tutorial on how to pile up their own frozen yogurt sundae.

Among them was Sammie's 9-year-old sister, Jenna, who literally jumped for joy at the sight of the multicolored toppings: pink juice-filled tapioca balls, brightly colored cereal, chocolate chips, tiny cheesecake pieces and brownie bits, even candy made to look like rocks.

Dressed in a Justin Bieber shirt and shorts in blinding pink fluorescent, she piled a peculiar combination of peanut butter and cinnamon frozen yogurt into the cup. Topping it was an avalanche of sweets: chocolate chips, gummy worms -- and more candy that looked like rocks.

"I picked everything I liked," she said. Her sister, 7-year-old Kate, announced she would have the frozen yogurt -- plus a cake -- for her First Communion party. Mother Kathy, of Mt. Lebanon, looked back skeptically.

"It's cheerful. It's happy," said Laurie Knepper, Mr. Hall's sister, her eyes still wet from tears. "It's exactly what he wanted."

neigh_south

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533.


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