Scientists Cook Up New Line of Fro-Yo

For two biology PhDs, the hypothesis was deceptively simple: a locally owned natural-style frozen yogurt shop, modeled on Pinkberry stores in California, would prove wildly popular in Boston.

The experiment of post-doctorates Pok “Eric” K. Yang and Matthew A. Wallace officially commenced September 16 with the opening of their first store, Berry Line, at One Arrow Street in Cambridge.

“When people taste it for the first time, they’re like whoa,” said Yang.

“It tastes like real yogurt,” Wallace added.

Yang, a gene regulation researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Wallace, a biochemistry researcher at MIT, said they had been planning to open a business since the day they met as PhD students at UCLA. After entertaining ideas such as a Korean barbecue restaurant and a social networking Web site geared toward scientists, the pair finally settled on the yogurt business.

Wallace said that though he and Yang had been warned that opening a business while doing post-doctoral research was not feasible, “We left the naysayers behind in California.”

But Yang admits that the process has taken its toll.

“In the past two months, we haven’t slept more than five hours a night,” said Yang. “But pairing up has made it easier.”

“I feel like I have a mini-MBA after opening this place,” Wallace added.

Although Wallace and Yang said they used the same critical thinking process and research methods to get the business started, they have found this new line of work to be fulfilling in a way their scientific work rarely is.

“You get on a set path in academia that’s hard to get off of. There are things I love about the academy, but if we’re successful I could do this full time,” Wallace said.

“In the lab, you spend hours at bench not socializing. Here you have customers with smiles on their faces,” he added.

Yang agreed that “in the lab, results take weeks or even months to get, but here it’s instantaneous.”

While Berry Line’s product is similar to Pinkberry, the two yogurts are not quite the same. According to the two, Berry Line’s yogurt is slightly creamier.

“We wanted to harness New England cream,” explained Wallace.

In addition to using locally produced cream, the store uses some regionally-produced products for toppings. Their blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all grown on nearby farms.

In the coming weeks, Berry Line will also begin serving smoothies and coffee drinks.

While the two partners do not rule out expansion, Yang said Saturday that their first priority is getting “things perfect here before getting bigger.”

For now, the two scientists will do what they have often done in their research: wait for the results.

—Staff writer Alexander B. Cohn can be reached at abcohn@fas.harvard.