Waterville’s sweetFrog may be central Maine’s first Christian-based self-serve frozen yogurt business, but franchise owner Doug Reed, 38, says it won’t be the last.

In its first week in late June, some 9,000 paying customers piled into the newly opened store on Waterville Commons Drive where, surrounded by bright colors and an eye-popping array of 70 different toppings, they serve themselves a lump of frozen yogurt and pay by the ounce.

SweetFrog outlets, represented to children by two googly-eyed cartoon frog mascots named Cookie and Scoop, are popping up with blazing speed all across the country. Since the corporation first began selling franchise rights about 18 months ago, the number of stores has increased from about 75 to more than 350.

In December, Reed and his wife, Alison, opened the chain’s first Maine franchise in their hometown, Bangor. The Waterville store, which opened in June, is their second location; and they own franchising rights to three more — in Augusta, Presque Isle and Thompson.

Another franchisee, who plans to open a sweetFrog in Belfast soon, has location rights in five other Maine cities, which could bring the total in Maine to 10 stores.

The company is battling with another corporate chain, Orange Leaf, for a share of Maine’s frozen yogurt industry. Orange Leaf has stores in Portland, South Portland and Brunswick and plans to open soon in the Marketplace at Augusta.

Reed said he has yet to identify a suitable location in the state capital.

The frozen yogurt market has a lot of competitors, but what sets sweetFrog apart is its adherence to Christian values, a facet of the company that Reed said is presented subtly enough that mainstream customers won’t feel preached to.

Country and Christian music — “clean music,” Reed calls it — are the only types playing in the background, while one of several T-shirt designs on sale explains the religious acronym behind the second half of the store name: “Fully Rely On God.”

Reed, who also owns Central Maine Cleaning, said he is a member of the Bangor Baptist Church and was attracted to the franchise because of both its profit potential and its wholesome roots.

Many of the store’s 13 employees are students at area Christian schools, and Reed said he tries to be not merely a boss, but also a role model for them, maintaining a family atmosphere that does not tolerate, for example, cursing in the back room.

“We look at it as a ministry, kind of,” he said.

The corporation has partnered with Christian hiphop artist Humble Tip to release an album dedicated to Christian values.

Reed said the company also works with area charities, most of which are not churches, to identify fundraising nights in which the partner charity receives 20 percent of the night’s sales. He said that no partners have yet been identified locally because the store opened so recently.

The store is part of an emerging trend in which customers have control over how much yogurt and toppings to put into their cup. With a price tag of 49 cents per ounce, the cost depends on how much the customer adds to the cup, but Reed said most walk away with a serving worth $3.50 to $5.50. Some, he said, have loaded up their cups with nearly a pound and a half of food, at a cost of more than $11.

Nationally, the frozen yogurt market has boomed over the past five years, according to market research firm IbisWorld, with nearly 400 companies vying for their share of a $2 billion industry. The research company’s industry forecast predicts that new markets and health-conscious consumers will result in a stable market for the next five years.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

[email protected]

Twitter: @hh_matt

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