Couple get their just desserts

16:00, Apr 04 2014

From the mine fields of Iraq to a Riccarton Road candyland, it's been an unusual path to business ownership for Cathy and Steve Wilson.

Their latest venture is SoYo - Christchurch's first independently owned create-your-own frozen yoghurt dispensary.

It's any child's dream - an entire wall lined with machines, dispensing flavours that range from pomegranate to Snickers bar; and a toppings table mounded with fruit, sprinkles, jubes and chocolate.

The appeal is clear, and as Cathy fills bowls, a child outside stops to gape through the glass.

It's a far cry from the work that preceded it - working among the mine fields of Iraq - but for the Wilsons, frozen yoghurt is "just another adventure".

The pair met when Steve was guiding trips across Africa.


From there, they went to Iraq, where Steve used his engineering background clearing landmines, and Cathy worked for a Belgian prosthetics organisation.

After five years, they returned to New Zealand and decided to try running their own business.

They began by taking on a Brumbies franchise - treating the bakery as a "stepping stone" to their own place.

On an overseas trip, a friend took them to a frozen yoghurt shop, and "that was when the lightbulb went on."

It took the Wilsons 18 months to create SoYo.

"As time went on and we kept researching, we kept thinking we'd come up against some roadblock to stop us doing it. But all the ducks kept lining up," Cathy says.

The Riccarton Road location, jammed between school bus stops and the mall, clinched the deal and "ticked all the boxes".

After school finishes and the busses pull up, the place is flooded with students and backpacks, pouring pink yoghurt into pottles and piling on the sprinkles.

On a busy afternoon, 140 people will concoct desserts within an hour, and on weekends, they often process 1000 orders a day.

The biggest challenge, they say, is keeping up - and cleaning up the drips.

Despite their global backgrounds, the Wilsons have committed to doing as much of their business locally.

While frozen yoghurt is booming in New Zealand, particularly Auckland, the market is dominated almost entirely by franchises, and the Wilsons' independent local business is unusual.

They worked with Canterbury-based illustrator Brett King to create mural designs, and have used entirely Christchurch designers, architects and furniture makers.

SoYo has now been open for 4 weeks, and employs 19 staff, including 10 fulltime equivalents.

While there were some initial doubts about starting a new business in the quake-damaged city, they committed to being in the region.

"After the quakes, I have to admit, there were questions - do we want to invest our money in Christchurch again? Do you stay or do you go? Questions a lot of other people went through, whether you were trying to start a business or not. But you slap yourself around the face and say ‘get a grip, and keep on going'.

"We've poured our heart and soul into this.

"And we have a lot of fun."