After more than 30 years behind the counter, gracefully topping swirls and dollops of frozen yogurt with sprinkles, M&M's and other goodies, Menlo Park's Yogurt Stop owner Soheila Khalili has made big retirement plans.
The Iran-born, longtime Menlo Park dweller and current resident of Emerald Hills said she's planning to retire at the end of August, before she embarks on trips to Thailand, Europe, New York and Las Vegas.
"I could never do this stuff when I was here," she said, donning an apron in her shop one recent morning before opening her business, which sits at 401 El Camino Real, next to College Avenue. "It takes all my time."
For those who fear the loss of another longtime local business, there may be good news. Khalili is developing a plan to pass the yogurt business on to a successor, but as of Aug. 1 the details were still being worked out. She declined to provide the name of who might be taking over, but noted she'd tell The Almanac when plans solidified further.
Contrary to what some customers assume when they learn that she plans to leave, it's not because of landlord problems, but because she's ready to retire.
"It's time to step away and have a life," she said.
Khalili came to the United States from Iran at age 19, and decided to open up the shop in her early 30s, in 1987. While the yogurt business runs in her family – her relatives run the local Yumi Yogurt franchise
she said she picked up industry knowledge and business canny on her own.
At the time she opened up shop, she said, there were no other frozen yogurt businesses in town, though there was one in the Stanford Shopping Center.
"There's nothing small about a small business," she said. "You learn how to deal with everything."
That meant picking up knowledge in human resources, purchasing, planning and employee development, plus learning how to deal with the IRS, the health department, and other government agencies, she said.
"I learned a lot from this business," she said. "Every day is a learning process."
Over the years, she's adapted some to various industry trends, like offering sugar-free yogurt varieties, smoothies and Greek yogurt-based products. She's also hired many young people to work in the shop and watched longtime customers grow up.
Dedicated customer Arla LeCount said she's been a Yogurt Stop regular for more than 20 years. She makes the commute to Yogurt Stop from her home in La Honda as part of a weekly ritual in which she picks up a quart of frozen yogurt to make into milkshakes with her mother-in-law, who is 99.
Yogurt Stop, she said, holds its place among the ranks of beloved local institutions that have closed in recent years like Fosters Freeze and The Oasis and those facing change and uncertainty, like the Alpine Inn.
What keeps her coming back, LeCount said, is Khalili.
"She doesn't sell yogurt. She sells time," LeCount said.
"She knows everyone who comes in here. ... (She asks), 'What's happened with such and such?' It's never just, 'I want yogurt.' Yogurt is the least of it. It really is magic," LeCount added.
The two friends plan to continue to see each other after Khalili's retirement via regularly scheduled breakfasts. Khalili said they might even make plans to catch up at the same location, to support the new owner.
"It takes a lot of guts to take over a business," she added.