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|Born||1980 (age 36–37)
Seoul, South Korea
|Residence||New York, NY, United States|
|Alma mater||University of Southern California|
|Occupation||Founder & CEO, 16 Handles
Choi was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated with his parents to Baltimore, Maryland in the United States the following year, settling in Los Angeles, California, where he was raised. He studied marketing at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, graduating in 2002.
Choi's parents were franchisee owners of two all-you-can-eat Japanese sushi and seafood buffet restaurants called Todai. After graduating, he helped run one of the locations, which the family sold in 2005, an experience that taught Choi about the business of franchise restaurants. He joined a startup restaurant group in 2005 and helped open Japanese restaurants and a Los Angeles-based gelato franchise, where he first learned about fast food and frozen dessert service.
Choi learned the self-serve frozen yogurt business from a family friend who operated the frozen yogurt shop America's Cup in Costa Mesa, California. The model appealed to Choi because it didn't require skilled positions or a large amount of employees. Feeling that Southern California's frozen yogurt market had already reached saturation, Choi decided to open a shop on the other side of the country.
With funding assistance from his family, Choi relocated from Los Angeles to New York City and, in July 2008, opened the first 16 Handles, in the East Village, Manhattan. It was New York's first self-serve frozen yogurt shop, and the model spawned hundreds of imitators on the East Coast. In 2013, the Wall Street Journal wrote, "Choi is the guy to thank… for bringing the self-serve craze to New York." Viewing his target customer as 18-34 year old females, Choi opened the shop near the New York University freshman dorms, despite the fact that there were nine frozen dessert shops within a four-block radius. He believed that if he could win over the students, they could become longtime loyal customers. In 2009, Choi decided to franchise the business, and the second 16 Handles location was opened in Paramus, New Jersey. By 2013, 16 Handles had 40 locations in six states on the East Coast, with shops in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts. Each 16 Handles store offers 16 flavors of frozen yogurt and over 40 toppings, sold by weight.
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