When Atul Khanna got laid off from his job in corporate finance in the midst of the recession, he had a choice to make.
“I worked for AT&T for 18-plus years, and for Merck,” he said. But a new job was not easy to come by in the existing environment. “I said to my wife, ‘Am I going to get paid what I was getting paid? Probably not.’ So why would I want to make less money and be as miserable as I was in the corporate world?”
“We decided this was a perfect opportunity to pursue our dream,” said his wife, Divyana Govind. Their dream since getting married had been to open their own business. They chose Menchie’s, a frozen yogurt chain, and opened their store at 200 Mill Creek Drive on Dec. 21.
“We wanted to create happiness, to create smiles.” –Divyana Govind
“We wanted to do something that was more uplifting than the corporate world,” added Khanna, who lived in Secaucus from about 1977 to 1993, beginning his freshman year in high school. “We liked the fact that Menchie’s was big on families and kids, they were big on quality and cleanliness, and they were big on community service.”
“We love this community and we’re thinking of moving to Secaucus in the near future,” said Govind. The couple currently lives in Randolph with their 3-year-old daughter, Aarti.
Elvis and margaritas
The first Menchie’s opened in 2007 in a suburb of Los Angeles. It was founded by a husband and wife who went to a frozen yogurt store on their first date. “Menchie” was the husband’s nickname for his wife, and it became the name of the store’s mascot.
“It’s not the largest chain of its type, but it’s the fastest growing,” said Khanna. “When we signed up they had about 400 or so stores. Now they’re up to over 600. They’re in China, the Middle East, South America, India, Pakistan, all over the world.”
The Menchie’s in Secaucus offers 14 flavors at a time, out of a list of over 100 options. There are more than 60 toppings to choose from, and mixing flavors is encouraged. “We’ve got banana and peanut butter as an Elvis theme,” said Khanna. “Somebody told me today that the Tahitian Vanilla and the pineapple makes a margarita.”
“I always tell people to try a flavor first to see if they like it,” said employee Amanda Romero from West New York.
Aarti has the best job of all as the store’s official flavor tester. Her favorite? Strawberry and vanilla mixed together, she said. “And Pink Lemonade. And Peachy Keen…”
Govind, a dentist by trade, left her job to have her daughter and is currently devoting all her time to the store. The couple plan to open more Menchie’s in the future.
“I grew up in Secaucus, so it’s come full circle for me,” said Khanna, whose mother still lives here. “We want to be part of the community. One of the first things we did was we bought billboards at the local skating rink and two baseball fields” because the money went to charitable organizations. “We want to be involved with the school system, to be involved with the development of the area.”
And that includes fundraising for local groups. “If there is fundraising for a school or for soccer, for instance, we can devote a percentage of our profits for a day for that purpose,” said Govind. “Quite a few people have approached us and we’re trying to participate. It’s all in the works.”
The store also includes “Menchie’s Corner,” a bulletin board filled with photos of local patrons. “Our guests that come in put their pictures up, their drawings, whatever’s going on in the community,” said Govind.
After a soft opening on Dec. 21, the store officially launched with a week-long celebration from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, featuring loads of giveaways and freebies. Located in a former GameStop, they are neighbors of Panera Bread and Bonefish Grill.
In addition to frozen yogurt, they sell various Menchie’s swag like t-shirts, dodgeballs, watches, and lunchboxes. Beginning in March they will have cakes, created in the kitchen in the back. They also provide catering and plan to hold events in the store for children’s groups like scouts and school kids.
One thing they won’t have, however, is coffee.
“We’d rather stay away from that,” said Khanna. “We want to be more a kid-friendly, family-friendly type of place.”
That will include having specials once a month or so.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.