Boston Blog

When academia gets you down, make frozen yogurt

A former MIT postdoc, who recently opened up a frozen yogurt shop in Cambridge, brings a scientific ethos to the making of the dairy treat.

Jennifer Cutraro

Careers outside of academia are not unusual for science PhDs. But it’s possible no former scientist has chosen the path that Matthew Wallace has. Wallace left his position as a microbiology postdoc at MIT last year to open BerryLine, a frozen yogurt shop in Harvard Square.

One recent evening at the brightly lit store, Wallace alternated between filling special orders, chatting up customers, and tinkering with a machine that didn’t want to produce Oreo-flavored yogurt. Numerous customers lined up for the dessert, despite the late January chill.

“Working in a yogurt shop might not be as prestigious as working in science,” Wallace says, “but here, I get to talk to people all day long. When they come in the door, they already have a smile on their face. I can’t remember the last time I saw a face light up with a smile when I was in a research lab.”

BerryLine in Harvard Square, founded by a former postdoc, sells frozen yogurt and smoothies. (Credit: BerryLine)

The shop itself is also quite unlike any lab. The outside features a mural of bananas with smiling faces, pineapple slices, and yogurt cups, painted by Cambridge artist Bren Bataclan. BerryLine–named for the Red Line train that rumbles right below the shop—offers a rotating list of yogurt flavors, ranging from coconut to raspberry to chocolate cookies and cream, all made from scratch (using milk and other ingredients) in the shop.

Swapping lab coat for apron

Wallace, who has a PhD in molecular biology and biochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, came to the Boston area less than two years ago as a postdoctoral researcher.

But even as a graduate student, he thought about starting a business. He admits he was beginning to think about other career options by the time he moved to Boston.

“I was getting tired of the academic environment,” Wallace says. “Not necessarily science itself–but I was looking for a change and was excited about the opportunity to start a business.” He and his business partner, another LA transplant, missed southern California’s ubiquitous frozen-yogurt stands and saw a need for one in Boston.

So he and his cofounder walked into the office of the Harvard Square Business Association last February and asked what they had to do to open a frozen-yogurt shop. They spent several months making connections in the food service industry and learning the basic ingredients and processes for making frozen yogurt. “I’m still learning the food service business,” Wallace says.

Soon, they were scouting potential locations and enlisting friends to taste-test variations on their recipe. They pulled together their savings and took out loans to finance their business, which opened in September.

Yogurt experimentation

Perhaps the toughest part of starting his business was making the decision to–at least for now–leave academic life behind, Wallace says.

“It can be a bit of a letdown for all the people who supported you along the way,” he says. But so far, he adds, he hasn’t looked back.

Wallace doesn’t go so far to suggest his scientific background helped him make frozen yogurt. But he still speaks like a scientist when describing how he and his partner came up with their recipe.

“We did a lot of fine-tuning of our protocols so we could reproducibly make our yogurt every day and have it taste great.”

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