Derek Cha is a man on a mission.
Actually, the founder of frozen yogurt chain Sweet Frog is man on a lot of missions. Too many, some would say.
Cha founded the chain two years ago in Henrico County. Sweet Frog now has more than 50 company-owned and franchise stores ( including one in New Town here in Williamsburg)
But he expects to have about 200 locations in 20 states by the end of the year. And by 2020, he hopes to have 1,000 U.S. shops and 1,000 international shops.
But there is much more than frozen yogurt on Cha’s mind these days. The 46-year-old businessman is on a quest to create an empire.
That empire includes a gospel rap CD he’s produced, two children’s books coming out later this year and a line of Sweet Frog-themed products.
And, if that wasn’t enough, there are charitable endeavors, here and abroad, a Sweet Frog TV show in the works and talk of a Chuck E. Cheese’s-type establishment to be called Sweet Frog Land.
“He has great vision and he’s not afraid to go for it,” said Debbie Wann, who owns two Sweet Frog locations with husband Eric through a licensing agreement.
The ideas from Cha come so fast and so furiously that employees at the company’s Chesterfield County headquarters have a standard response when the boss drops a new idea on their desk: “What the frog?”
For Cha, juggling so many ideas is not a big deal. He said he has faith that a higher power will deliver what he needs to get things done.
“I’ve been in business since I was 20 years old. I’ve always relied on God to give me wisdom,” he said. “I pray for things and do nothing about it. People just show up and want to help. This has always been my experience. People are going to show up to help me to get to this goal.”
To hear Cha speak of his plans for Sweet Frog, it’s hard to imagine that just three years ago his world financially was turned upside down.
Cha, who moved to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 12, first got into business in 1986 when he opened a frame store near Washington.
He eventually grew the single shop into a national chain, Art & Frame Depot, with more than 80 locations.
But the chain began having problems in 2006. The company’s troubles got worse when the economy faltered and people stopped buying extras for their homes. Cha was forced to sell or close all but one store. He owns one store in Dallas.