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May 22, 2013

A talent agent turns yogurt maven

http://www.jewishjournal.com/food/article/a_talent_agent_turns_yogurt_maven

Amy Salko Robertson started Treats frozen yogurt shop in Santa Monica. Photo by Gerri Miller

Amy Salko Robertson started Treats frozen yogurt shop in Santa Monica. Photo by Gerri Miller

Talk about the Big Chill.

Amy Salko Robertson — producer of such films as “The Oh in Ohio,” “Lab Rats” and “When Do We Eat?” a comedy set at a Passover seder —realized that she couldn’t continue to rely on the speculative indie film world for income after her husband, John, was injured in a freak accident in 2010, leaving him unable to work. She responded the only way she knew how: Salko Robertson started a frozen yogurt shop.

“I always wanted to create a really great frozen yogurt shop, and due to my husband’s accident, I had no choice but to try to make it happen now,” she said.

The result is Treats on Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica.

Before opening the shop, Salko Robertson had already done a lot of research and was familiar with the machines from her job dishing up soft-serve ice cream at an amusement park as a teen. Plus, the job fit in with her personality.

“I’m a Jew from New York, which means I’m a little loud. I’m probably a little bigger than life,” Salko Robertson said with a laugh. “And I love people.” 

So the former talent agent for the likes of Jamie Foxx, Woody Harrelson and Harry Connick Jr. — she used to work for Creative Artists Agency (CAA) — drew up a business plan, found investors and carefully choose a location.

“We really wanted something that was neighborhood-friendly, part of the community,” said Salko Robertson, who lives nearby and is in her mid-40s. “This corner had been empty for almost two years. They had tried a number of things here.”

The property needed a lot of work, including a new sewer line and an upgraded electrical system. It was a year before Treats was able to open this past November. 

Rather than be “hamstrung by a corporation,” Salko Robertson said she followed the example of independent West L.A. yogurt shop The Bigg Chill in having the freedom to experiment with flavors and use only the best ingredients.

The shop offers 10 flavors at a time. Vanilla, chocolate, peanut butter, tart and salted caramel are always in the mix; others, like cheesecake, pistachio, chai and mandarin chocolate, rotate in and out. For diabetics, there’s always one no-sugar-added flavor, like blueberry, and a dairy-free sorbet. The yogurt is kosher, hormone- and antibiotic-free and probiotic, containing active cultures. 

“Those things are super important to us,” Salko Robertson said.

In March, Treats introduced California Snow, its version of shaved ice that is vegan and free of genetically modified organisms.

“We have blue cotton candy and green apple for the kids, and adult flavors like rose, cucumber, lavender and habañero lime, for those that like something spicy,” Salko Robertson said. “We’re always experimenting and inventing things.”

Catering to Treats’ clientele — young and old — has become something of a family affair. The shop is advantageously located across the boulevard from John Adams Middle School, and Salko Robertson’s 13-year-old, Anabel, spends her post-school afternoons in the loft above Treats and helps with the bookkeeping between doing her homework and flute practice. 

Still building her business, Salko Robertson spends most of her time at Treats, cleaning machines after closing and giving young employees a ride home, which means she often doesn’t get home until 2 a.m. 

“I was raised with a really strong work ethic,” said Salko Robertson, who grew up in New York City and Westchester. “Though I have to say, pulling these hours was easier 25 years ago.” 

But busy as Treats keeps her, Salko Robertson still keeps one hand in Hollywood.  She’s currently in the post-production phase on a “fat girl comedy” called “Franny,” starring Frances Fisher and Steve Howey that she hopes to finish by fall.

Her priority, however, is making Treats even better. 

“We have another freezer coming for pints of yogurt to-go, for flavors that might not be in the machine and cakes and pies,” said Salko Robertson, who also plans to add heart-shaped, chocolate-dipped frozen yogurt pops.  Expanding to another location is a possibility, too, just not right now. 

“If it happened, it would happen organically,” she said. “No rush.”

While she was at CAA, Salko Robertson also represented Cheech Marin, Benjamin Bratt, Virginia Madsen, Elisabeth Shue, Thomas Haden Church and Ethan Hawke, and she admits that some of them are Treats customers.

“Sunset Park is a little off the beaten path and lends itself nicely to people who are famous dropping in and it not being a big deal,” she said. 

That’s just fine with her.

“I’d like to keep it a place where people can just show up and get something great.” 

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