If you’ve attended a Center Grove sporting event, chances are, you’ve seen a pink and green trailer selling frozen yogurt. Ella’s, formerly-owned by the Grays and now the Stewart family, has been a staple in the Center Grove community since its start in March of 2011.
Lorrie and Greg Gray have lived and given back in the Center Grove community for around 30 years.
The Grays didn’t fly into the idea of owning a frozen yogurt shop blind; Greg has been involved in the food service community all his life and the two got the idea to start their own frozen yogurt company because, as Greg says, “It’s not as hard as owning a restaurant.”
“I’ve always wanted to own my own restaurant until I got to be about 50 and I didn’t want to do that anymore because it’s too much work,” Greg said.
Starting out, Greg said they had to think about how the store would be laid out and what they wanted it to look like because originally, Ella’s only had half of their total space they occupy today.
Lorie said, from their previous restaurant experience, the two most important things when starting a business are the community and the sense of pride around that and the product. With the two most important things figured out, they got rolling. Their church community has been behind them every step of the way.
Back in 2011, and before Ella’s opened, there were not that many other places that sold frozen yogurt. Ella’s got its name from Lorrie’s great-grandmothers whose name is Ella. Since their opening, other stores with a similar concept began to pop up around the Southside and other places. After they officially opened other shops opened, their business gradually died down a few years after opening, due to their competition.
In the beginning, Ella’s was helped become what it is today with their community around them. The Gray’s church friends helped them do construction to build the shop.
“The southside has been a great place to raise a family,” Lorrie said, “ We’re involved with the church and we’ve been there forever.”
Along with the storefront, the Grays also have a trailer for Ella’s that they take to events like a friday night football game at Center Grove or Greenwood to the lunch period of middle schools, Ella’s expanded their reach beyond the storefront.
“[Our customers] have supported us and accepted us and we do our best to give back,” Lorrie said, “All the offsite things that we do are to give a percentage back to whoever is hosting us.”
She explained that giving back to their hosts is “just what they do.”
The travelling version of Ella’s has taken the Grays all around Indianapolis to the Indy 500, Indians games, and even other sites like Assembly Hall and Mackey Arena. Although they get to see more than Greenwood, they prefer working in a smaller, tight-knit community.
“We’ve been everywhere and you just kind of learn and we’re just happy being back in our little pond here,” Lorrie said, “We do better at Best of the Midwest Show choir competition than we do at the 500.”
Lorrie thought of a time recently when she was picking her grandkids up from school and she watched a child beg their parent to take them to Ella’s after school and said it feels good to be supported by their community.
She said she’s excited for Ella’s next chapter with the new owners. On July 31, Ella’s hosted it’s grand “Re-Opening” to cap off their time at Ella’s and show the community that they can still support Ella’s, it’ll just be under new ownership.
“It’s not about us at all,” Lorrie said, “We want to encourage the Stewarts, they’re another Center Grove family and pass the baton to them and let the community rally around them like they did us and that they’re going to support the community like we did.”
Greg added that the “re-opening” event is a good way to say goodbye to a lot of their regular customers.
“We don’t want to just disappear.”
The next part of the Grays’ life may not deal with frozen yogurt as much as the previous one.
“We’re in our 60s, we have five grand babies that live within a mile of us and I’m going to play with them all day long,” Lorrie said.
Being able to spend more time with their family, that’s what pushed the Grays to decide to retire.
The process to sell Ella’s started a few years ago when they listed the shop with a brokerage firm. After time passed and no offers, they decided to take it into their own hands and sell it themselves.
Chad and Allison Stewart became interested and started having conversations with the Grays about buying and taking over Ella’s.
After a business opportunity was out of reach for Chad, a friend of his told him they saw a “for sale” sign on Ella’s door, and from there, the rest is history.
“I’ve always wanted to be a business owner and I’ve been in the business world for a while and to me, Ella’s is the perfect representation of what we stand for and our family,” Chad said. “And I really think the Grays kind of mirror us.”
Similar to the Grays, Chad said from his involvement in his church to coaching various sports at different levels, they’re also involved in the community and want to continue that with Ella’s.
“What the Grays have built in the last 11 years, with the ups and downs of the economy has been amazing,” Chad said.
Although they won’t be owning and operating Ella’s, the Grays said they’ll occasionally stop by the shop and see their old customers. But for them, now their life is closing Ella’s chapter and opening the grandparents’ one.