New Yogurtland CEO and Manhattan Beach native Huntley Castner with his wife Kim and daughter Grace. Courtesy of Castner
by Kathryn Cross
In 1981, Manhattan Beach native Huntley Castner graduated from Mira Costa High School with high hopes of diving right into the restaurant business as an economics major at Stanford University. Little did he know at the time that this road would lead him to the position of top head at an international franchise chain that is arguably the most popular frozen yogurt company to date.
On December 14, Castner was officially promoted to CEO of Yogurtland from his previous position as COO under Philip Chang, the current founder, owner and chairman of the popular frozen yogurt chain.
Castner was initially recruited as executive vice president of Yogurtland in 2011 before being promoted to COO. Throughout these positions, Castner knew of and was preparing for his ultimate position of CEO.
“[Chang] has slowly but surely given me the responsibilities to be CEO and it’s been like wading into a pool,” Castner said. “We’ve been doing it over the course of two years, so when it finally happened it was a very natural thing to do.”
His ascent in the food industry began at age 26 when he started his own restaurant chain in San Francisco with a friend from Hermosa Beach. It was called Wahaka Mexican Grill, and the pair ran the franchise for about 10 years before shutting down.
Castner then moved into the corporate food chain. At Panda Express, he worked as vice president of strategy and finance; and at Foodscape, as a general manager.
“I love the restaurant business — it’s always been my hobby, in addition to my career,” Castner said. “Over time, I’ve worked with very smart people who mentored and taught me a lot and now it’s my job to mentor and teach the people in my company.”
At Yogurtland’s headquarters in Irvine, Castner leads a team of 70 corporate employees. They currently oversee 270 locations and 125 franchises across 21 states as well as Mexico, Australia, Venezuela, and soon, Dubai. The first Yogurtland opened in 2006, in Fullerton.
Castner describes the behind-the-scenes as a team effort — a person who picks restaurant sites, another who leads the flavors, another leading marketing projects, and so on. His job, as head of Yogurtland, is to weave them all together.
This past year, Yogurtland opened its 250th store — including some very successful ones in Australia — and reached $150 million in sales. And there are no plans to stop until Yogurtland meets its ultimate goal: reign as the No. 1 player in the growing industry of frozen yogurt. They hope to reach 500 stores soon and introduce more countries to their flavors.
Castner has been pleased with the company’s successes thus far — and he appreciates the lessons taught in the challenges, from making difficult business decisions with struggling locations to assembling a superb team of employees.
“It’s always the people that you work with that make it,” he said. “Find high integrity
people to work with because it really changes everything when you can count on someone being a good person — it eliminates the drama and things that cause you pain and suffering in your daily life.”
Daily life as an employee at Yogurtland’s Irvine headquarters includes what many might suspect: the honor and privilege of test-tasting flavors straight out of the yogurt lab.
“A guy who’s called our chief flavorologist leads the team that picks all of the flavors and anyone who is in the office that day gets to be the first group of people to try it and help to determine whether it should be offered to our customers,” Castner said. “His team are people with culinary and food science backgrounds and they are nice enough to let me weigh in on the flavors. But really, they use us as their guinea pigs and then they get feedback and make the decision.”
With perks like this, it’s not hard to see why he loves his job.
“It’s important to find something that you love and put your all into it,” he said. “You usually do the best when you’re doing something that you love.”