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Starbucks Chief’s Venture-Capital Firm Buys Stake in Pinkberry

Seattle, Maveron LLC, the venture-capital firm co-founded by Starbucks founder and chairman Howard Schultz, announced Wednesday it has made a $27.4 million investment in the white-hot frozen yogurt chain Pinkberry.

This is the first outside investment in Pinkberry, which had previously been funded by its founders, Shelly Hwang and Young Lee. The two founded the company in 2005 in West Hollywood, Calif., and its tart, low-calorie yogurt—available in two flavors only, with a variety of fresh toppings—quickly become a phenomenon, spawning a cult following and long lines outside its doors.

"It's very rare to see a retail company, so early on, create the kind of customer loyalty and emotional attachment that they've been able to create,” Schultz told The Los Angeles Times. “In 30 years, I can count on one hand the number of time I've witnessed it."

Pinkberry now has five stores in New York and 28 in Southern California. According to Schultz, it has the chance to grow a national and global footprint.

Pinkberry founders Hwang and Lee will retain "significant equity" and remain actively involved in the company. Schultz reportedly will set strategy, and, along with Maveron co-founder Dan Levitan, sit on its board.

Seattle-based Maveron has been courting Pinkberry for some time. Other venture-capital firms and individual investors were also hot on its trail.

"We hope that our expertise and enthusiasm in brand building will be a great catalyst for Shelly, Young and their team as we join together to grow the Pinkberry brand," Levitan said in a statement. "It is an honor to be selected from the field of investors that pursued Pinkberry and their choice represents another remarkable opportunity for Maveron."

© 2014