A talent agent turns yogurt maven

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.” 

Fretting About Fressing

Apples dipped in honey. And while you’re at it, dip the challah, too. Chicken soup with knaidel. Here, who’s gonna finish this last little piece of brisket? What? You didn’t try the noodle kugel? Don’t tell me you’re too full for my homemade honey cake and cookies — it’s Yom Tov!

While Rosh Hashana meals are meant to be sweet, to herald in what we hope will be a sweet new year, the result more often can be a day of belt-loosening and naps rather than the soul-searching that God intended. And after two days of fressing like this, weighing yourself can be an experience as bitter as Pesach maror. If we’re not careful, even the fast day that follows Rosh Hashana (Tzom Gedalia) may not undo our self-inflicted damage. Hey, I don’t know about you, but I already have enough chest-pounding planned for Yom Kippur; I don’t want to have to hit myself extra hard when it comes to the one that says, "and for the sin we have sinned before You with food and drink…."

But let’s be honest. Rosh Hashana is only the beginning — Judaism offers year-round opportunities to overdo it. After our New Year, Sukkot is only days away, and we’re dipping that challah in honey again as we sit in our lovely sukkot, celebrating God’s eternal providence to our people. And the cycle continues: Chanukah, with oil-slicked latkes and sufganiyot; carbo-laden Purim treats in our shalach manot baskets, which we better finish in a hurry because they’re chametz and Pesach is coming. (Pesach can be a Dr. Atkins dieter’s dream, since bread and pasta are verboten, but just watch out for all that potato starch in the cakes!)

And none of this even includes Shabbat! Each and every week, we are blessed with the beautiful, magical, spiritually renewing, and yet from a weight-watching viewpoint, still potentially lethal day. I’ll admit: for years, the most vigorous exercise I got was elbowing my way past the crowds at shul to the "Kiddush" tables, trying to have at some rugelach.

When I first became observant more than 15 years ago, I wondered how I’d cope with all this wonderful holiday and Shabbat food and not end up as big as Mount Sinai. As someone who used to think of "portion control" as something airlines did to annoy passengers, I soon learned it was an essential fact of life. I’ve mastered the art of abstaining from the "Kiddush" table, and I’ve greatly improved in my ability to keep my hands off a second piece of challah. But just put anything chocolate on the table for dessert and I’m a goner. Unless the chocolate has been molested by something horrid like coconut or nougat, I’ll have some and savor every bite. I just plan on doing an extra aerobics tape the following week. I think that’s a fine trade-off.

I estimate that over the years I have served close to 900 holiday and Shabbat meals for my own family and guests. (That’s a lot of chicken.) I’ve also found that as my cooking has become "lighter," my guests have been profuse with gratitude, even when I lay out something as simple as steamed snow peas and red peppers as a vegetable. Maybe it’s because we live in California and have to look at too many "beautiful people" at the gym, but no matter: I know that in the cooking department, light makes right, and people who know they are just hours away from another Yom Tov meal usually appreciate not being drugged by an overdose of shmaltz in the potato kugel.

And speaking of kugel, I have to go now. The aroma from the kitchen tells me that my kugel (only a quarter-cup of oil for eight potatoes) is about ready.

In any case, I’m not too worried about the Rosh Hashana meals. For one thing, I’ve never liked honey cake, or challah with raisins for that matter. After I take out the kugel, I’m going to bake a batch of my family’s favorite chocolate chip cookies.

After all, it is Yom Tov.

Judy Gruen is the author of “Carpool Tunnel Syndrome.” Her next book, “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout,” will be published in January by Champion Press.