Everyone I know, especially those who grew up in California, has been to The Cheesecake Factory a few times. At this point, it’s as much an institution here on the West coast as avocado toast – and for good reason. The Cheesecake Factory’s story is one of humble beginnings, risk taking, and cultivation.
In the 1940’s Evelyn Overton found a cheesecake recipe in the local Detroit newspaper, she tweaked it until perfect, and the dream to own her own business was born. However, she set the dream aside to raise her two children and moved her baking equipment to the basement. Years later, in 1972, Evelyn and her husband Oscar packed everything they owned and moved to LA. With the last of their savings, they risked it all to open The Cheesecake Factory Bakery. I think you can guess where the story goes from here. Now, The Cheesecake Factory has over 200 locations and a menu with over 250 items.
Two weeks ago, I added ‘bakery owner’ to my resume, so I can truly understand the fear, stress, and work that goes into building a brick and mortar bakery. One of the elements I value most about Sweet Laurel is our commitment to quality, so that was my first question when touring through the 3,500 square foot restaurant. How on earth can The Cheesecake Factory maintain the quality intended when Evelyn and Oscar started their business decades ago? The answer quickly became clear when the kitchen manager, Doug, took me through the space.
Firstly, every single item is made in house (a rare thing for a restaurant of this size), down to the salad dressings, , and sauces for pasta. Although large, the menu is seasonal. About 15% of the items turn over every six months based on food trends, seasonal items, etc. The Cheesecake Factory composts and has a close eye on food waste. They also donate anything that’s able to be donated by partnering with a lot of local shelters through a company called Harvest.
But, the real triumph here, and the heart of The Cheesecake Factory, is the people who make it run so smoothly day in and day out. With a restaurant of such a large scale, it seems impossible to pull off some of the things I listed above, but The Cheesecake Factory makes it look simple. This is all due, in part, to their incredible team, which is full of intelligent and thoughtful people who care for the brand as much as the owners do.
Now, for the fun part, the food! I got to try A LOT of new items. Actually, it was a pretty hilarious scene because I was all alone with a massive table full of food in front of me. I was feeling very Marie Antoinette – in a good way! The first thing I bit into were the pancakes, super fluffy and classically topped with powdered sugar and fresh strawberries. There was a Belgian waffle topped with crispy almond toffee, breakfast tacos with handmade half corn and flour tortillas, super colorful Thai chicken wraps (Psst, try them vegetarian with grilled avocado and thank me later), and a tuna poke bowl with sushi grade tuna picked from the market daily, just to name a few of my favorites!
Of course, you can’t walk away without cheesecake. Honestly, my favorite was the classic. I mean, it did inspire the entire restaurant and all! That one is topped with fresh strawberries and has the silkiest texture. I think I could have eaten an entire slice on my own, but I exercised a bit of restraint so I could try the other flavors. If classic isn’t quite your style, there is also the Celebration Cheesecake, which is essentially a colorful explosion of funfetti cheesecake, perfect for the kids!
After my tour and tasting was over, and my stomach was stuffed, I came away with a lot of insight. As a new bakery owner, I value what I learned so much! But, perhaps more important than my newly gained knowledge on the business and food side, was my inspiration from the story of Evelyn and her gumption to risk everything in pursuit of her dream. She set aside her own desires to raise her children well, but still followed her gut to build an empire on one little recipe. Her story is a true reminder that one small moment or idea can change everything.