Cheesecake Factory founder talks cakes and happy families
Those trying to stick to their new diets or detox plans, look away now. The largest Cheesecake Factory restaurant in the world has just opened in Dubai.
Already a popular concept in the UAE after the first branch outside the US opened last year in Dubai Mall, America’s ‘leading casual dining restaurant’ is hoping to please even more sweet-toothed foodies with the Mall of the Emirates restaurant that spans a whopping 2,120 square metres and caters for more than 500 diners.
Detroit-born founder, CEO and chairman David Overton opened the first Cheesecake Factory almost 35 years ago in a bid to teach restaurants who were scrimping on quality. The businessman, whose parents ran a bakery business, explains: “There was a period of time when we felt like the restaurants didn’t really appreciate quality and would switch to other brands if they were cheaper.
“We felt that we had to get the cakes directly to the people because we knew that people loved them and I thought the best way to do that was to open a restaurant. Beverly Hills was a great spot because we thought, if we could be popular there then it would carry our reputation and it did,” he says.
“We put together a small concept, mostly around the cheesecakes and it was an immediate success and people loved it and here I am all these years later! Beverly Hills will be 35 years old next month.” The brand name is familiar to many, with a character from popular TV programme ‘The Big Bang Theory’ even famously working there.
Rather than marketing genius, however, David explains the name was something of a coincidence.
“I didn’t like the name at first because we had so much more than cheesecake but that was the name we decided on and I couldn’t think of a better one,” he explains. “I’m happy I did now because I think people like that name, they respond to it, but at the beginning I didn’t like it.”
Admitting that cheesecake ‘isn’t necessarily my favourite cake’, David says he’s happy the particular pudding proved popular as it’s a recipe created by his parents. Currently his favourite cheesecakes are Red Velvet and Oreo, but he changes his mind all the time.
He adds: “I’m very happy people like the cheesecakes because although we have 200 menu items, the success and the core is really the cheesecakes, people love them - they give us our identity and there’s nobody that makes as many varieties of cheesecake quite like we do. It worked out really well.”
After famously saying: “There’s nothing America wants to eat that we can’t put on our menu”, David has travelled the US in search of food trends to keep his menu fresh and relevant to customers. He’s even been out in Dubai to the city’s “many, many good restaurants” and says while he hasn’t found anything to inspire him just yet, he’s still on the look out.
The dessert menu at The Cheesecake Factory, Mall of the Emirates may feature 50 cheesecakes and ‘speciality’ dishes but David explains that he is not resting on his laurels. There’s always work to be done.
He says: “We change our menu twice a year, we try to keep current - that’s why I think we have a very current menu despite starting 35 years ago because we’re constantly changing menus, upgrading recipes and looking for new trends that people want and putting them on the menu. We do a lot of customer surveys as well, where we ask many questions.
“If they (the customers) want burgers or Italian trends, we can work on menu items.
“Not many of the menu items were on it 35 years ago except for some of the hamburgers and cheesecakes. Now we have a 16-page menu - back then we only had two pages as I didn’t know what I was doing! I started it to help my parents, not really understanding it and I think that helped us be successful.
“Because I didn’t know what I was doing, I didn’t have any tricks, I didn’t know how to pre-prepare food to order, so I could only make it fresh, which we still do every time and I think people like that. Sometimes not knowing what you’re doing can be a help!”
Admitting he wasn’t aware of an obesity problem in the UAE, David says he’s now planning to introduce lower calorie menu items for diners in the Middle East.
He says: “We have a menu called SkinnyLicious, which we came up with two years ago. No item is more than
590 calories - it’s very popular.
“We were just getting started with this menu but I would say within a year we’ll bring the SkinnyLicious menu over and that should help people because you can get a really good meal and you wouldn’t believe it was only 590 - the taste is great. We’ll be putting that in soon. I didn’t realise there was an obesity problem here but if there is, it’s something we can help with.”