The latest opening of The Cheesecake Factory marks a milestone for both the renowned household name in upper casual dining as well as the local dining scene. Here to speak to us about The Cheesecake Factory is none other than the founder, Chairman, and CEO, David Overton.
What inspired you to first open the Cheesecake Factory in 1978?
My parents founded the original Cheesecake Factory in 1972. Back then; they only made cheesecake and nothing else. When it came time to open the restaurant, I couldn’t think of a different name, as I believed this would also help in selling the cakes. I think the name had a lot to do with the success of the concept; it’s part of who we are.
How did the concept evolve over the years?
We started simply with 12 cheesecakes and a two-paged menu, and now we have 40 cheesecakes and one of, if not the, biggest menu in the restaurant business. Over the years it developed and the more we put on the menu, the more we grew in popularity.
Although you didn’t have any training in the restaurant business when opening the first Cheesecake Factory, the concept has the broadest menu in casual dining. How did that happen?
Any time we would come to add a new item to the menu, we would revise and wish to remove some items off. However, a period of time came where we kept adding on items to the menu and didn’t wish to remove anything off. Today, we try to remove a few more to make the menu more manageable. We train to deliver this menu from scratch. There’s nothing that we don’t make from scratch, every sauce or dressing. Everything is freshly prepared upon order.
The Middle East marks a global milestone for The Cheesecake Factory. Can you tell us why you chose to first expand in the Middle East and not anywhere else?
This really comes down to Mr. Mohammad AlShaya; we instantly liked him and saw a great opportunity. He invited us out here and took us all around Kuwait and the Emirates, we saw and loved the beautiful malls, people and their love to shop. One might find it risky, but given the size of our menu, we know that everyone who sees the menu will find something they like on it.
Which dishes do you think will become instant top sellers?
In the Middle East, the top sellers so far are the same as to what we sell in the US—Chicken Madeira, Avocado Egg Rolls, and Nachos. As for the cheesecakes, the Red Velvet, Oreo Dream Extreme and Fresh Strawberry flavors are doing really well.
You’ve greatly invested your time in creating new recipes that follow food trends. Do you have a favorite recipe experience to share from the process?
I was at the Peninsula Hotel in Los Angeles, and one of the little condiments on a plate on the menu read as avocado straws. I have no idea why, but that keyed off the idea of an avocado egg roll. From that, this appetizer materialized, carrying with it incredible success as a bestseller.
What is one dish at The Cheesecake Factory you identify with the most?
Definitely the beef sliders! There was a hamburger place in Detroit, where I was born, that made them very similar to what we offer. They were my favorite growing up, so I tried to copy the flavor I remembered and they turned into what we call, Factory Sliders!
For those who don’t know, how would you summarize a dining experience at The Cheesecake Factory?
It would have to be an eclectic, casual dining experience with a menu that offers 280 items and over 50 cheesecakes and desserts. The menu follows a ‘something for everyone’ structure, with flavors and dishes from all over the world.
You’re quite known to say. “There’s nothing America wants to eat that we can’t put on our menu.” Can you say the same about customers in Kuwait?
It’s too early now. We will see what people have to say and what they want. Don’t forget, you can get Kuwaiti Food everywhere, yet when you come here you will be seeking out a new and different dining experience. Perhaps I say this about the US market because our menu is so big and there is something for everyone’s taste on there.
Did you have to modify the menu to suit the Middle Eastern market?
Absolutely, I will modify certain items if there is a need to.
What’s the hardest thing about working in the restaurant industry?
Everything is hard about it. Every dish has to be perfect every time. Keeping a consistency, especially across so many outlets like quality control, freshness, and service. That’s why a lot of restaurants fail, there’s a lot of skills and talent you need to have to be a successful restaurateur.
And the best part about it?
The best part about it has to be the people. It’s so much fun meeting people who have high energy, the power of the here and the now. If you’re a people person, you will love interacting with both guests and staff.
Let’s face it, working with food is a lot of fun, but what are some of your other interests?
I like to travel, which is part working. I was a musician, and I enjoy listening to music and also playing the drums, also my instrument of choice from when I was a musician.
For more information, please visit thecheesecakefactory.com