From bust to boom - My Daddy's Cheesecake reaches new heights

Monday, August 23, 2004

The lights are almost always on at My Daddy's Cheesecake these days. The first employee flips the switch at 4:30 a.m., arriving to start the baking for the day. Those fluorescent bulbs buzz and rattle through a day of production and packaging, beyond the retail store's closing at 6 p.m. The last worker out cuts the circuit at midnight. Four and a half hours later, the cycle starts anew.

These late nights are a stark contrast to those spent by co-owner Wes Kinsey just five months ago. Back then, he stayed up worrying that the lights of 2031 Cape La Croix Road would have to be turned off for good. But a last-minute phone call changed all that. Now, thanks to a new partner and a new direction, those nights seem like a distant nightmare.

Local sales have doubled. Production has nearly tripled to accommodate those sales and new wholesale shipping orders, including a supply contract with a major grocery store chain in St. Louis. A staff that has more than doubled is now pumping out 300 cheesecakes a day to pack what was once a nearly empty freezer. Kinsey's worried countenance has been replaced with a confident smile. All of this from one phone call.

That fateful call came from Cape Girardeau businessman Kevin Stanfield, and it came on March 18, less than 36 hours before Kinsey, because of cash flow problems, was going to close the Cape Girardeau cheesecake institution that had once thrived in a national spotlight. Stanfield already held the franchise on three local Blimpie stores, and he saw potential in the My Daddy's product, logo and image. He immediately infused the capital into company coffers, allowing Kinsey to keep the store open. Then the two new partners sat down to map out My Daddy's future.

"The product itself was an easy sell," Stanfield said. "But I saw that our best bet was to mass produce it and sell it wholesale."

After Stanfield came aboard April 1, the first step was to direct the store's energies away from some of the other things it had been doing -- serving breakfast, dinner and other items -- and focus mainly on what the store did best: baking.

"We weren't utilizing the talents of the people that work here," Kinsey said. "We've really worked to streamline production."

With local sales already increasing -- due in large part to the publicity that My Daddy's received from Kinsey's closing announcement -- Stanfield and Kinsey got the store's long-abandoned Web site and 800 number back online to put the business back on the national sales radar. The next step to fulfilling Stanfield's vision was to reel in a major wholesale client. Their lone target was Dierberg's grocery store chain.

"That was the one we wanted," Kinsey said. "It's an upscale type of grocery store. We knew our product was a perfect fit for that kind of store."

In June, the partners made their pitch to Dierberg's, which by coincidence had been looking for a cheesecake line to stock in its bakeries. The St. Louis-based chain loved the product and the logo. By July, My Daddy's Cheesecake had been awarded the contract to be the exclusive cheesecake in the 21 Dierberg's stores spread out over the greater St. Louis area.

The media room next to the Cape La Croix store that had been used to hold private parties and meetings was cleared and set up as a makeshift assembly line of three fold-out tables. There, workers could go on late in the night to process and package items for shipment to St. Louis via the company's new cargo truck.

By August, demand and production reached steady levels that in the company's 17-year existence had only been seen during the holiday rush. Now, it's Christmas every day for My Daddy's Cheesecake.

'Sky's the limit'

The Dierberg's contract was a big step in My Daddy's re-emergence. Since the company's mustached chef logo appeared in the grocery store's cases, Stanfield and Kinsey have received inquiries from several other supermarket chains bigger than Dierberg's that want to take on the name. The partners are steadily increasing staff and production to meet the rising demand.

Immediate plans are to expand production facilities on site at Cape La Croix with the purchase of a new oven that will enable My Daddy's to triple production. Kinsey estimates at the current pace, the company will be making more than 1,000 cheesecakes a day. Stanfield said that will necessitate an off-location production facility elsewhere in Cape Girardeau within the next two years.

The store will also discontinue its breakfast and lunch offerings, shifting to become more of a full-fledged bakery. Coffee and ice cream will remain on the menu.

In addition, Stanfield said that he and Kinsey are putting together a franchise program that will allow other owners to sell the re-emerging product out of other locations. Stanfield said he has fielded franchise inquiries from throughout the Midwest, and that the first My Daddy's franchises could conceivably be open in Cape Girardeau or Nashville, Tenn., by Jan. 1.

"The sky's the limit," Stanfield said.

trehagen@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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