The Cheesecake Factory: Victim of Its Own Success?
It’s yet another instance of the same old story of the decline of the American Mom & Pop business: Mom & Pop come to California from Detroit, open up a successful shop in Beverly Hills, expanding to multiple locations across the country, dabble with a Las Vegas mega version, keep on adding more and more locations, bloating the brand, reaching a critical mass, until, finally, they hit a wall and the downward chart slope starts to really get steep as investors bail out.
The Calabasas-headquartered Cheesecake Factory, whose first restaurant was the familiar Beverly Dr. location, lowered their second-quarter expectations, sending shares plummeting just over 7% today.
Yes, it is hard to witness hard times for the beloved chain that is one of SoCal’s gifts to the popular culinary world, right up there with Puck. Who amongst us can forget their first time at The Cheesecake Factory? Maybe you were on your prom dinner in Woodland Hills and you wanted to impress your date. You had the shoestring onion tower appetizer, but would later question that decision when you didn’t get any that night. Or maybe you were newly away at college in the city, and your folks came up for dinner to make sure you weren’t fucking up too much. They wanted to get you something “heartier” than that “awful dorm food.” You had 4 bites of a burger, your mother had 3 glasses of zinfandel and you caught your father checking out the waitress’s ass in the reflection of the dessert case. Or maybe you just started a new job in town and the office girls wanted to take you out, and, as you would later learn, begin the process of crushing your youthful spirit as theirs had been long ago.
Now, older and wiser, you know better. And you understand now that The Cheesecake Factory caters to clientele of spinster secretaries, giddy sorrority sisters, fat out-of-town relatives and Euro tourists. Unlike other restaurants rated for the quality of their meals, they are best known and loved for the immense portions of their plates, which when set before patrons, often elicit such responses such as “Wow, that’s a big salad!” or “You’re going to have to help me eat this!” or “Good Christ in heaven, what fat fuck could eat all this? Seriously. Just send me to a lettuce field in Oxnard with a fork and a bottle of ranch next time.”
Their aestheic influence on the mid-tier American chain restaurant is widespread. Starting with the the soul-sappingly bland wood and marble interior motif, to the Americanized pseudo-ethnic menu (Thai Lettuce Wraps, anyone?) to the gluttonous diabetes-on-a-plate dessert bricks that are now menu staples across the country. The Cheesecake Factory has shaped the way we eat and think about food.
Whether or not The Cheesecake Factory can pull out of this fiscal nosedive remains to be seen. If decline is part of a larger cultural trend away from overpriced, overrated, overportioned, underflavored food, then indeed the forecast looks dismal for them.