The Cheesecake Cafe
For more than 25 years, The Cheesecake Cafe (TCC) has been serving customers around Alberta. Founded in 1988, TCC is based in Edmonton, Alberta, with additional locations in Calgary, Medicine Hat and Spruce Grove. The company serves as a small, locally-owned chain of full-service restaurants. Guests can come in for a meal, enjoy a cocktail at happy hour and end the evening with a delicious dessert made in-house.
Bobbi Beeson, vice president of marketing and operations, works alongside her father, Robert Beeson, president of TCC, in the family-run business. “I have worked for the company on and off for almost 30 years,” Bobbi explains. “I feel like I have been in this business almost as long as my father.” Her interest in the restaurant market began at age 6, when she would accompany her father to his restaurants and to visit local competitors. Her first official job in the industry was at a bus girl, before moving up through the ranks. She has worked as hostess, server, server trainer, supervisor and eventually marketing director for her father’s business as well as other local establishments.
Stop in for a bite
Each location employs between 60 and 80 people, between front of house, back of house, bar and bakery. Bobbi is proud of her staff, despite job competition from the energy sector. “We have full-time and part-time employees, depending on the local labor market,” she explains.
Together, the dedicated staff works hard to turn over high-quality food. The establishment boasts a large menu with diverse items. A full appetizer selection boasts classic favorites such as chicken tenders, poutine and spinach artichoke dip, as well inspired dishes such as blackened calamari, lettuce wraps and mussels frites. For lunch or dinner, guests can select a range of tapas, salads and entrees, complete with award-winning gluten-free options.
The kitchen crew prepares nearly everything from scratch. The large menu is in the process of streamlining as Bobbi and her team hope to focus on a smaller, high-quality menu. “We don’t do the 100-mile diet or 200-kilometer diet due to limited supply,” she notes. “We are exploring more local options, though. We want to support a move for suppliers to offer more. We do have a lot of options and we have won awards from the Calgary Celiac Society. We even have a low-fat and gluten-free cheesecake as well as sugar-free berry sauce for diabetics.”
Have your cheesecake and eat it too
Bobbi and her team are constantly pushing boundaries with new flavors and varieties of the restaurants’ famous cheesecake. “We introduced red velvet cake about 10 years ago, but it didn’t sell,” she recalls. “It was too early for our market, so we packed away the recipe and brought it back out a couple of years ago and now it’s going strong. In the past, we created cakes, such as balsamic vinegar and strawberry and black pepper and pineapple mousse, as example, are for our more adventurous eaters. Our cheesecake is very popular. We have the coffee and cheesecake guest day-part that comes in and we also have frequent customers who come in for dessert after eating somewhere else.
TCC also has a loyalty program called “Great Rewards!” which allows guests to earn points every time they visit the cafe. For every 350 points, a member receives a $25 gift card. “’Great Rewards!’ also allows us to also talk to our guests personally through newsletters to encourage frequent visits with stories of what's happening in the cafe,” Bobbi adds. “We are about to change the enrolment cost from a small fee to free so that we can gain a wider database of guests. Some of our updates include cheesecake feature changes, special event feature menus, holiday and Monday brunch time reminders, gift card promotions and other incentives.”
Bobbi explains that while her team has not faced extreme economic pressure in recent years, her crew faces constant daily challenges. “We have to get people through the door,” she explains. “We have to make the experience here special in the eyes of the guests through our food, drink, desserts, service and atmosphere. We try to communicate our message on a consistent basis to the Cafe and onwards to the staff. Staffing and training is constant and costly. We also have variable costs increasing which eat into our bottom line.”
The business maintains consistency through comprehensive training manuals and hands-on practice.” I think we have some of the best manuals around and the key to the manuals succeeding is through management buy-in, implementation by experienced trainers and ongoing follow up,” Bobbi elaborates. “It is not good enough to have a few star staff members in your company who hold the glue together. Everyone in every department has to be a star at communicating your business to the guest at every turn. That requires a respect for the importance of training and the financial investment.”
Teamwork is also an important aspect of the business. The team is currently putting together a collective group amongst the four locations that will meet every quarter to discuss and brainstorm ways to drive sales. The premise is to train staff on how to give guests more of what they want but didn't know they could have it. “For example, if the guest orders a rye and coke, we want to make sure they know how to properly discuss our “Good. Better. Best. Program,” says Bobbi. “This is where the guest can have a good rye, a better rye or the best rye all for only $0.50 difference in price.”
Ongoing training and incentive programs continue to draw new business to TCC. Bobbi, Robert and the crew are constantly working together to improve these programs to boost revenue and customer traffic. In the coming years, Bobbi is looking forward to new programs that will help The Cheesecake Cafe grow in its market.