As the heavenly scent of freshly baked cheesecake rises in the air, the floor of Junior’s Cheesecakes & Desserts’ is abuzz with activity. Workers are loading 6-inch pans with ¼-inch slices of sponge cake before they are filled with their signature New York-style filling and loaded onto pans that will be placed in one of the ovens.
This day’s crew is making 6-inch Strawberry Swirl and Original, which is still the most popular flavor.
“Right now we’re doing plain,” said owner Alan Rosen, who considers that statement for a beat before revising it. “New York Style. Original. Nothing plain about ’em.”
The recipe is the same one that Mr. Rosen’s grandfather, Harry Rosen, served in Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery when it opened 72 years ago in Brooklyn, NY. It’s a key part of his family’s proud legacy, and one he fiercely holds onto. He calls them mom-and-pop cheesecakes.
“Some are golden brown, some are a little darker, some lighter. It’s homemade,” he said. “The same way we were making them in 1950 is the same way we’re making them now. We may have a little more automation involved, but not one presentation of that cake has changed.”
What has changed is the size and scope of the business. The bakery posted a whopping 52% revenue growth last year and is up 30% so far this year. The bakery moved seven years ago into its current building in Burlington, NJ, which is more than five times larger than its previous facility in Queens, NY. It has enjoyed double-digit growth over the last six years. Ninety new employees have been hired in the past year, and the company is in the midst of adding several pieces of new equipment to enhance operations.
That kind of rapid expansion could cause more than a few problems, especially in an industry that has been grappling with rising costs and supply chain and workforce issues. While Junior’s has certainly experienced some challenges, it hasn’t slowed them down.
“This is organic growth,” Mr. Rosen said. “Most of our existing customers were wholly responsible for our 52% growth last year. What happened during COVID is people who probably never bought a $10, $12, $15, $17 cake in a grocery, they bought it because they were home. They weren’t going out to eat. I think we got lucky. They adopted our brand very rapidly.”
Mr. Rosen is in his element as he leads a tour through the bakery, fist-bumping and greeting employees along the way. It’s obvious he relish-es the work, rattling off the numbers related to production as he weaves among the equipment and racks of cheesecakes either ready for the ov-en or cooling after baking.
“He’s got a great relationship with every one of his employees,” said Jason Schwartz, Junior’s president, who oversees 18 managers, bakery operations and sales, among other things. “He’s the engine that keeps this company running. That’s the way I look at him. He’s just a great person to work for. … He doesn’t ever slow down.”
The bakery employs 229 full-time workers, up from 140 a year ago. It runs two baking shifts, two packaging shifts and one decorating shift five days a week, with daily maintenance done in between.
“Production starts at 4 a.m., and we’ll bake until 2:30 p.m., then we’ll clean and wash down the whole room,” Mr. Schwartz explained. “Then we start back up baking at 6 p.m., and we’ll go ’til 4 o’clock in the morning.”
Finding and maintaining workforce has not been a problem at Junior’s, although the company is constantly hiring and training, Mr. Rosen said.
“People come to us. We train, we coach, we hug, we promote from within,” he said. “The person who runs HR for the whole company started out as a hostess in one of our restaurants. Jason ran a retail store in Grand Central Station.”
Mr. Rosen is proud of his employees, who, he said, “work their tails off.”
“Hopefully, what separates this bak-ery from others is the culture, the attention to detail, the commitment that we’ve all made,” he said.
Besides Mr. Rosen and Mr. Schwartz, the management team at the bakery includes Magdalena Kyr-iakou, general manager/vice presi-dent; Jeremy Carlin, director of oper-ations; Reneé Cain, human re-sources manager; Anna Poselenova, head of human resources; Brian Tru-nell, quality assurance manag-er/HACCP coordinator; and Kris Sumara, chief engineer.
As he makes his way through the bakery on this production day, Mr. Rosen is watching, coaching and asking questions. At one point, he removes a 6-inch cake from the packaging line because he notices a small chunk has been dislodged, which means it’s not up to standards. Later, he wonders why the heart-shaped cakes being decorated for Mother’s Day are not on the standard gold bases. (Answer: The gold plates will set off the metal detectors.)
“I used to micromanage every single solitary thing. We can no longer do that,” Mr. Rosen explained, although it’s clear old habits die hard, and he’s always looking for areas that can be improved.
Attached to the bakery is an outlet store, which sells not only first-run cakes and slices but also cakes sold at a discount that may have a dent or ding. And Mr. Rosen also still runs four restaurants that sell the cakes: the original Junior’s in Brooklyn, two in Manhattan and one at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
But there are many places to get Jun-ior’s cheesecake, both fresh and fro-zen, and that list continues to grow. They’re sold on the Junior’s website and on the QVC home shopping net-work. Junior’s cakes are also sold at in-store bakeries, and retail items can be purchased at 9,000 grocery stores. They are also sold through distributors to foodservice customers around the country, and the compa-ny’s club business is expanding rap-idly, particularly with Costco.
“They’ve been a tremendous partner,” Mr. Schwartz said.
The bakery is looking to expand in more areas as well.
“We are very strong in the Northeast, but our business is successfully ex-panding in other regions of the coun-try as well,” Mr. Rosen said. “In some retailers we are in all regions cover-ing the entire USA. In others we are more Midwestern, and we are cur-rently gaining distribution in the southeast and southwest.”
This article is an excerpt from the June 2022 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Junior's Cheesecakes & Desserts, click here.